• Jonathan Stanley

Organ Pipes And Nyckelharpas

Jonathan Stanley (Bray Parish) shares some reflections on his recent experience of virtual volunteering with CMSI and our partners in Nepal.

By the start of 2021, life in lockdown had become very repetitive. Life revolved around turning up late for Zoom lectures in my bedroom and weekly expeditions for groceries. I desperately wanted some sort of change to break the monotony. That was my reason for joining CMSI’s virtual volunteering open evening.

Virtual volunteering is a great opportunity to give your time and skillset to work in partnership with CMSI's global partners without the need for vaccines or flight itineraries. I signed up and was offered a chance to teach music lessons at the Kathmandu International Study Centre (KISC). This is a school set up for the children of mission workers in Nepal. Like Ireland, the school has been online during the pandemic, with many of the mission workers having to return to their homes across the globe, so Zoom lessons really were an international affair!


KISC was transitioning between two music teachers so I was to fill the gap for a term. I was given two classes a week on a Thursday morning, with Grade 4 and Grade 5 students (between the ages of 9-11) and I was to try to raise their interest in music as opposed to following a set curriculum. This all sounded rather daunting. I had never taught anyone a lesson before and anything I found through my frantic googling needed to be done in a classroom.


I strung together an introductory lesson and met the kids I’d be teaching. The first lesson left me feeling a little like a rabbit caught in headlights, praying that the kids wouldn’t find my powerpoint style too boring. I have happy memories of my own primary school music lessons whacking tambourines off the table but it was hard to see how I could do anything as interesting on Zoom. I was worried that without face-to-face classes it would be impossible to make a connection with the students but thankfully we broke through internet barriers, despite several attempts by my ageing computer to thwart this.


Over six weeks, I led the students through an eclectic mix of activities. I took apart my piano, explaining how it made sound, and I took them inside a church organ, waving my phone camera above my head as I explained how the pipes worked. Then we moved to songs and film scores. We listened to clips from the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe Soundtrack and looked at how the same musical theme or idea was repeated in different ways to make the listener feel happy, sad, scared etc. The student’s had some fascinating insights into how the music made them feel and I was impressed with how deep their insights into the music were.

We also looked at the instruments used in worship songs. After trying to find information about Rend Collective’s homemade Jingling Johnny instrument, I found myself in a far flung corner of the internet that held a treasure trove of oddly-shaped instruments I had never heard of: Nyckelharpas and Yarbahas; Tohas and a six foot tall marble machine. Many of them looked as weird as they sounded. I’ve been playing and learning about music since I was a wee one but I began to realise how little I knew about the subject. I was amazed at how much I learnt as I prepared each lesson plan.


Through all my interactions with the teachers at KISC on Zoom calls and emails, I was made to feel very welcome. They were very patient in answering my questions and there was always someone on hand to assist with muting microphones and stopping students from covering their screens with gorilla emojis! I’m really grateful to them and to CMSI, who regularly checked in to make sure things were going well.


The students engaged with each of my lessons and were always keen to give their thoughts on the music and instruments we listened to. I feel very privileged to have been able to connect with them and I look forward to the day that one of them becomes a professional Nyckelharpa player!


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