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Couple’s passion for classical music wins them top award

By | April 9th 2011 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Margaret Oganda

In the enticingly leafy neighbourhood of Nairobi’s Karen, next to the Kenya National Defence College, a small bungalow is tucked inside a tendered forest resting on a three-acre piece of land. Naturally, and as would be expected of any family home in Nairobi, the compound is fenced.

A short journey off the main tarmac on a driveway that meanders through the forest is the place Richard and Julia Moss have called home for the last 40 years.

The couple, both soft spoken, sits relaxed in their living room, a sizable chunk of which is occupied by a black grand piano.

It is from here they tell their intriguing story as two longstanding music teachers.

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The duo’s contribution to the growth of the genre is unparalleled.

Says Margaret Njonjo, wife of the former Attorney General, Charles Njonjo: "I have been attending and taking part with the Mosses in orchestral concerts since the 1960s when Julia and I were teachers at Kenya High School, and can say for a fact that their impact on classical music in Kenya is nothing short of legendary. "

It is due to their dedication that last October they were recipients of the distinguished award of an MBE – Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, at Buckingham Palace in London.

Met the queen

They even had a brief conversation with Queen Elizabeth on classical music in Kenya – an experience they describe as very special. Julia was recognized- for her role in music teaching and Richard for his -orchestral work.

Washington Omondi, a professor of music at Kenyatta, University, and one of the co-composers of the Kenya National Anthem, says that it is much deserved reward for the Mosses.

"I have known both of them since 1960, and they have made a great contribution through sacrifice and consistency over the years. They have both been dedicated to music," notes Omondi.

The MBE, under the British honours system, is given to people who have made an outstanding contribution in their communities.

Anyone can be nominated but the selection is rigorous.

The final list is published in the London Gazette, and the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood at St James Palace arranges the investitures for the successful candidates.

Richard was born into a musical family in England, and had his first violin lesson when he was seven.

He studied Geography at Durham University, while finding time musical activities on the side.

He was posted to Kenya as a colonial surveyor in 1959. "One of the first things I did when I arrived was to establish links with the Nairobi Orchestra.

In 1960 he went to work in Kericho, where he met and teamed up with his would-be wife, Julia Gaitskell, who was born and brought up in Londiani, where her parents had a farm. Julia had graduated from London’s Royal Academy of Music, and had started teaching music.

Richard plays the Violin, Viola, Double Bass, Horn, Trumpet, Trombone, Bassoon, and Side Drum, while Julia plays the Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Saxophone and Piano.

Both became actively involved in music as early as 1960 with a group of about 30 musicians, forming the Kericho Music Ensemble (KME).

After their wedding in 1965 in Londiani, they moved to Nyeri, Richard still working as a surveyor, but finding time for music while Julia continued teaching.

In 1967, they both got actively involved in the Nairobi Orchestra.

Julia taught in several schools in the 1960s and 1970s, among them Kenya High School, Alliance Girls, Lenana School, but also participated in teacher training workshops for the Kenya Music Trust.

They later took up full time employment as music teachers at Hillcrest Secondary School in Nairobi where they stayed for 20 years until they retired in 2009.

In 1996, the Mosses founded a group known the Quaver Orchestra.

Now semi-retired, Richard and Julia still teach instrumental classes at home, offer consultation and are still actively involved in the Nairobi Orchestra.

And what does the award mean to them? Richard agrees that it was a nice gesture for classical music to be recognised, although they have always loved music and did not do it with the hope of winning a reward one day.

"Our main motivation has been the love for what we do."

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