Growing up in America, we tend to take many things for granted. We barely give basic living necessities much thought on a day-to-day basis, since we are lucky enough to have enough food to feed our bellies, clean and sanitary living spaces to live in comfortably, hot water to shower in every morning and heating in our homes in the evenings. Save for a rare black-out, which may inconvenience us for a mere few hours, for the most part we can count on these things to be available day-in and day-out.
It’s easy to forget that for millions of people out there in our world, that is not the case. I was reminded of this twice recently. The first was while reading my friend Beth Braaksma’s blog post who is currently stationed with her husband in Rwanda as Peace Corps volunteers. They are adjusting to living a life of extreme simplicity, focused on people and community instead of “stuff”. The part that hit home most for me was the following:
“Our American upbringing has left us ashamed of our empty space. The other day when a neighbor came over to greet us, John profusely apologized for not having chairs.
'I’m sorry,' he said, as we settled in on the floor. 'Our house is empty. We have nothing.'
'That’s not true,' our neighbor insisted. 'You have a fine teapot.' ”
Instinctively my friends laughed at their neighbor’s remark, quickly assuming that she must be joking. They soon realized it was not a joke; she was being absolutely genuine and sincere. While others in the community had to labor each morning to build a fire to heat their tea, my friends could effortlessly make boiling water within a few short minutes.
It was this exact story that came to mind when watching this amazing and inspiring piece by CBS News’ 60 Minutes called “Joy in the Congo: A musical miracle” about the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra.
Led by Armand Diangienda, this orchestra is located in the center of the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo and is quite mighty, with 200 volunteer members. The musicians come from miles and miles away, six days a week, to rehearse late into the evening. For them, being a part of the orchestra is more than just about a deep passion for music. It revives joy within them and is a brief visit to another world for a few hours at a time regardless of their surroundings.
Photo credit: Rolf Schmitz-Malburg at GlobalGiving.org
The concept of music as the universal language is made absolutely apparent in this video. When two opera vocalists from Germany were made aware of the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra, they soon traveled to the Congo to donate instruments and offer master classes. I especially love the following line from the piece:
“And if you ever questioned that music is the universal language, watch this – a German-speaking teacher tutoring a French-speaking African how to sing an aria in Italian.”
Aside from the magnificence of the orchestra as a whole, the unwavering dedication of founder Maestro Armand Diangienda is most awe-inspiring. A former airline pilot who was left without work when his airline company dissolved, he made the decision one day to start an orchestra. Was he an accomplished musician? No. Did he own a collection of instruments? No. Did he have a circle of friends and family that were also interested about learning and playing classical music? Not at first.
After receiving some donated instruments and finding a few at local thrift shops, he taught himself not only to read music, but to play several instruments—including the piano, the guitar, the trombone and the cello. It didn’t take long for the passion within him to spread; now, 18 years later, his passion is a beautiful mainstay of his community.
The spark from one man has now blossomed into a powerful and joyful musical force. How do you find inspiration to motivate yourself and others around you?