This summer I was invited to Kinshasa to conduct a concert in which members of the WDR (West German Radio) Symphony Orchestra were performing with instrumentalists from the OSK (Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste). Two premiers: my first trip to Congo and the first time both orchestras had played side by side. Quite literally speaking, because this new fusion was made up of the same number of musicians from both groups, so that each player from the OSK was sharing a desk with an instrumentalist from WDR. As many of the WDR members had been to Kinshasa before, I had already heard a lot about the country and about the projects and teaching work that had been going on. I must admit that I had still found it hard to imagine what it would actually feel like being there as I had never even been to Africa, let alone Congo. If I tried to fit all the impressions and emotions I experienced into a couple of paragraphs, I could not even begin to do justice to the extremely intense and perspective-shifting time I had. However, I will attempt to give you a rough sketch of the day of the concert, which to me, in the end, acquired an almost symbolic significance.
After some productive days of preparation, our final rehearsal at the open air venue "theatre de verdure" was scheduled to start at 10am. There was a phone call – there were delays due to technical problems with the sound engineering. So we waited for someone to give us the go-ahead. We had already got used to the fact that 10am did not necessarily mean 10 o'clock sharp and I was already relaxing into a different mentality and actually quite getting to like it. In the end we squashed ourselves into a rickety little bus and arrived at the open air amphitheatre at something approaching midday. Our colleagues from the OSK were already there but still the technical problems prevented us from starting the rehearsal. In the end we decided to test the open air acoustic - sound engineering or no sound engineering. So we braved the heat, set up some parasols and got to work... it was sweltering. After a while we surrendered to the forces of nature and decided to have a break. When it had sufficiently cooled down we had an inspiring run through before the concert. Some of us were pessimistically wondering: will anybody come? So when the concert, starting later than billed of course, took place in front of an audience of about 2000 extremely attentive listeners, we were more than pleasantly surprised. The combined orchestra raised the roof with their enthusiastic and inspired playing, metaphorically speaking as there was nothing but the starry sky above our heads. Afterwards emotional embraces were followed by a party for anyone who wished to stay. It was a truly unifying moment: the music had brought us together. I personally found it quite symbolic. Our venue had formerly been part of one of the infamous president Mumbutu's residences - remnants of empty cages he had kept his pet leopards in can still be seen dotted around the surrounding park. Adding to this there was a statue of the Belgian colonial oppressor Leopold II on the same site. Two rulers who had inflicted immeasurable suffering on the people of this country. And here we were - Congolese and Europeans - celebrating a very special moment of humanity together. A memorable and uplifting evening.
There is an old saying:
" Music is the language of the emotion, and singing is the key for it ".......
Wirth the miraculous voices of this fantastic choir of the OSK, the singers open a lot of hearts.
Also our hearts are touched by the common work with them very much.
It is absolutely fantastic that we have the opportunity to form a concert in Kinshasa together with these singers in October.
The German Embassy organizes a big concert where we will sing (4 opera singers of the West German Radio) together with our Congolese friends from the OSK Choir, an interesting and rich colored program.
Parts of this program will be, "Oh happy Day", Beethoven, Mozart, original spiritual Congolese songs and the Congolese national anthem.
A lot of international politicians will appear to this concert. We hope through this for other good talks.
These talks could be a further helpful step to realize our big vision
--- an open music school in Kinshasa for everybody ----
Many steps have already gone, moved many good ideas, but there is still a lot to be done.
Our friends and partners are to us a big help and prop. We are so grateful for all the support given by many donators and assistants.
It is impossibly to go this way, without helping hands.
And sometimes there are also the moments where the strength and the support is absent. These are exactly the moments where we recognize that we have some miraculous partners. The partners who help work and motivate - just partner!
Also we must learn a lot. We had to learn that we are neither qualified managers, nor well-educated organizers; we are just musicians and teachers. But our closeness and friendship to our Congolese friends and their hard situation, has shown us, that one can reach a lot in the life. We thank for it!
If you, dear readers and donators have proposals and advices, please send us an e- mail.
With big gratitude,
Rolf Schmitz-Malburg and Sabine Kallhammer
Report Jan. 2013
In the centre of this year is the organization of two big events with the congolesian musicians and the professional musicians of the German radio television station (WDR).
The group of the orchestra is planning common concerts in the Congo in summer 2013, while our group of the choir is advancing to organize a tourney to Europe in December 2013, with concerts at Cologne, Berlin and Brussels.
For this purpose four professional singers will travel to Kinshasa in February once again, to give an intense choir-workshop for preparation.
Unfortunately we won´t be able to take the whole choir to Europe, since we simply don´t have the financial resources. So a group of 36 congolesian singers will come to join our professional choir. Everybody is very, very excited about this event!
We are looking forward to see everybody again and to continue our work.
Our singing lessons get rooted and we recognized at our workshop in November 2012, that the knowledge of singing-technique, healthy voice-caring and right interpretation is growing continually.
The quite new founded children choir has started to act on stage within some concerts. They are still very shy, but they do a great job!
We really have to find more fitting scores; they have nearly nothing for children.
If anybody has a good idea for French children choir music, please write us!
Thanks for your interest!
