Friday morning we visited two schools in Bulawayo. The first was an all-girls' school right in the city. The 900+ girls filed into the assembly hall filling just about every inch of the place. Although the hall had a spacious stage, the piano was down on the floor in the corner and hardly visible from anyplace on the stage. We couldn't pull it closer as the girls were crowded within a couple of feet of the stage. We didn't have music stands either so Elisa propped her music on another chair and Maureen stood and used the podium. The piano music rack was also broken so Becky had to use a camera case and various other items from her bag to prop it up. The ivories had all been removed from the keys so there were beads of dried glue all over each key and someone had written the note names on them with bright-colored markers. Good thing! Becky could finally identify all of the notes. ;-) In addition the pedal did not work. However, despite these issues, the kids were super-enthusiastic to hear us play. We did a few pieces and then talked to them about the instruments and did some Q&A--we got some really good questions! The thing that amazed them the most was when Maureen unscrewed her bow and waved around the horse hair for them. That literally made them gasp!
At the end of our presentation we were honored to have the school choir perform for us. They were great and sang with such spirit!
Next we visited a rural school just outside the city limits. At this school all the classrooms opened up onto a platform that ran the perimeter of a central concrete courtyard. All the students filed into the courtyard and were standing during our performance. We were in the shade but the students were in full sun and it was HOT that day so we did a shorter program. Because there was no piano--or music stands--Becky was employed to be a music stand for Maureen. Elisa was using a chair again, however there was a breeze and her music wouldn't stay put, so during one piece Becky had to hold Maureen's music standing on one foot, holding Elisa's page down with the other foot!
Meanwhile Helen, who had been driving us around from place to place, got some great video footage of the performance and of the kids' reactions.
Afterwards we went to get some lunch and by chance ran into some friends of Helen's. They were excited to hear about our tour and outreach projects and they proceeded to buy us all lunch! We've met so many generous people on this trip!
After lunch we headed back to the Music Academy to do masterclasses. Along the way we passed by the first school where we had played in the morning. The girls were all being dismissed right at the moment that we were stopped at the stoplight in front of the school. A bunch of them recognized us in the car and were excitedly waving and getting their friends to look and wave to us too. It was so cute! We felt like celebrities. :-)
In the afternoon Becky worked with a talented pianist named Khulakhani and Elisa coached a young cellist named Emma that Becky had in fact met the previous year when she was in Bulawayo.
Emma and her mother, Chris, were such a joy to work with and Emma is a very talented little cellist. Elisa has already received a drawing of a cellist with a thank you note!
Apparently they couldn't round up any violinists for Maureen that particular afternoon so she got to have some down time, after which we spent a bit of time rehearsing.
In the evening we were able to go see the orphanage that Helen's mom has been involved with for many years. As there is no piano there, we did not take the instruments but we did have the chance to meet the kids and talk to them briefly. We also got a special performance from the choir that Helen and most of her family sing in--they are fantastic!
After that we had arranged to have some down time at the Academy. They were simultaneously showing a filmed opera production on a big screen in the concert hall, which apparently they do on a weekly basis--the ticket price includes a catered dinner at intermission. Although we did not watch the opera with them, we did join them during their intermission and got to visit a bit more with Michael Bullivant and his wife. We had brought our own delicious food from Helen's, but there were some extra chocolate eclairs at the end that we got to take advantage of, and Elisa and Maureen also enjoyed the wine they were serving with dinner.
Next morning Michael came and fetched us very early from the Halls to take us down to our bus to Harare. We had an interesting time cramming ourselves into his tiny car. The trunk and front passenger seat were loaded to the hilt with all the luggage and then the three of us sardined in the back row with the violin and cello across our laps. If we extended our necks we could sort of see out the front window. Luckily that was about a 10 minute drive, no more.
Our bus trip to Harare was accompanied by a soundtrack of 80's hits at full blast. Let's just say that there was an occasional breakout into song. So we got to be really nostalgic...for six hours straight. Along with the provided music, we were served beverages and the equivalent of KFC.
