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Hodgson School of Music project in Kenya

Monday, March 21, 2016 - 10:37am

A music education and piano performance outreach project took Hodgson School of Music students and faculty to Kenya in March:

Eldoret, Kenya – Many of UGA’s 35,000 students traveled somewhere over spring break, but most didn’t leave the country. Fewer still crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Only six flew to Nairobi, then took a seven-hour van ride to Eldoret, Kenya, to teach music.

A group of eight from the UGA Hugh Hodgson School of Music’s music education and piano performance areas are in Africa from March 10-21, setting up distance learning and orchestra programs for a fledgling music department in western Kenya.

The seeds of this project were planted almost four years ago, when Benita Gladney, a graduate student of Skip Taylor, current chair of the School of Music’s music education area, and Mary Leglar, then music education chair, began a project that would send used instruments to Moi Girls’ School, a public boarding school in Eldoret.

The music students and teacher in Kenya, grateful for the donation, began to save money to make a trip to Athens to meet their UGA benefactors. So, a year after the relationship was struck, the Moi Girls’ School and Hugh Hodgson School of Music met face-to-face.

During their visit, the teacher who had traveled with the girls approached Pete Jutras, associate professor of piano at the School of Music, about a problem they had back home: the students wanted to learn piano, but had no piano teacher.

This spurred Jutras to think about how online teaching was growing and how his piano students needed teaching experience. He proposed a system in which Jutras’ piano students in Athens could teach students in Kenya.

A year later, Jutras was on a flight to Nairobi with a laptop, a webcam and a disassembled digital keyboard. His visit to the school in Eldoret proved to be as enlightening and inspiring as it was beneficial.

“We think we have trouble justifying music in the schools here, but it’s a lot worse there,” said Jutras. “I was told they’re one of the few schools left in Kenya that has any music program at all.”

Music falls by the wayside at the school for practical reasons. The students take music as an elective, but other available electives include business, computers and foreign language—skills to make someone employable. According to UNICEF, over 45 percent of Kenya’s population lives beneath the poverty line, so it’s understandable the students would feel pressure to eschew the arts for greater earning potential.

But since UGA got involved, hundreds of students now try to become a part of the program. Jutras’ piano students stay busy, giving Skype lessons twice a week every week since fall 2015.

Our thanks to Clarke Schwabe in the Hodgson School for sharing this great story. What a terrific experience.  #UGAKenya

Image: Danny Bermel instructs students on violins at Moi Girls School in Eldoret, Kenya.

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