In the early 1950s, my father was a medical student in post-war Germany. In then West Berlin, in West Germany to be precise. One evening, he needed to ask for directions to find his way about the city. It was fate that made him stop a young German gentleman, Joachim Doll. Herr Doll happened to be going that way anyway, and offered to walk with him. And as they were passing his house, he invited my dad in. My dad met the familie Doll, and long story short, they took my dad into their home and into their hearts, as another family member. And so began a friendship that has spanned four generations and six decades.
When Joachim’s granddaughter Viola came of age and had a gap year, she chose India as her volunteer destination because of the connection with us. Viola visited us for a couple of days, during which time she learnt about Child’s Play India Foundation (www.childsplayindia.org), a music charity that I had begun, that helped bring music education to underprivileged children.
Viola must have given an enthusiastic account of our work to her mentors at the placement agency through which she was sent to India from Germany. Before long, we were entering into an agreement wherein they’d be happy to send us young Germans who had music skills and wished to work with the underprivileged sector. I explained our preference for volunteers able to play and teach cello, as we were in the process of setting up a cello project, and it needed all the help it could get.
Within months, I was asked whether we’d be willing to accept two young volunteers for a whole year, one for cello (!), and who also was a very good pianist; and another for recorder and flute. It was a whole new experience for us, and it meant having to learn all about contracts and agreements and registrations, but it has worked very well. Lukas Hartmann (cello, piano) and Friedrich Walzel (recorder, flute) have been with us since September 2014, and it’s been great. They play in our ensemble, Camerata Child’s Play India, and coach our kids at Hamara School St. Inez and at Mitsuko Trust, and worked with the rest of our Child’s Play team to prepare our children for the Christmas concert at Santa Cruz church, at which forty of our children performed an assortment of Suzuki tunes and Christmas songs.
Buoyed by our children’s enthusiasm and ability, in January, we also launched Junior Camerata Child’s Play India. This ensemble has 47 children playing violin, viola, cello, recorder and flute together, and the children comprise our own Child’s Play kids and also children from the wider community who are being tutored by young music teachers on Child’s Play’s Suzuki violin Teacher Training Programme. The children’s ages range from 6 to 16. It is a great opportunity for children from all walks of life to get an early taste of the joys of ensemble playing and music-making.
It is now time for us to prepare for the next batch of volunteers from Germany this September. And I can’t help thinking how all this was set in motion when two people met on a street in Berlin and struck up a friendship, and the chain reaction that ensued from there. It reminds me of the “butterfly effect”, how the flapping of a tiny, fragile butterfly’s wings can theoretically set in motion a chain of events leading to the elemental force of a hurricane much later.
And it leads me to conclude that even if this cascade of events hadn’t occurred, another one would have, and it might have been just as wonderful. Perhaps these little chain reactions are commencing right now, or are well under way.
Child’s Play India Foundation was privileged to be the only organisation representing India at the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra series, a pivotal part of the Commonwealth Week 2015 celebrations in March, attended by Heads of State, Commonwealth High Commissioners, British Ministers of State and Captains of Industry. We sent two of our musicians: Syanna Fernandes is a violin teacher at Child’s Play India Foundation, and Chernoll Mendonca is concertmaster of Camerata Child’s Play India. Their trip to London was sponsored by the Commonwealth Music Partnership, which has Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II as its Diamond Jubilee Patron and Maestro Zubin Mehta as its Music Patron.