We were picked up from the bus by Roger Williams, our host during our Harare stay. At the house we met his wife Nona and they fed us a beautiful lunch and helped us get settled into the guest cottage.
In the evening Roger and Nona had tickets to a concert so Stan, one of the board members of the Celebs Series we are playing for, collected us and took us to a theatre production in town (The Woman in Black) and then to dinner. We had a fun evening except for the fact that so many people smoke everywhere here--even inside. So we were choking a bit and trying to catch breaths of fresh air whenever possible. Aside from that we really did have a splendid evening. The show was fun--afterwards we got to meet one of the two actors--and we had a great time at dinner.
On Sunday Nona put out breakfast and then took Becky over to the hall so she could settle in on the piano. Elisa and Maureen practiced at the house (where "practice" is loosely interpreted as "reading" and "napping") and then came for rehearsal/sound check at noon.
On the way over to the hall Elisa pulled a muscle in her back so after a painful hour of rehearsing, Mike Peto arranged for her to go and see someone to sort it out, hopefully before show time. With a lot of shuttling back and forth between the physiotherapist, Roger and Nona's house, and the hall, we managed to all get fed and dressed and ready for the concert. We arrived at the hall about an hour early and on exiting the car, the front strap on Becky's concert shoe fell apart. We considered various options such as duct tape (Elisa carries a roll in her backpack -- a very pretty pink and black camo pattern...). Then Maureen remembered that she brought an extra pair of concert shoes on the trip. Nona was still at the house so Roger called her and she was able to go into the cottage and root around in Maureen's suitcase to find the shoes and bring them over. Thankfully they ended up fitting Becky like a charm.
The hall is an amphitheater design and apparently the acoustics from the stage are not great so they have a raised wooden platform for the piano that is on the floor in front of the stage. There is a large open area there and the whole effect of it is quite striking with the mini-stage and the seats rising up from it. Because the mini stage is further out into the amphitheater, it feels more "in the round," in the sense that the seats on the far edges on either side are in fact behind the stage. We didn't have a big enough crowd to worry about that, but we did have a very enthusiastic audience.
The concert was well received--I think people were especially appreciative because, due to problems with immigration and work permits, they've been unable to bring in any artists for their series for an entire year. They went from having 10-11 concerts per year to having zero since last October! At any rate, everyone seemed keen on having us back, so that is promising.
We were completely shocked to discover after the concert that Amy Macy now lives in Harare!! She is a cellist that used to live near Pittsburgh, and played in multiple ensembles with Elisa! Now her husband works for the US Embassy and that's what brought them to Harare. She invited us to breakfast the following day and we took her up on it since it would be Monday and our hosts head to work early.
Sunday night we went back to Roger and Nona's and hung out and talked at their place until late into the night. Their son, Matthew, was recounting stories about close encounters he had with elephants, lions, and rhinos during the time he was a field guide. That guy can really spin a good tale--however with material like that, being a good storyteller wouldn't even be necessary to keep someone on the edge of their seat. It definitely put musician's stage fright into some decent prospective--if you miss a note, you won't suddenly get trampled to death, or, you know, get eaten by a lion.
At any rate, Matthew has decided to make a career change and will be heading to chef's school soon--perhaps so he can ensure who's eating who. :-)
Monday morning Becky took an early morning walk with Nona and then she and Elisa went to Amy's house to have breakfast. Maureen opted to get some extra sleep, as well as take care with her stomach, which has been a bit off for a couple of days.
Amy and her daughter made us French toast and smoothies with some of the fruit coming from their own garden. For Elisa's toast they used the gluten free bread that we've been toting around with us since Helen made it for us in Bulawayo (Helen's amazing food pyrotechnics will not soon be forgotten!)
