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I love sharing my passion for music

By | Dec 18th 2011 | 4 min read

My passion for music began at an early stage in life as I used to listen to my grandmother and mother singing. I had always dreamed of furthering my music studies; unfortunately, I did not have the money to study abroad since the subject was not being offered locally at the time.

In a bid to raise money for my education, I organised concerts. It was at this time that I was introduced to the then Attorney General ‘Sir’ Charles Njonjo, who told me to organise a fund-raising concert and he would be the chief guest. I still look back with gratitude for his benevolent help.

When I got enough funds, I went to the USA and studied for a Masters degree in Music Education at the University of Oregon. I completed in 1983. In those days, studying music was not considered a serious career option in Kenya. Many people thought of music as simply an ‘extra curricular activity’.

I am proud of my parents who believed in my gift and gave me their blessing to study music. I must say they are the backbone on which I stand, for without their support, I would not have made it this far.

After my studies, I returned to Kenya for only half a year, before I consented to marry my Norwegian boyfriend. For personal reasons, we decided to relocate to Norway. In the town of Bergen (where I am still professionally based), I took a second Masters of Music Education from Bergen Teachers’ College in Norway and completed in 1986.

While in Norway, I began the journey to a professional career by entering national and international singing competitions.

In 1989, I won "The National Debut Competition" in Norway.

In the classical world, competition in the early stages of your career is important because it sharpens you and helps you grow and prove yourself. Public competition helped me develop not just as a singer, but also as a stage performer thus enabling me to reach my full potential.

Develop talent

These days I come to Kenya often — four times a year — to help raise standards among music students and teachers. I have often wondered how many ‘Rhodas’ are out there who may never have the same opportunity and support I had.

I hope to help them discover and develop their musical talents. This is why I run a music centre at my home in Nairobi to nurture these talents, young and old, and offer opportunities for them to perform.

Since 2008, I have been conducting voice seminars at my voice centre for teachers (apart from individual students), because I believe the teachers also need to be sharpened in order to sharpen others.

Last year, I was privileged to perform at the second Safaricom Classic at Fusion concert. Later, an enthusiastic group of music teachers approached me for mentorship. After a long discussion, we decided to form an association of voice teachers, hence the birth of the Kenya Voice Teachers Association. Our aim is to bring Kenya’s voice and music teachers to a whole new level.

English teacher

I am a freelance performer, performing mostly solo (with a pianist), but also with orchestras. European classical music, though a Western cultural tradition, is not, as my old English teacher and composer once so aptly put it, "not entirely incompatible with African musical traditions".

In Europe, it has been my privilege to sing African folk music alongside my classical repertoire, often to the delight of my classical audiences.

I have worked with various symphony orchestras and musicians in America, Europe and Asia, performing in concert, opera and recitals venues such as; Glyndebourne Festival Opera, England, Oslo Symphony Orkester, Norway, Sysma Music Festival, Finland and Nairobi Music Society Orchestra, Kenya,- among others.

In 2004, I was honoured to sing at the Nobel Prize award ceremony for the late Prof Wangari Maathai. In February last year, I was invited to sing at the annual "Presidential Prayer breakfast" in Washington DC.

I believe there is a wind of change in the country-musically speaking, seeing more and more people appreciating European classical music as well as music traditions from other parts of the world.

The Kenyan youth are particularly keen on learning the instruments of the orchestra and audiences are growing in their appreciation.

Africans are beginning to appreciate listening to an African tune played on a violin for instance; I draw parallel lines to the picture of a wide bowl of ugali and stew, affording more of us to partake of.

For me, quality is of essence in sharing my passion for music.

The knowledge that I am a child of God, born with a destiny to fulfil has always given me the motivation to go on singing, even through difficult times of my life. It gives me great joy to know that I am walking in my destiny. I also accept that I have a responsibility to discover and nurture younger talents.

My vision is not only to help discover, develop and guide young vocal talents, but also to raise teaching standards in the work of voice development and contribute to heightening the appreciation of classical music among Kenyan audiences.

Most Kenyans would not differentiate between an opera and a musical. An opera is basically a play that is sung, using highly skilled singers.

In opera, the singing supersedes the acting, though we endeavour to train the singers to act as best they can.

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