I was only 6 years old when my Dad first uttered these strange words. He bellowed them out like his life depended on it. I’m sure he knew all the verses, but he seldom managed more than the first line before we all groaned and stopped him in his tracks, sparking much hilarity. That was all I knew of exotic Kathmandu until, decades later, I found myself on a plane to Nepal.
The idea of international Music Man Projects started with an innocent remark from a teacher who had recently returned from South Africa: “Our children would be lucky to have half a drumstick”, she said. I realised that, comparatively speaking, our UK students are very lucky. Many people around the world suffer extreme poverty, extreme prejudice, abuse (in some regions they are considered a curse and abandoned – or worse), poor or non-existent healthcare, natural disasters and conflict in addition to their disability. I vowed to make The Music Man Project available internationally, to use music to connect people with disabilities across the globe. Teaching in South Africa and India had shown our approach was effective. A teacher in Bangalore had described our visit as the most joyous time her school had ever had. “We couldn’t believe how much the students opened up. They have spent their whole life being told to be quiet.”
For this trip we were helped by the Dolma Foundation, a charity which supports education for children with learning disabilities and disadvantaged backgrounds in Nepal. They had arranged for us to teach 50 learning-disabled children at the Navjyoti Special School in Kathmandu. Like their equivalents in the UK, South Africa and India, the children were transformed into musicians as they sang (in both Nepalese and English), signed and played our music. They performed a concert at the local British School to an audience of hundreds, including the British Ambassador to Nepal, H.E. Richard Morris. The Ambassador described the performance as fantastic, adding, “Inclusive societies are more successful societies. Sometimes not everybody gets to be in the spotlight. Tonight, you got your moment in the spotlight. It was a pleasure for us to be here.”
The Chairman of the Dolma Foundation, Tim Gocher was thrilled with the visit: "Since 2003, Dolma Foundation has sought different methods to educate children with disabilities in Nepal. Music Man Project’s achievements were nothing short of remarkable! They brought the extraordinary abilities of these special children to a society that is less aware of such conditions compared to the UK. This method could be key to special needs education in developing countries. It was a joy to be in the audience with my family.”
All this was achieved after just 6 hours of tuition. We are exploring how far the common language of music can be used to free the constraints placed on people with a learning disability across the world. We are joining them together through song, country by country.
Seeing how much it all meant to Peter, a parent of one of our UK students, was particularly special. The visit really affected him in a wonderful way and he went on to stay another week, touring the Nepalese countryside and visiting orphanages. "We are thousands of miles away from my son and the students in the UK, but they all have the same mannerisms", he said.
Never did see Dad's one-eyed yellow idol though...