“Everybody plays the piano.” Eleven-year old Veronica Njeri Wanjau, sitting next to her mother, says. “But a violin? Not many people play the violin because it’s not an easy instrument to play. It’s one of the hardest instruments to master.” They are seated on a bench at the GoDown Centre’s only restaurant. Maureen, otherwise called Mama Vero has been bringing her two children (the other one is 9-years) to a small music school to learn to play instruments for many years. Actually since Veronica was about six years old.
“My mother-in-law is a great singer, she has that voice that floats and arrests you.” Maureen says. She chuckles. “But I love music, I have always loved music and I particularly love the sound of the violin because it normally brings out emotions in music. It’s for this reason that I suggested to my children that perhaps a violin was the instrument of choice to master. There is nothing really hard in this world, I believe, it’s just how you apply yourself that matters. Even peeling an egg can be hard if you let it. But everybody can learn how to peel an egg.”
Maureen is a trained teacher, she did her Masters many years ago, then worked for two years before taking up motherhood as a profession. She made the decision to be around her children and mould them into the type of people she – and them – will be proud of. “Being abroad studying for my masters opened my eyes. I saw how so much time Europeans spent with their children, and it’s only then that they could identify what their children were good at and nurture that. The level of understanding of these kids on certain subjects were so deep as a result.”
“Being a teacher by profession gives me a better understanding of children’s development. I have a very good understanding of how extra-curricular not only helps to bring up a whole individual, but also helps in the classroom.” She has seen a trend in her children in that regard. She says they are more rounded individuals as a result of developing their artistic talents.
“As a teacher, I know that in music, you have to be very accurate. You cannot play a note which is not there. So that accuracy helps you in math, it also helps you in your reading.” She says. “Art is also generally about observation. The more you do art, the more you’re entrenched in fine art, the more you become a person who sees what other people don’t see. You’re also able to express yourself better as a result.” She is a big purveyor of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour- philosophy, the notion of identifying and building talents from a very early age.
Apart from playing the violin Veronica who attends Kilimani Junior Academy can also draw. In fact she draws so well that she won a fine arts award in school.
“I invest all my time in my children’s artistic pursuits now because there isn’t a lot of time we can be with our children. I’d rather make good use of this limited window then I can be free.” She laughs. “I tell my friends about the joy of doing this. I don’t think they fully appreciate it. It’s a good life. This is the best time to nurture this talent because when they get to teenage with it’s insecurities and changes, you can’t do much with them. This is the time.”
She isn’t quite sure what she will do after they are grown, but she dreams of opening something like a GoDown, some sort of an art centre. “I feel very passionate about giving Kenyans an opportunity to enjoy what I’m enjoying. Just a dream. I know a lot of parents, they ask me how come she can do this, and this, and this? I say because in GoDown, you meet with artists. And when you talk to them, you come out different.”
“Being around artists at the GoDown has opened up my world view very, very much. For instance, never knew that black and white are not really colors. In fact they’re harsh for the eye and so doesn’t always work for painting. I have learnt that artists actually have a style. That you can actually identify an artist through his unique style. I wouldn’t have had that eye had I not spent time with them.”
What does she do when she brings the children to learn the violin every Saturday and three times a week on holidays?
“I sit quietly at the corner as they learn. I’m like a piece of furniture, but I listen to what the teacher tells them. “Your finger two is too high, Veronica.” So when she’s doing homework, I could ask her, “Have you fixed finger two?” You always learn something.”
When you ask Veronica what a violin makes her feel, she says it makes her emotional. “The bow brings out all these emotions that are nice and sad and happy and dreamy.” She was recently named among the “high-scorers” in the annual global music examination organised by the Conservatoire.
Mama Vero doesn’t see much toward the future. She is enjoying the moment too much to focus on the uncertainty of the future. “For now I want it to be a part of something she enjoys. I want it to be something that can build her character. So the future will take care of itself if I take care of the present.”