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Frikus / Blog

Ghana

In December ‘11 and January ’12, I had the opportunity to travel to Tamale in Northern Ghana with a group of music teachers from the Playing for Change foundation to teach guitar at the Bizung School of Music and Dance. It was an amazing experience to say the least. Most of the children at the school had never had the opportunity to play guitar. When our group showed up to the school with eleven acoustic guitars the kids were overjoyed. They were so eager to get started. We began with an easy finger exercise, and then showed them a three-note picking pattern. When a person is new to guitar the strings digging into the fingers can be painful. We taught over 80 children in our three-week workshop, and not a single one of them complained about their fingers hurting. They remained focused through each hour-long lesson without fidgeting, and they progressed quickly through the program. We added another three-note pattern and a melody line to the lesson, and before long the children were practicing their first tune on guitar. It was satisfying as a teacher to see results so immediately. We had the opportunity to take a lesson ourselves on the gonjey, a violin-like instrument from the Housa tradition. The children were already on their way to mastering this instrument, and they were delighted to hear us giving it a try. One of the students asked if we could teach them the gonjey tune on the guitar. Soon after, a new tune was added to the Bizung School repertoire. I was astonished to hear blues guitar re-invented before my very ears. At the end of the three-week program the students were ready to give a short performance. The entire school showed up to the performance space on the back of a long open-bed truck. We could hear them coming from a half-mile off singing and drumming their way through town. The students put on a great show. They performed two dance pieces accompanied by traditional drums, xylophones, electric piano, and gonjey. Then, eleven students demonstrated their new guitar skills to the appreciative audience. I have never felt so proud. When one of the older kids got up at the end of the program to express the gratitude of the entire student body I was nearly overcome with emotion. I too am grateful for the opportunity to come to Ghana and have this amazing experience with these very talented children. What a wonderful journey.