Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Happy Holidays & Made in Rwanda Expo

We're taking a little break over Christmas & New Year, so we just wanted to wish all of our followers and supporters a very cool Yule and festive season. 

Last week brought to a close the 2017 Made in Rwanda Expo, where manufacturers and crafts people across the country displayed their wares. There's a real emphasis placed on building and buying local. Rwanda Motorcycle Company won the  Best Exhibitor's Award this year. You can read about it here.

We were really hoping to be able to display at the expo this year, but at the time of starting this project, we slightly underestimated the work involved in building a piano, and we wanted to wait until we have a fully functioning instrument to display - so definitely next year.

However, we have achieved a lot so far. We only launched our crowdfunding campaign in April, received the money in July, had fun with flip-flops in August, successfully produced a piano frame in September (after an unsuccessful attempt in June), also received the bass strings and started work on the body around the same time. We've hit heavy delays trying to source steel wire for the mid-section and treble strings, but we think we'll be able to order those in January, meanwhile Désiré is making the keys.

We've come a long way in five months. 

There are periods of waiting for things to arrive and trying to source the parts we can't make, but progress is certainly being made. The three hardest things about building a piano are the string frame, the strings, and the action. We've got the frame, we've got half the strings, so we're 50% of the way there, maybe a little more with the case and the keys.

We're looking forward to 2018 with all its challenges.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Piano That Saved Christmas

Here's a Christmas story with a happy ending.

We were recently approached by pianist Fabio Tedde (Pianist Without Borders). He was travelling to Rwanda to play music with a group of autistic children from Autisme Rwanda, based in Gisozi. He asked if we could help him source an acoustic piano, as the full sound and vibration seems to work better with the kids than an electric instrument. 

"Sure, give us a shout when you arrive," we said.

So, yesterday we got a call from the school asking if we could find them a piano for Tuesday-Friday, two hours each morning, for a group of ten children. They currently have thirty-nine at the school, but these ten respond particularly well to music.

It was a little short notice, but we were determined to find one. After almost a year of tuning pianos in Kigali, we'd seen a few. Surely it was just a case of calling around?

The best piano we could think of was the American Kimball in Kicukiro. The piano was in tune and in a nice quiet space that could easily accommodate the kids. Unfortunately, there were some major roadworks going on and the mud track leading to the church had been dug up, so we couldn't access it.

Unperturbed, we met up with Fabio at a disability NGO in town. The NGO owns two pianos, but they're both a little out of tune. The plan was to offer to tune one in return for letting the kids use it. They had told us in the past that if anyone wanted to play their pianos, they were welcome. But not this time. The owners were leaving for Christmas and weren't prepared to let their manager welcome us instead.

You Can't Use Our Piano

Next, we tried a rooftop restaurant with a nice grand piano - horribly out of tune. 

This time, they wanted to know how much money the children would be spending on meals, and what we were prepared to pay.

Neither the offer of a free tuning nor feel-good publicity could sway them.

You Can't Use Our Piano

From there, we headed over to a music school.

Although their piano was close to the children's school, we weren't sure about this one because it's very old and the tuning pins slip. It doesn't stay in tune for long. Fabio loved the sound quality though, and the space was perfect for accommodating the kids. The manager was happy to say yes.

"Let me just check with the director," he told us.

It was a no.

No reason given.

It was a heartbreaking experience, travelling all over town in search of one acoustic piano for a small group of disabled children - at Christmas.

We retired to the bar to contemplate things. It was not looking hopeful.

Out of desperation, we posted a plea to a local forum called Living in Kigali

Within an hour, we had three offers and two other leads.  All from individuals willing to welcome the children into their homes. It was such a lovely response after all we'd been through that day. Kigali Keys has offered a free tuning to everyone who responded.

We took up an offer from a lady in Nyarutarama called Ilse. She had brought her father's piano with her, a German Haegele, and was happy for Fabio and the kids to make music on it.

Pictures shared with permission from Autisme Rwanda.


(panorama, click to enlarge)

We are really grateful to Ilse for her kindness (and piano). The kids had a lovely time and each got to have a go playing. Some of them really didn't want to leave, so it's good they're coming back tomorrow.

Music is meant to be shared.

We hope that once we can produce instruments of our own, more people will get to access them. Fabio has played hundreds of public street pianos around the world, and it is our dream to install one in Kigali. It would also be great to have a piano available to loan out to schools like Autisme Rwanda in the future.