Instruments for Africa hits right note

Ottawa’s Todd Snelgrove recently delivered more than 200 musical instruments to schools in Zambia and Namibia as part of his Instruments for Africa campaign. He said the students couldn’t wait to get the instruments out of their boxes so they could start making music.

Ottawa’s Todd Snelgrove recently delivered more than 200 musical instruments to schools in Zambia and Namibia as part of his Instruments for Africa campaign. He said the students couldn’t wait to get the instruments out of their boxes so they could start making music.

Receiving a guitar with no strings attached sounds like the setup for a bad joke, but for schools in a country in Africa, it was a dream come true.

When Ottawa (Canada) guitarist and music teacher Todd Snelgrove visited the Republic of Zambia in May 2012, he was shocked to find that Linda School, a public high school he visited in the city of Livingstone, didn’t have any musical instruments at all. This was despite a curriculum that saw about 300 students take a music class every week.

“I found that out by walking into one school, where I donated one single guitar,” Snelgrove said. “But in this last trip as I visited more and more schools, I found out that that’s absolutely the norm in that country.”

Armed with this knowledge, Snelgrove returned to Ottawa with the idea to gather instruments and help these schoolchildren learn music with the right tools.

It took one of his guitar students, a former ambassador to an African country, to hold him accountable. After weeks of being asked for an update on the project by his student, Snelgrove sent an impassioned plea for people to donate their new and slightly used instruments and help the kids at Linda School get a proper musical education. He called this project Instruments for Africa.

The initiative, which started as a drive to collect enough instruments to create a full concert band for Linda School, quickly took on a life of its own.

“Things started flooding in and, in no time, we got way more instruments than we needed for this one school,” Snelgrove said.

More than 200 donated instruments were sent to 10 primary and secondary schools across five cities in Zambia, as well as one school in Namibia, a bordering country.

Despite a five-week delay in the shipment due to a holdup at the African border, ukuleles, keyboards, guitars, violins, recorders and more made their way into the hands of eager students.

“I’d just be trying to put the instruments on a table in the case, and I’d turn my back and they’d be open. The kids would have them, and they’d be putting all these things together.”

Their eagerness even led to an impromptu musical interlude, Snelgrove said.

“There’s the drummer, and he’s playing the drums, and there’s five or six guys with all these horns, and they’re jamming,” he said. “And they haven’t had the instruments out of the cases for 20 minutes!”

Surprisingly, he said, the most popular instrument seemed to be the recorder, and he hopes to gather many more for the next shipment.

“They love it,” he said. “And the thing is, you can’t break a recorder and to ship them, it is the smallest, easiest, lightest instrument to ship. I would love nothing more than to ship 10,000 recorders over there.”

Snelgrove plans on returning to Zambia in the spring, to ensure that students are getting the best possible use out of the instruments. But, even once he returns, he’s not done giving students the gift of music just yet. He’s taking the coming year off work to dedicate himself full-time to his initiative.

“It’s not called Instruments for Zambia,” he said. “It’s called Instruments for Africa.”

“The idea is to try to take (the program) where it’s needed within the continent,” he added, citing neighbouring countries Mozambique and Malawi as potential future destinations.

As for long-term goals, Snelgrove hopes to evolve Instruments for Africa into a charity. The initiative has already been designated as a not-for-profit, but the next step is proving to be challenging.

“I’m hoping to find some legal counsel that will donate their time to help,” he said.

“With the charity stuff the tax people are involved because you’re issuing tax receipts. It’s a lot more involved.”

More information can be found at instrumentsforafrica.com.

Source: Patrick Smith|Ottawa Citizen

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