Last Sunday, I received an e-mail from the German Ambassador to Benin, Ludwig Linden. He had taken an interest in our project when we came to our concert at the American Cultural Center. The Ambassador invited us to bring our piano students to his residence to use his beautiful C. Bechstein baby grand piano and to see an art exhibition on display in his garden. We jumped at the chance to put their little fingers to a set of real keys and for them to see art produced by their Beninese brothers and sisters.
The day before we went to the ambassador’s house, I had the students draw a real piano on the dry-erase board. They designed a variety of blocks, strange things, but no one really knew what a real piano looked like - the sad result of not having a real piano at the center. Even still, these children are quickly advancing in their studies using our 88key digital piano and two other smaller keyboards.
As soon as class finished on Wednesday, we headed for the Ambassador’s house in Cotonou. Before we played anything, I opened the piano and the students looked in with wide eyes. Interesting – wires for each note, hammers, and dampers. Seeing how a real piano works changes your view of the instrument and in the end makes you a better player.
We talked about how the piano enables the player to use a wide variety of dynamics and sound. I showed the overtones, played a little Mozart and Beethoven myself, and let each child play something from their lesson books. The kids watched, applauded, and participated with excitement.
After, Sarah Ellison, the Art Teacher, took them for a tour of the exhibition. She had the children look at the art, analyzing the color using what they had learned in the classroom. They also learned basic notions of abstract and impressionist art.
Before they left, the ambassador’s cook gave us lentils and sausage. I started asking the ambassador about his work, hoping there might be some future leaders in the group.
We returned in the afternoon and first thing this morning I gave piano lessons. I've already noticed that the students have renewed interest in the instrument! Thanks Mr. Ambassador.