There is shyness in their tentative smiles. I sense their embarrassment with a hint of poorly concealed excitement. Maybe it’s these funny looking foreigners and their funny looking cameras. Maybe it’s that they’re learning to masterfully play instruments which two years ago were completely unknown to them. Maybe it is the way they just miss one note in the scale to the immediate and unspoken response of their teacher. Either or, there is something in that wide eyed and innocent acknowledgement of our presence in their precious little world, their academy of new skill development, and our fascination with their factory of magnificent sound.
I have come to the northern reaches of the island of Sri Lanka to visit one half of The Music Project. This is a locally managed small budget community project working tirelessly (in both the North and Central South) to try and unite the younger generations through the shared power of music. The idea is to bring together children from the north and south allowing them the chance to interact and share in a common practice. This is a ground breaking initiative that has been literally impossible due to civil war within Sri Lanka that raged for almost two decades (1983-2002), with the tentative seven year ceasefire finally coming to an end in 2009. Now with peace enveloping the tiny island nation it is up to a handful of dedicated people to try and bring the future generations together.
The Music Project is exactly this, offering free classical music lessons to both Tamil elementary school students (North) and Sinhalese (Central South). Those who are interested learn for three hours after school two days a week and have the opportunity every few months to play a concert in front of friends and family. The best part about these concerts is that they happen in both the North and South, where families of which ever school is travelling get hosted by families from whichever school is hosting. This brings the adults and extended family together all with the same desire to see their children excel at playing such wonderful instruments. It is the beauty and simplicity of music tying together a once torn nation.
In the four short days I spent with the project I could easily saw the focus and drive each child had for mastering their chosen instrument. The determination was impressive and the fact that they were so keen to improve was humbling. Picking up a completely foreign instrument (not to mention style of music) and learning how to master the piece within a few short years is pretty incredible. It gives the children a sense of confidence and understanding that they have the power to do almost anything. It gives them a sense of ambition and strength that will only prove valuable long into their adult lives. The Music Project is not only building future Giovanni Battista Viottis and Johann Stamizs, but a generation of young Sri Lankans with the shared knowledge of one another in both the north and south.
We sadly were just a few months shy of one of their shared concerts and were unable to attain this time around. However spending even a few days watching and admiring the quick learning and wonderful sounds was a treat within itself. This is a perfect example of how a community can come together to create something spectacular. This is a movement that will last a lifetime and have literal life changing effects on everyone involved whether they see it or not.
Check out The Music Project on FB and if you wish share with your friends and family. The more publicity we can stir up the better.
I want to also express a massive thank you to Shalini, Chinthaka, Nellie, the entire professor team, Sigira, and especially Saluka. Without each of you this incredibly unique visit would never have been possible. Hopefully we’ll see each other again very soon.
Thanks a lot,