Music touches people differently, and some definitely more than others. George Ndung’u, a commerce university student, has been touched by many different instruments. He can play the drums, the piano, and perhaps one of the rarest instruments in Kenya – the oboe. On top of that, he is a music producer and is also passionate about drama.
The Safaricom Youth Orchestra, which is an exciting musical project, brings together 70 children between ages 11-17 through one magical thing: music. For George Ndung’u, this platform has enabled him to not only further his talents but also to pass them on to others. He started as a student and is now a mentor to three students. In the class of 2021, two of his students will be graduating as certified players of the Oboe instrument. The graduation ceremony will be streamed on the Safaricom Youtube channel.
George Ndung’u makes you feel as though some people are naturally more talented than others. You can hear his passion for all things music through his voice. It started when he was much younger in primary school, and he chose to carry on and nurture his musical talents. We caught up with him to get more insight into the Safaricom Youth Orchestra and his personal journey in the field of music.
Tell us about your musical journey
I started playing the drums when I was pretty young, and then I picked up other instruments later on in high school. I specifically picked up the oboe, and this is the instrument that I joined Safaricom Youth Orchestra to learn back in 2017. I learnt the Oboe, graduated, and took up the mentor position. Later on, I became a tutor.
What does it take to become a tutor at Safaricom Youth Orchestra?
The tutors are selected based on proficiency in the different instruments. Once I finished as a student at Safaricom Youth Orchestra, I was given the offer to take up the position of mentor. Usually, tutors join as mentors and then are put on probation. Once you complete your probation period, you are offered the tutorship position. That’s how I became a tutor.
This weekend is the Safaricom Youth Orchestra graduation for the Class of 2021. Tell us a little bit more about that.
Well, I’m excited because two of my students get to graduate. It’s been a great journey with them and it makes me super proud to see them attain the next level. So if Jamie Miguel and Simon Maweu get to read this, know that I am extremely proud of the two of you. I have seen tremendous growth as you learnt the oboe. I can’t wait to see what the world has to offer you.
How do you juggle between Safaricom Youth orchestra and school?
Well, for Safaricom Youth Orchestra we meet once a week on Saturdays. During the week, I work on the student’s assignments. Therefore, it’s not that hard to do both.
What inspired you to go from being a student to a mentor at Safaricom Youth Orchestra?
Everyone leaving Safaricom Youth Orchestra will tell you about the extremely low moment you feel leaving such a great initiative. What inspired me to continue working is the amount of growth you get being part of this musical platform. Secondly, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a family. Lastly, the Oboe is a pretty rare instrument in Kenya, and so I am encouraged to share this knowledge with them.
What is your greatest achievement mentoring students in the field of music at Safaricom Youth Orchestra?
That would be having oboe students performing a piece on their own. There were not many oboeists in the country, and currently, we are four players at Safaricom Youth Orchestra. Last year July, we did an oboe performance on its own. That is a moment I will cherish for a long time.
Why the Oboe instrument?
The first time I heard the Oboe, I thought it was a rather unique sound. It was angelic. The person playing the instrument, a lady called Elizabeth Knott, ended up being my tutor. The Oboe is generally a hard instrument to play. I love challenges, and that’s one of the reasons why I took it up.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learnt in your journey learning to play the Oboe at Safaricom Youth Orchestra?
It’s hard to start learning the Oboe. It has taught me perseverance. You have to be persistent in learning especially when things get tough. However, it gets easier. I encourage my students to keep playing and it does get easier. There were moments here and there where I felt like giving up. But when you sleep on it and you wake up you choose to try again, you know that this is what you were created to do.
What is the impact of the academy on musicians?
The Safaricom Youth Orchestra helps one to appreciate the power of group effort and teamwork. It teaches you social skills in that you have to work with people. It has also built my confidence not only in music but also in other aspects of life. This has helped me to take my career to the next level. Afterwards, you can join other orchestras in Kenya and the world at large. It opens up a lot of opportunities.
What’s a typical day as a mentor at Safaricom Youth Orchestra?
I arrive at Safaricom Youth Orchestra slightly early, sometimes meet the students and take them through the parts that are challenging. The Safaricom Youth Orchestra starts its practice at midday. We then go through the pieces together for about an hour, then we go for lunch. Sometimes over lunch, we have meetings to address any technical issues or suggestions. After lunch, we go in with the larger orchestra for another hour.
As for online classes, we start with a meeting with the larger orchestra to decide the pieces that we’re playing. After this, we meet in the Oboe section. As I said, we’re only four at the moment. Once we’re done meeting as a group we have individual groups.
Did the online program start as a result of the pandemic or was it always there? What challenges are there teaching a practical lesson over a Zoom call?
Yes, it started as a result of the pandemic. For the beginners, it’s a little harder because you’re not physically there to show them where to put their fingers. But we have found a way and it has been working for the last year.
If you wish, you can apply to the Safaricom Youth Orchestra here. Auditions are held annually and are aimed at discovering and launching the music careers of young promising musicians from different places in the country. The term runs from May to March of the following year.
My name is Laura Ayienga, a 25-year-old writer & marketer, experiencing the highs (not claiming the lows) of life. I discovered my passion for writing on this very blog back in 2019 and since then, I’ve been using it to express myself as candidly and authentically as possible.