The Instruments that Make Me

By Sydney Kirton

WB2_9364The pulse of the drums was so powerful that even the flies dancing upon the faces of the children seemed to move with the rhythm of the hypnotic beats. Men chanted in Swahili as the women filled in the missing ranges of sounds with their high-pitched voices. I didn’t speak the language, but I felt the music and fell in love with the reality that there is always something new to feel or learn through music. I sing and play four instruments, but my musical growth continues. Yet in this moment, I understood the power of the instrumental sounds that have engaged me for as long as I can remember. I was 16 in Kenya, but the music made me feel like I was right at home.

My trip to Kenya was where I connected the dots of my musical experiences and realized their impact on me. Music has made unfamiliar places comfortable.

I was six when my mother made me take violin lessons. It was my first instrument. I did not love it or hate it, but I discovered that the violin made me feel incomplete when I was eight and played with my school orchestra. As I first heard the sound of the orchestra playing a complete piece by Vivaldi, I felt a sense of calmness. I had been so tied to the violin that I did not have a sense of the larger whole of an orchestra. The sounds of different instruments finally came together to form a complete, peaceful composition. I sat with my violin in hand and struggled to connect to my instrument. I wanted to play more roles, and merely practicing and playing the violin on its own was not as enjoyable as listening to the full orchestra. I wanted to understand different instruments. Soon after, I went into the violin room and saw kids waiting for their piano lessons. I began piano lessons that year.

My family moved many times because of Mom’s career, and music became a stabilizer through the change. In sixth grade, I left Atlanta for the Potomac School in Northern Virginia. I said goodbye to close friends and entered a middle school where I confronted bullies. However, I found an escape in learning a new instrument in sixth grade–the flute. There were rough days when I thought it would not get any better, but then came my escape– chorus and band. The hatefulness of the bullies could not compete with my love of singing and playing my flute.

In seventh grade, my teacher asked for a volunteer to learn to play the bassoon. Another instrument! My hand flew up. The bassoon helped cure my need to be every instrument. I found true love with the loud, deep, but smooth notes. Once I played it, I knew I found a home in my orchestra alongside the other basses in the band, a place where I clearly belonged. The sounds were so mesmerizing that I never wanted to leave the class or stop playing.

But it was in Kenya where I truly discovered the ability of music to bring out the best in any situation. I was a volunteer teacher at the Red Rose School in Kibera. I instantly connected with students through singing and dancing. After hours of math and reading lessons, smiles were on every face in the room when it was music time. Volunteers danced with multiple kids at one time, spinning them around.

It has been years since I was bullied and I do not plan to be a singer, bassoonist or musician professionally. But regardless of my career choice or place of residence, my attachment to music will remain just as I carried it through five school changes. I still love the bassoon, but who knows how many new instruments I might learn to play?

Sydney Kirton, a graduate of Woodward Academy, is a freshman at American University.