Thursday, August 28, 2014

Let the music begin!

When we arrived here in Yaoundé, we loved hearing the members sing the hymns in sacrament meeting, but the only people playing the piano (in two of the five branches) were missionaries.  The other three branches sang a capella.  The members sing with a volume unmatched in any ward we've ever been in.  Most of the members sound really good.  They sing everything in unison.  The chorister sings the first line or two and then says, "Chantez".  The spirit in the meetings is really strong.  We felt that one way we could help out while we're here was to try to help a few members learn to play the piano.  Several of the couples before us have taught some students, and one sister in one of the branches is quite good, just not confident enough to play in sacrament meeting.  So......let the music begin!

We started by announcing in the three branches that we were attending one Sunday (they all meet in the same building) that we were going to hold a meeting to give students who were interested in learning to play the piano an introduction to music and get them signed up for individual lessons.  We thought we'd have maybe ten or so students.  We held our meeting in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday at the branch.  There were over a dozen who came and were so eager to learn.  We had a hard time trying to communicate with them, but they seemed to understand (for the most part).  The sign-up process was really interesting.  When we were done, there were people signed next to people, with the same times marked.  So much for individual lesson times!

We scheduled Wednesday and Thursday afternoons for the lessons in that building.  We have two electronic keyboards that we pack around with us.  We thought that one student at a time would be the simplest way to approach lessons, especially since everyone learns at such different rates.  We ended up having two, three, sometimes four people thinking their lessons were at the same time.  So, Anne took people for the first part of the lesson to review symbols, counting, etc., and Dave worked with them one on one with the keyboard.  The humility and desire of the people to learn to play, to "glorify the Lord" are so gratifying.  There were two men in their 30's who each said that learning to play the piano was one of their life-long dreams.

We've only heard of one member who has a keyboard in their home, so practicing was one of our main concerns.  We designed "plastificated" (the Cameroon version of laminated) paper keyboards that are about the same size as the electronic keyboards we have, and got them copied and laminated at a couple of different shops.  (Official documents need to be laminated, so there are a lot of shops around the city that do lamination, although they're set up to laminate 8x11 sheets at the largest.)  We've probably spent close to $100 for copies and paper keyboards.  We aren't able to give them much by way of supplies, but the members are so grateful.

The second week, we decided to start lessons at the next building.  They only have two branches that meet there, so we figured ten or so more students would show up.  In the process of lessons, church, etc., we've had requests from many more members.  We've now got about 40 students.  Lessons are Tuesday through Friday afternoons.  Some evenings we don't finish until 6:30, which is pretty late here.  It's dark by about 7:00, and gets a little scary for people trying to make their way home.

One of our students in the primary room
The Harmon Foundation is set up to donate keyboards to developing areas of the church who are in need of musical skills, and to promising students who complete the church's basic keyboarding course.  We're in the process of asking for an additional 17 keyboards (the maximum we can have for our five branches, including the 8 they already provided.)  After students complete the course, if they're strong and are willing to help serve in the church and teach others, they can apply to receive a keyboard for themselves.  It's an amazing program.  We're hoping the keyboards will really make the difference and we can get a good music base established here in the next two years.  Being able to practice on a real keyboard, rather than paper, will be a tremendous blessing.  Just wish we had 40 to pass out!
They're very anxious to learn!

Well, for now, music lessons have begun, and in a much bigger way than we imagined.  We're sure many of the students will stop coming when it gets harder and they become frustrated, but for now, it's been amazing!  (Very tiring, as well!)

For those of you contemplating serving as a senior couple, there's a great need throughout the church to help augment the music skills of the members.  Pull out the hymn book (or in our case, the simplified hymn book) and start practicing!  You never know what you'll be asked to do!