Rolf, Sabine, Beate & Giovanni
after our summer break a lot of new activities will happen at Kinshasa:
First sad message is, that the German ambassador, Dr. Peter Blomeyer, and his wife Sabine have to leave the Kongo. After three years of wonderful work at this special place, the foreign office sends them into another country.
Since Mrs. Blomeyer has spent a lot of time teaching lovely the musicians of the OSK, especially the kids, all are very sad about her parting.
All other news are totally positive:
To deepen all existing helping contacts and to bring new supporter togehter, Mr. and Mrs. Blomeyer have organized a concert of the OSK for all EU ambassadors on sunday, 16.09. at the „salle de fete“.
The new culturale attache of the german embassy, Mr. Berkemeier, has already assured a long-term support of our work. We already met him and are very happy about his open and helping mind. The big farewell- concert of the OSK and the choir will be on the 3. Okt. at the german embassy.
Our next workshops for the musicians oft he OSK will take place in october and november 2012.
15 professionell musicians of the WDR (west german radiostation) will travel to Kinshasa in three groups:
First group will concentrate on teaching the wind players.
Second group will work with the choir and third group will teach the strings..
A violin builder is travelling within the third group and will help learning to fix damages of the instruments.
Each of us will stay at Kinshasa about two weeks.
All of us have the same request: we want to share our professionell knowledge to help our friends discovering and accomplishing the whole richness of music.
Armand Dinagienda, the founder and conductor oft he OSK, is working porpuseful for our common aim to build a music school. He also is finding local sponsors. Togehter we move up forward step by step to collect all the money, which is necessary to start the school.
Besides the workshops at Kinshasa, our team is working diligent to collect new scores and instruments for the OSK. Also two different forms of tours are planned with congolese and german musicians.
One tour through the Kongo and one tour to Europe.
Details about these ideas will be told in one of our next reports.
Nicola Jurgensen, principal clarinet player of the WDR Symphony, wrote a blog. Here is a short part of it, translated into English. After the long trip from Germany and a hot night under the ventilator she meets her pupils for the first time. With her there are three more German musicians, Ludwig (French horn), Manuel (Oboe) and Christian (double bass), the driver Paulin and the interpreter and Congolese contact person Maggy. After a 40 minutes ride we arrive at what is at the same time the Kimbanguiste headquarters and the house of Armand Diangienda, conductor of the orchestra. Normally it takes half that long, but today we celebrate the International Women's Day. Hundreds and thousands of merrily dressed women and girls have gathered together in the streets, parading in long rows and carrying posters. Some streets are closed, Paulin has to take deviations. When we arrive at 10.30, none of the Congolese musicians is present. They only know we are here from today. So we sit down on the veranda and recover from the drive, physically and psychologically shaken Hard to transmit our impressions, like the chaos in the streets which probably (we take that for granted) reflects a certain order, but that does not reveal itself to us. Or the living quarters where we managed to take short glances into the houses and backyards. After a short time the adjectives for what we saw started to cease and it got silent in the car. But now we are sitting in Armand's house and wait for the musicians. From the beginning Some time later indeed there begin to appear people with instrument cases. Recognizing the shape of the cases (this here might be a French horn, that over there a tuba, or: might be a clarinet!) we get up accordingly and introduce ourselves to the musicians. This is Junior, first of the five clarinet players. I start to look for a room in this house full of nooks and crannies, and after some time we begin. Play a scale, I propose, or something you like. He starts with some part from the fourth movement of Beethoven's 9th symphony. From the moment his problems appear. I think about how to begin with solutions and how to translate my orders into my somewhat rusty French. Like Junior, Jasmine who shows up an hour later is playing on a very basic level. But both of them are good in first sight playing and it doesn't take long for them to play the easy Mozart duets I show them - maybe because the one who at a certain time is not working with me disappears into the corner of the room and practices his part. I don't want to reduce their enthusiasm, so it takes me quite a while, in fact until afternoon, to ask them not to play while I am working with another one. To start solving their problems I do easy exercises. Then we take to the Mozart duets. I play the second part. After all we want to play some music. Never tiring Around noon there comes Doble. While in the dining room we are served lunch in the presence of Armand on a flower decorated table, the three clarinet players are testing the mouth pieces and reeds I have carried here. I can hear them next door: Scales and Mozart, Mozart, Mozart. It will carry on like this until six in the evening, and I never watch them eating or even drinking some water. Breathing As we discover, in fact all of our woodwind players have got problems with their posture, their looseness and with their breathing. So we decide to give a little workshop in the afternoon, headline Breathing and Relaxing". Manuel, fluent French speaker, will lead it. We do a circle, standing there without instruments, and together try some relaxing and breathing exercises. Manuel is fantastic! He creates a cosy atmosphere and is able to say things clearly. But it is really hard for them just to let their arms hang down. Junior has an especially hard time just to relax his muscles. We try to explain the importance of looseness for working on a musical instrument. So in a short break he comes up to me and asks somewhat shyly whether he has to stop pomper" now - to work on his body with weights. No no I say, you only have to explain your body the difference between weight lifting and clarinet playing. Manuel and I decide to start the days with our exercises together.
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