African Connection: Mentoring a Rwandan Violinist

Norbert Niyizurugero and Terri Moon

Norbert Niyizurugero and Terri Moon

HTAC's very own Terri Moon will be featured on the Rocky Mountain PBS program “Arts District” this Friday 26 Jan at 8:30PM with a story about a connection she made while visiting Rwanda this past summer with her family.  Here is Terri's story she wrote for a friend's blog about the experience she had with a young Rwandan violin student:

I am a violin teacher, and Norbert Niyizurugero is my student. I love to share the gift of music with others, and Norbert is making great progress! I have many students, but this experience has been unique. We’ve had six lessons to date, but only one of them was in person. I live in Colorado Springs while Norbert lives in Kigali, Rwanda.
Last summer my husband Steve, daughter Rebecca, and I traveled to Africa. We went to visit our oldest daughter Ruth, who was in Kigali working on research for her dissertation, and also to visit our church's sister parish in Nyagatovu, in the southern province of Rwanda. We had done a bit of reading before we left, so we knew about the genocide of 1994, and the beautiful story of how the country has made amazing strides in restoration and forgiveness since then. Our church, Holy Trinity Anglican Church of Colorado Springs, has had a relationship with Anglican leaders in the country from our beginning, so in many ways Rwanda has been mentoring us! We wanted to help deepen this relationship and, as Paul says in Romans 1:12, to “be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” So, on June 7, 2017 we set off. I had gotten a crazy idea while packing. Because I was hoping to share some music with our sister parish, I had planned to take my violin with me, but I got to thinking about an extra violin at our house, one that had been purchased to help a student who couldn't afford one, and then used by several other students and my own daughters at different times. I got some pretty funny looks from my husband and daughter, and then people at the airport when I insisted that I was taking two violins on the trip!
When we arrived in Kigali, we were struck by the beauty of the people, their brilliant smiles and colorful kitenge printed fabrics, their tradition of dancing and singing, the intricately patterned basketry and fantastic coffee! Many of the people in this city speak English, as it became a national language in 1995. Most of the rural people speak only Kinyarwanda and French, so we had to rely on translators during our time with our sister parish, but in Kigali we had a pretty easy time communicating. Ruth mentioned to me that she had met a young journalist who seemed to be especially interested in music. He read music and sang in a choir, the only one in the country which performs classical music. They had become acquainted when she had noticed him listening to a recording of Handel’s Messiah while at work and they got to talking about music. He told Ruth that he had always wanted to play the violin, and she suggested he might like to meet me. So, Norbert and I set a time to meet up at Ruth’s apartment in Kigali.
That first lesson was a real adventure for me! I have taught many beginners of all ages over the years; I am an adjunct professor at Pikes Peak Community College, and have a master’s degree in violin performance. However, I don't very often teach a student whose first language is not my own, who comes from a very different cultural background. It was so fun to see him getting excited about my explanation of the bow being drawn across the strings like air over vocal chords, and to watch his face as he listened to the tone resonate from the instrument! He was very quick to catch on to the left and right hand positions, and seemed to have a pretty good ear, something which is critical for a string player. I could see that this was an instrument he was capable of learning. So I asked him, “Would you enjoy playing the violin, really learning it?” Norbert answered that he definitely would, if he had one. So, at the end of that lesson, I told him that the violin was now his. I asked only that he take care of it, and always try to play for God’s glory. The expression on his face just then is something I will never forget. We agreed to keep in touch weekly, every Monday, by email at first, and then to look for a way to have lessons by Skype.
Norbert and I exchanged emails for a month, I sending long descriptions and scanned copies of music, and he asking questions like, “How do you keep the bow straight?” I sent YouTube videos, and we worked hard to communicate, but he was not able to find a suitable connection to Skype in Kigali where he could play his violin. I wasn't sure how well I could teach him without being able to actually see him play.
Then, one evening in early August as Steve and I walked downtown for dinner, we saw a large gold box that looked like a shipping container parked near the museum. The curator there invited us to step inside, and what we saw was like Skype on steroids! It was a life size, real time screen  connection to a similar container on another continent, both called “Portals”. That was when I asked, “So where else do you have these things?” He told me that the following Monday there was a planned connection between Colorado Springs and Kigali, Rwanda! I was sending an email to a Norbert the next minute!
Norbert and Terri having a lesson through the Portal

Norbert and Terri having a lesson through the Portal

We’ve had five lessons through the Portal, and each time as I drive to meet him in my car I think about Norbert riding on the back of a moto hugging the violin tightly as he rides, nine time zones away. He's learned the first four folk songs in a beginning violin instruction book, and figured out how to play “Silent Night” on his own. Just today I taught him the first exercise to begin learning vibrato. We have laughed at the challenges together, and he and I keep trying to conquer them. With the help of Deborah Thornton and the local non-profit, The Imagination Celebration, the story of our violin lessons in the Portal caught the attention of the Rocky Mountain PBS station. A videographer came to film an early lesson, and Norbert's story will be broadcast on PBS January 26, 2018.
When PBS suggested I give them a recording of myself playing the violin for the segment, I asked Tom Gannaway if he would share his original piece, “Mocha Jig” that we had recorded together. That music will be featured on the broadcast, and I hope you enjoy it!
If you think of Norbert, pray for him, and for our continued relationship. I hope to encourage him and his development as a young violinist in a country that has only one small orchestra. He has frequently written to say, “Thank you, I will be the first Rwandan violinist!” He hopes to play next year along with his choir in a concert. And, I wouldn't mind another trip to Africa to see that performance!

Norbert and Terri's story will be shown on Rocky Mountain PBS on Friday 26 Jan at 8:30 PM.