week four of the survivor girl ukulele band project just wrapped up — and so far twenty-one girls at the odanadi home have started to play the ukulele!! hurrah!! but the road here is not always smooth. the journey has had its share of bumps and bruises and even a little self-reflection on my part.
after the excitement and novelty of the first few class sessions, attendance of girls from batch one and batch two started to drop off. in fact, one day no one showed up at all. and when i added an evening class and started teaching the younger girls, wow. the abuse in their past shows in their present behavior, and the classes were pretty much chaos. but i had plans! plans that included timeliness and structure and organization! i admit it, there were moments when i felt a little discouraged. “i’m here to help you,” i thought to myself. “and how can i teach you ukulele when you don’t show up or won’t settle down?”
and then it came to me. these girls have a lot going on and have endured more than you and i can even imagine. and if i get wrapped up in my plans and my agenda and my success, i will surely fail. and really, come to think of it, i’m not here to teach them ukulele at all. i’m here to show them love. that’s it.
if i can keep love front and center, then nothing else really matters. the ukulele is merely the vehicle used to deliver that love.
i don’t mean to discount the ukulele, however. music is so powerful and therapeutic, the small ukulele can be a mighty tool or vehicle for restoration and hope. but to borrow from 1 corinthians 13, without love it is like “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
and what i’m finding out, too, is that some of the girls who have missed a number of classes are catching up by practicing on their own time and learning from those who attended. i also let the older girls show up at any class, work them in, and let them give a little inspiration to the younger girls.
here’s soma*, who doesn’t attend class very often, because she loves to work. and if there is any kind of construction, cleaning, or serving project going on, she is sure to be in the thick of it.
this past week i started my fourth batch — a group of middle school girls aged ten to fourteen.
we start their ukulele classes around 5 pm, after they’ve returned home from school at 4:30 pm and have had a chance to change their clothes and have a snack. and though they’ve been playing only one week, there was some fierce competition at the friday contest. the fourteen-year-old, bahula*, is the powerhouse in the class.
from day one she had an intensity and hunger for learning how to play the ukulele. i asked her why she wanted to learn the ukulele. she said she saw the older girls playing ukulele, and she said to herself, “that is something special. i want to do that.”
first she watches and listens intently as i show and tell how to fret the next chord, and then she tries it out herself. “sister, sister,” she says, “right?” wanting me to check if her fingers are in the right places.
and then there’s a chorus of “sister! sister!”
“it’s only right if it sounds right,” i say. “let’s hear it.” and soon the echoey room is filled with sound.
after bahula feels comfortable with the new chord, she says, “what next?”
i try to get the other girls’ attention, but they are lost. lost in ukuleleland — that magical place of sound and vibration and strum, strum, stumming and color and strings and notes and imagination.
“ok, quiet, krupya!” i say to no avail. they’re not ready to come back to me. the pull of ukuleleland is too powerful.
this little girl, mahalakshmi*, finds it especially difficult to come back from ukuleleland. she can stop strumming for a few seconds, but moment i start speaking she just has to get one or two more strums in. hahahah!!
after school is out, the littlest children at the home find their way to ukuleles and get about 15 – 20 minutes adventure in ukuleleland.
the other day this little charmer grabbed a ukulele and said, “one photo, one photo!” and then proceeded to lead me around to take photos of her and the ukulele in various locations. we went from the hall to the weight room to the stairs. in each place she knew exactly how she wanted the photo set up. here she is on the stairs in her fancy blue outfit.
and that’s her again in the photo at the top of the page. she and her little friend start their show with their backs turned, and then they swing around and continue the performance.
and here’s me in a photo taken by one of my students.
thank you to all of you who have joined the band. i’m so grateful to have you along for the journey.