By Lynn Brooks
Founder-Recorders without Borders
In 2008, as my family prepared to travel to Tanzania, I discovered my son’s recorder collecting dust in his closet. I wondered if these plastic wind instruments would be of interest to Tanzanian children. With 200 recorders I collected from elementary students, I set to find out. Six weeks later, our first shipment of recorders arrived in Tanzania and so did we.
The classroom at Ayalabe Primary School packed with 50 eager learners and six teachers, none of whom had ever heard a recorder, welcomed my family. Not a musician myself, I relied on my 11-year-old daughter, Ginny to teach the first lesson. The students were spell-bound as she performed “Amazing Grace.” Then Ginny, a fourth grader at the time, launched into “Hot Cross Buns.” “I played the first three notes and told them to repeat,” she said. “I heard toots, squawks and honks — not what I had played!” In response, Principal Mbaga called small groups forward and they copied as Ginny played. Having learned, “Hot Cross Buns,” they chorused, “Asante sana!” (thank you very much!). Teachers and students exclaimed that the recorders were the best gift they’d ever received. Many children, like those in Tanzania, do not own anything themselves. Having something proprietary, something that brings great joy through music, is seen as such an incredible gift to these children and the teachers that have the opportunity to teach them.
From 2008-2015, I shared recorders with volunteer groups traveling to Haiti, Nicaragua, Madagascar, El Salvador, Uganda and Kenya, requiring that each group report on their experience and in turn, I sent letters to recorder donors sharing how their gift had enhanced another’s life. In 2015, recognizing a need for sustainability, the non-profit organization, Recorders without Borders was born with a mission to focus on music education in Kenya.
In 2017 I reached out to Ed Sueta, Sr. from Macie Publishing Company and his daughter Julie, who supply recorders and curriculum materials all over the United States. Ed was a professional musician and educator whose passion for music education spanned his entire 90-year life. When I told him about my mission-he jumped on board immediately and for the past 4 years, Macie has been supplying recorders and books for the teachers in our schools in Kenya. My partnership with Macie has continued with his children since Ed’s passing in 2019 and Julie, Ed. Jr. and I share his passion and mission that music is for everyone.
These days, Recorders without Borders collects unwanted recorders, handmade recorder covers and financial donations throughout the year. Each summer, music educators from the United States travel to Kenya to implement the Recorders without Borders Three Year Recorder Teacher Certification program.
On the first Saturday, Kenyan teachers attend a full day recorder workshop. The Kenyan teachers are extremely dedicated, excited to learn and anxious to teach recorder. The first-year curriculum includes Macie Publishing’s “Be a Recorder Star” Curriculum as well as a vinyl “Fingering Chart” which is displayed in the classroom. The curriculum progresses annually, and after three years, local teachers are deemed certified Recorders without Borders instructors. One shared, “I like music. It entertains everyone in the society.” Another said,” I learned a lot and appreciate the chance provided. I enjoy music and am willing to pass the knowledge I have attained to my learners.”
The following week, Recorders without Borders educators visit each school and conduct sample lessons while the local teacher observes. Having driven in jeeps along bumpy roads for up to two hours, RWB teachers always receive a warm welcome from the entire school. Typically, they share tea with the Principal and are often treated to a traditional song or dance. On occasion, they are gifted a chicken, which is a huge honor in Kenyan culture. Then they are escorted to modest classrooms, with no electricity. Seated three to a desk, Kenyan learners are eager and focused. I have seen the students’ faces light up when they receive their recorders. In this setting, you see how music truly the universal language is and how it bridges so many differences. Music educator, Christina Baird said, “I was blown away by the love and joy that seemed to ooze from everyone I met.”
The RWB teacher begins the lesson with a performance of The Kenyan National Anthem, followed by the introduction of note B. By the end of the visit, most students are playing “Hot, Cross Buns!”
The second week, Recorders without Borders teachers return to observe the local teacher and provide feedback. On the final Saturday, each Kenyan teacher brings up to six students to a Showcase where everyone performs. It’s a special event and honor for the chosen students. Teachers are then awarded a certificate of completion.
The Kenyan schools have customized the program-making it their own. One established a recorder marching band for its Scout troop, another is using recorder as the foundation for a school band beginning with their fourth graders, in others it’s an after-school elective. Several local teachers have used their Recorders without Borders certificates to get new jobs. Music is always the gift that keeps giving!
RWB teachers return bursting with expanded cultural awareness and musical influences which overflow into their classrooms. Longtime music educator, Cindy McNicholas shared, “The students and teachers were amazing! I loved the smiles on their faces! No one was in a hurry and everyone wanted to learn!” Returning to her classroom, Cindy chose “Blue Jays will Change the World” for her annual theme, and is sharing her Kenyan experiences through videos, songs and dances. She says, “I think it’s wonderful for the students to be able to see, ‘Wow, my gift did make a difference in another country where they don’t have nearly what we have here.’”
Since 2008, Recorders without Borders has sent seven music professionals and shared over 7,000 recorders with students in the developing world. In Kenya alone, RWB has shared over 4,000 recorders and is working in 19 schools. RWB’s goal is to take 2,000 recorders and three to four music educators when they return July 2022. If you have used or new recorders you would like to donate or would like more information on Recorders without Borders, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org