Jenny Lafai’s speaks in a quiet voice.
Her answers rarely consist of more than a couple of words.
The reason for this might be her lack of English skills or it might just be caused by a certain feel of shame that overcomes her when speaking about the past.
The 18-year old girl dropped out of school without ever graduating. She had no direction in her life, nothing to work on and no important goal set for her future.
But Jenny had a passion: music. Two months ago, she joined the National Orchestra of Samoa. As soon as she picks up the shiny wooden cello, her hands find the usual places needed to coax sounds out of the string instrument.
With a quick but precise move of the right hand, holding the instrument’s bow, warm dark tones suffuse the orchestra’s rehearsal room. After she finishes playing some scales, Jenny Lafai looks up from her cello and a brief smile flashes over her face. Music has become her getaway from a future full of futility.
When asked why she chose the cello as her instrument, the answer could not be any more pragmatic.
“Because they needed people to play the cello in the orchestra.”
This situation could easily be turned around. Students without a clear direction need a purpose to continue, a goal for their future. To provide this, the National Orchestra has come into operation.
“We do not turn anybody away from here,” says Tipazo Aukusitiono. He works as a brass music tutor of the orchestra. Samoa’s National Orchestra was originally founded in 2013 by the Prime Minister himself to provide a proper background music for the National Policemen Band.
Since then, it has taken over a much more important role for the country’s youth.
“We are funded under the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture. This includes the salaries for tutors and money to buy new instruments and we are really thankful for this help. But we’re always on the search for new sponsors.”, Mr Aukusitiono explains.
At the moment, the orchestration consists of 15 to 20 musicians from an age of 15 to 30 years, all of them unified by one similarity, which is their personal background.
“We call our musicians students, but at the moment, they’re here full time as a sort of volunteers. They all dropped out of school and all they need now in their life is a second chance.”
A second chance provided by the National Orchestra with the help of musical education. “They come into this door and we do our best to provide them with all the skills they need to pick up an instrument and learn it from the beginning”.
As a part of their musical education and as a proper orchestra, the young musicians have indeed to learn how to play together in the right way.
This skill is also linked directly to the instruments themselves, musical tools which first have to be introduced to the prospective musicians, as Tipazo Aukusitiono can tell: “Of course our students firstly have to get a feeling for it to play classical instruments.
It’s difficult because instruments like strings or brass are hardly seen around the area”.
But this lack of familiarity did not stop the orchestra from rehearsing and finally playing in front of an audience during the three years of its existence.
“To be honest, we’ve lost count of all the concerts we’ve been able to give since last year. Since it was a new thing here in Samoa, we tried to expose the orchestra and this really went well.
We’ve had numerous concerts, for instance a lot of school performances this year and we also had a major performance with a visiting professor from the Australian conservatory.”
As for the music that is played by the orchestra, there is also a certain sense of specialty about it: “At the beginning of the orchestra, our composer tried to aim at the classical style of music as it is usually performed with those instruments.
But as it went on, we noticed that the genre of classical music is a really new one to Samoa in a certain way. So what our composer did, was to create a sort of fusion between Samoan music and classical orchestra music”, Aukusitiono states.
For young people like Jenny Lafai, the National Orchestra of Samoa means more than learning an instrument. It is an opportunity.
“I want music to be a part of my future life, because it helps me to develop something.”
As she utters these words, her hands clutch the instrument that seems to give her a reason to stay focussed in life.