We learned at Amy's that the US embassy really takes care of their people over there. They live in a not extravagant, but beautiful home with an expansive garden. But more importantly they have a generator that kicks on automatically when the power goes off (which, it turns out, is nearly a daily occurrence--and for lengthy periods of time). They also have a large water tank hooked up to a well--or a "bore hole" as they call it here. Roger and Nona have a similar setup; they were telling us that while they are apparently plumbed for city water, they haven't gotten a drop of water from the city for seven years. Which leaves you to wonder about the folks who aren't fortunate enough to have a bore hole. In addition to that concern, Amy told us that recently the water tables have shifted and dropped considerably so there are many people who have been relying on a bore hole and suddenly it dries up and they can't necessarily find water by simply digging deeper. For people in the city with postage-stamp-sized property and no real options for a different location to drill, it creates a real crisis. Those are some of the issues that US Aid is addressing in this and other parts of Africa (we mentioned Gary in an earlier blog post, a man we met who had worked drilling bore holes in northern Mozambique.)
After breakfast at Amy's we went back to our cottage, collected our things, and Matthew took us to the airport so we could catch our flight back to Joburg.
We haven't really had any issues from flight crew or other passengers related to taking the cello on the plane....until this flight. Elisa's exchange with the friendly gentleman who was seated in front of the cello's seat went something like this.
E (very politely): Sir, it looks like if you put your seat back during the flight, it's going to crush the cello case and damage my instrument. Will it be a problem to keep your seat upright?
[interjection: this flight is barely over one hour, so between take off and landing, the period of time when one could potentially put their seat back is perhaps 20-30 minutes....]
Man: yes, that is going to be a big problem--I intend to put my seat back.
E: I understand, sir--I'd be happy to switch seats with you so that you can be more comfortable.
Man: Absolutely not!! Why don't you put it underneath with the checked luggage? I can't believe they allow you to buy a ticket for that thing!
E: Well, sir, I don't check it because this instrument is valuable and it's like my child.
Man: That is ridiculous! This is unbelievable! How much can it be worth?! It needs to be checked.
E: This is worth as much as my house.
Man: As much as your house? You must live in a shack!
We thought we had seen and heard it all by now, but no--the guy then turns around in his seat, leans over the back and starts to manhandle the cello into some other position--at this point Elisa finally raises her voice and tells the guy to get his hands off the cello. (Maureen later admitted she was worried that Elisa would hit the man because she would have at that point.)
The flight attendant was not present during this whole thing so when she came back she suggested that we wait to see if the flight was full because maybe we could put it in an empty seat elsewhere on the plane. In the meantime the people in the row behind us said they'd be happy to switch if necessary, and that's what happened when we saw that there wouldn't be any empty seats. Thankfully there are often nice people around to offset the jerks.
Our flight was delayed and then we had to wait forever at immigration, so that when we finally came out and met our driver, it was perfect timing to hit Joburg rush hour. We believed our performance at the Oprah Leadership Academy for Girls to be at 6pm and we arrived at the gate of the school at 5:30! Thankfully we then discovered that the performance was at 6:30, which bought us some precious time. We quickly unloaded our luggage into our guest rooms, got dressed for the concert, and went over to the hall to warm up for a few minutes.
Maureen hadn't been feeling great all day and by the time she got over to the hall she was really light-headed and thought she might pass out. We tried to do a sound check but she needed to lie down so we all went back in the green room. Maureen laid down on the the table in there, just absolutely miserable. It was already time for the concert to start so we were just about to call it off and go announce to the girls that it was cancelled. Then Maureen sits up and says, "let's just do it" and walks out and proceeds to play the full concert!
It was great to see Charmaine (our host north of Joburg from when we arrived three weeks ago), as well as her friend Sandy. They made the trek all the way down from Sunninghill, which was over an hour through the worst of Joburg traffic, just to hear us play again. It would have been nice to have more time to spend with them!
Afterwards the head of school, Anne van Zyl, invited us to dinner at her residence, along with Rudi Olivier, the head of the music program. We learned a lot about how they are incorporating music into the curriculum here--it's a very vibrant program with a large percentage of students taking part.
The next morning we were able to spend some time working with the girls--Elisa and Maureen coached the string ensemble and Becky worked individually with a piano student.
After a quick excursion into Joburg for lunch with Rudi, we packed up and headed to the airport.
We're in Atlanta now--just one more short flight and we are home! Once again, a huge thank you to all the many people who helped to bring this project to fruition. We couldn't have done it without you!