- The seventh graduation of the Safaricom Youth Orchestra that took place last week showcased some of Kenya’s most gifted young musicians.
The seventh graduation of the Safaricom Youth Orchestra that took place last week showcased some of Kenya’s most gifted young musicians.
Imani Karani, a 17-year-old violin player who is in his fifth year in the orchestra illustrates how young talent thrives under this unique music training programme.
His started playing piano while in primary school at Langata Junior School in 2017.
Soon after he switched to the violin which required immense discipline.
“I must have paid for his first violin in three instalments but I badly wanted him to own the instrument,” says Irene Kimani, his mother.
For her, it has been a case of living her dreams through her son because she loved music.
“Once he started playing music then even his grades in subjects like mathematics improved,” she says.
Imani passed the professional music examinations, ABRSM with distinction in 2015 and 2016 and then auditioned to join the Safaricom Youth Orchestra in 2017.
“I was star struck because there was talent on a very different level,” says Imani, who also plays guitar and bass, and is now studying at St Mary’s School, Nairobi.
In the five years playing at the Safaricom Orchestra, the most challenging piece that he has encountered is Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5.”
He says that many of the popular classical pieces are played in movie and TV soundtracks and commercials so they are recognisable.
His most memorable performance was when the orchestra was conducted by Polish conductor Jimek in Karura in 2019.
“He is a different conductor who provides a whole new outlook to orchestral music performance.”
Playing in the orchestra has enabled him to learn the values of teamwork, building chemistry and practising with other musicians.
He has also learnt to balance schoolwork and music practice for about two hours every day.
“My mum has never had to tell me to practice, maybe to read, but never to practice,” he says.
Every Saturday the students are given musical pieces to practice in sections until the next weekend when they play with the rest of the orchestra. There is a concert at the end of every term where the ensemble also adapts pop songs into their repertoire as they did recently with a Sauti Sol Medley.
Imani says learning from young tutors is especially exciting because they are very experienced. “It makes me feel like I have to work extra hard to catch up, which is good.”
One of the young tutors is George Ndung’u who teaches the oboe and an alumnus of the Safaricom Orchestra Class of 2019. Two members of his section were in the graduating class of 2021.
George started as a drummer while at Starehe Boys before he took up the oboe.
“Joining the orchestra is challenging but is fun because there are other activities besides music which help the students develop their personalities.”
9 to 18 years
Most of the orchestra members are between 9 to 18 years from diverse backgrounds; some from international schools and others from Korogocho slums.
According to Ndung’u, who also produces music for films, there are many opportunities to play in other orchestras like the Kenya Conservatoire and the Kenya National Youth Orchestra after graduating from the Safaricom one.
There are even former students who have formed their ensemble known as the Junior Timbre Orchestra and are recruiting musicians from other groups.
As for Imani, his plan for the future is all planned out. After graduating next April he aims to join the National Youth Orchestra and then work his way up to different orchestras.
“I believe in consistency so I have to do the same things that I am doing and keep improving,” he says.