As you read this, there’s a ship bound for Africa with 126 musical instruments on board. They’re all from Greater Vancouver save for one, a double bass, that was trucked here from Toronto. There are violins, guitars, drums, clarinets, trumpets, trombones, cellos, a euphonium, recorders, tubas, that double bass and three pianos, including an old, elegant, and lovingly restored upright that once adorned the hallway of a 100-plus-year-old house on Kits Point.
The ship left Vancouver on Boxing Day for Italy, Oman and ultimately Tanzania, where the instruments will be unloaded and trucked to their final destination, the Ngomo Dolce Music Academy in Lusaka, Zambia and the 100 or so students who study there.
At least if everything goes according to plan, they will. It is Africa, after all, and as Heidi Krutzen (above), the Vancouver harpist who organized the expedition knows, things don’t always run smoothly. Nevertheless, she hopes they’ll arrive in March. And she intends to be there when they do — she left Vancouver Sunday, headed for Zambia by way of Scotland. “I get a lot out of this. I love seeing the smiles on the children’s faces and knowing I’ve made a difference to them. And I learn a lot whenever I’m there.”
It was on a 2011 visit to Zambia that Krutzen learned about the Ngomo Academy. She and a colleague, Jocelyn Banyard, were there working on behalf of Malambo Grassroots, a society they’d created to foster education, village health and income generation for women, when she heard about the stifling three-room schoolhouse and its struggling staff of four full-time and two part-time teachers endeavouring to teach western music to about 100 eager students using a few electric keyboards, drums and, bizarrely, a harpsichord. They even had a small collection of handmade instruments.
“I thought it was wonderful what they were trying to do there,” Krutzen recalls, “but Africa wasn’t supposed to be about music for me. It’s what I do all the time, so I didn’t want to get involved. But when I got home, the wheels started spinning.”
An email to colleagues at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra about the school resulted in a violin, a violin case and a piece of music. The next day it brought a piano. After that, a deluge “from the opera, the freelance music community, music schools, music businesses, the jazz community, the world music community”.
But before it could be sent anywhere, it all had to be recorded, stored, wrapped and boxed, a task that took Krutzen hundreds and hundreds — and hundreds — of hours to accomplish.
No wonder she wants to see it arrive.