“Getting a project started is always the hardest part.” This is something that many people have said to me in French and in English since I made it back on the African continent. This gives me a lot of hope for the future of CIAMO, but unfortunately that hope is no cure. What we’re doing here requires a lot of hard work. The past two weeks have been crazy. I’ve been wearing two hats, one as the Interim Artistic Director and one as the Professor of Music. I like both hats. . . a lot.
On the Artistic side, I’ve been working a lot with our administrator to get the program up and running. We’re starting an association called ArtForceAfrica, an association committed to the use of the arts in development. CIAMO will be a project of this association. The administrator is also doing a really good job maintaining contacts, and forcing me to be a part of that. We’ve had several meetings with people at ministries and in various offices/foundations around Cotonou. I’ve been Cotonou several times a week for the last several weeks. It’s a headache getting back and forth, but I’m getting a lot of work done.
This project requires a lot of dreaming – seeing the big picture in 5, 10, 20 years. The biggest headache is taking all the dreams that everyone in the team has for the project and identifying and simplifying those things so that we can actually make them happen at the center. The building built for CIAMO is already starting to look small for everything we want to do!
Most challenging for me is the teaching aspect. I only get the kids for six hours a week, each class about an hour. I’m learning with them, reading books and doing research on how to teach music to kids. Every class is a big challenge for me. I have the six classes of students. Since they’re all blank slates in term of music education, I have to start from the beginning with all of them. To make things easier, I’m dealing with 3 lessons plans a week, one for CI and CP (Kindergarden/1st Grade), one for CE1 and CE2 (2nd, 3rd grade and one for CM1 and CM2 (4th, 5th grade). They’re all learning similar things, just at different paces.
This week, I put the first musical notes in front of the eyes of my oldest students (CM1 and CM2). I explained the difference between a note and silence. We clapped to simple phrases – We are Beninese (Nous sommes Beninois) – and then I added rests in the sentence and had them try to read it. They caught onto it like they were born to understand. We moved from those simple things to measures of beats, where we clapped and played rhythms using percussion instruments. It’s amazing to see students, in 30 minutes, going from seeing a round circle with a line on it, to seeing a note noire and silence soupir.
This experience was inspiring for me and tells me that I can move a little bit faster with the older kids. I’m looking forward to when they can really read simple melodies so I can start teaching them recorder. With the younger kids, we’re focusing on repeating rhythms, maintaining steady tempos, and recognizing the difference between fast and slow, high and low, loud and soft. The kids seem happy to come to their lessons and greet me with a lot of excitement, even on the street. In the area around the school, I’m no longer “Yovo Yovo” I’m “Teacher! Teacher!”
What’s coming up? In the next few weeks, we’re developing private piano lessons, a chorale, and hopefully by January we’ll have dance and drumming lessons as well. In January Sarah comes, our art teacher, another Peace Corps Response Volunteer, this will start up the whole visual arts portion of the project. Anyway, we’re having fun in Ouidah. Every day is a challenge, but the project is really taking off so I can’t complain!