It was a dream: a pipe dream some may have thought… a far off mirage that wasn’t in my ‘work plan’ I thought, but a dream none the less: to get twenty-five at-risk youth from Kingston, Jamaica to Canada in order to perform at Jamaica Independence Day Celebrations and tour three cities in two provinces to sell out crowds and well…sound good.*
[*Side Note: I don’t volunteer for an auditioned orchestra in a grand amphitheater: the NYOJ is a non-profit organization that accepts anyone who wants to join. It’s a crime-prevention program engaged in empowering Jamaican youth from vulnerable social groups through free classical music training at schools throughout Kingston and Spanish town… so the sound good part was still very much up in the air.]
Stressful, frustrating and exhausting are a few of the adjectives one could have used for the lead up as well as the execution of this particular ‘dream’. Literally, I don’t think it could have been more hectic or exhausting… but at one point during the tour while struggling to stay awake at the gracious Jamaica High Commissioner’s residence, one of the students explained that they had a special treat prepared for the guests. A special treat? What special treat? They barely had time to sleep let alone prepare a special treat with all of the travelling; rehearsing and bustling around we had been doing over the past couple of days, in what moment was there time to prepare a special treat?? To say the least, I was a little bit nervous. We had no control over what happened next though, so as I’ve learned to do, I just went with the flow.
Well, from that first solemn note, I just knew: as usual, I had it all wrong. When stretched to the absolute max these Jamaicans don’t crumble, they shine. They completely defied every expectation I had of them and there was barely a dry eye in the place after their ‘special treat’. It was extremely moving in person, and remember they’re running on about three hours of sleep, but here is a taste of what I heard: http://youtu.be/i6Hf8iNMPMI?list=UUbXj75uGiqotO-9XKGXgnoQ
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I guess it takes a while for me to learn a lesson. As during our first concert of the tour when, before the show while they were rehearsing on stage, an early audience member came up to me and said, “Is that really what they sound like?” (And not in a good way.) With my stomach in knots and my eyes barely able to open with exhaustion, I put on a smile and said, “Oh, they always pull it off in the end, somehow they always put on a great show!” The confidence in my voice wavered, but not only did they put on a great show, they won everyone over and had the audience dancing and singing in the isles begging for encores and photographs when the performance came to a close.
All the hard work and frustrations melted away during precious moment like when our tiny oboe player screamed out in glee as a train on the opposite track whooshed by only inches away from his window seat as he yelled, “Auntie Karen, did you see that? He almost hit us! He didn’t hit us! He almost hit us though!! Wow!” The sheer joy and excitement overflowing out of him as he bounces around during his first ever train ride was contagious.
Any sleepless nights seemed insignificant when tears began to form in my eyes and a lump of pride in my throat as our students became leaders while singing along with the Camp Melody kids in Montreal or as role models while the OrKidstra kids performed for them in Ottawa. I had never seen them sit so tall or speak with such confidence about their own country and being part of the “National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica.”
And then there was today, when one of the young men who, to say it very politely, got on my nerves during the trip, was quietly humming the melody to a new trombone student to help him count out the correct beats while no one was watching.
In the end I realized it was never about this specific dream to get to Canada. As I witnessed them speaking with confidence and a sense of pride to their ‘fans’ about the program and themselves after the performances, and now hearing them reminiscing about the tour and helping the younger students: I realize that it was about so much more.
It was about creating a space, a place in the participant’s minds, a spot in their reality that allows a ‘dream’ or a goal, or a thought about the future to become a reality for them.
It was never about just getting to Canada, it was much bigger than that. Canada was just a microcosm of the bigger picture: of the idea that dreams do come true, if you work hard enough, reach far enough and endure quite a lot, you can in turn create a different reality for yourself. I feel so privileged to have been a small part of this big dream.
And as my placement comes to an end, I can see that this tour was also a microcosm for my own journey with Cuso International as a whole. Nothing is as expected, everything is out of your control, but if somehow you can find a way to truly just let go and flow with it instead of against it: remarkable things will happen. And in this particular case, with a tiny bit of my help, in our beautiful country, dreams did come true far beyond any I had ever imagined. And really, what more could you ask for?