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In the second half of June, 7 chamber musicians from different parts of the world visited Kolkata: Avery Waite (cello), Kim Mai Nguyen (viola), Sylvia Wehrs (violin), Laura Thompson (violin), Thomas Verity (clarinet), Cassie Lear (flute) and Robert Fant (French horn). They held workshops with members of the Kolkata Symphony Orchestra (KSO) and this resulted in two public concerts, including one highly successful fundraiser.

Interestingly, except for Avery and Mai (who are married), these international musicians had never met until they landed in Kolkata. They were here because of the MusAid “Teaching Artist Lab”, a two week programme which offers musicians the opportunity to perform and teach at socially driven music programs around the world.

Apart from the work with the KSO, they worked with students of the Oxford Mission, Rogers Music School and a chamber music concert at the American Center’s Lincoln Room. They also had 3 events for social outreach at different NGOs:

  • At Iswar Sankalpa’s open shelter for homeless women with psychosocial disabilities.
  • For students of Friends of Calcutta’s Tangra Centre. This centre is in a basti in the heart of what used to be a municipal dump and students that played for were mostly children of local rag pickers who make their income from recycling plastic and rubber.
  • At Piali Ashar Alo, a school for girls in the village of Piali, a 2.5 hour drive from the city

These three concerts were coordinated by the Calcutta Classical Guitar Society (CCGS), as part of their Live In Learning initiative supported by BookASmile. Students at Friends of Calcutta and Piali Ashar Alo are receiving basic music education, and the members of Iswar Sankalpa benefit from monthly music concerts via CCGS. Avery Waite is Executive Director of MusAid. I asked him about the organisation and his Kolkata experience.

Veda Aggarwal: What does MusAid do exactly?

Avery Waite: MusAid is a USA-based nonprofit, which supports social impact music institutions in countries experiencing a lack of access to Western classical music education resources. Using music as a tool for empowerment and social change, MusAid partners with schools and youth orchestras that inspire youth and provide opportunities for skills-training, cultural exchange and arts appreciation. To help create a more sustainable future for our partner organizations, MusAid leads workshops for students, teacher-training seminars, instrument repair seminars and side-by-side performances.

VA: How did you personally get involved with the organisation?

AW: I was asked to come on a teaching visit to Belize with the founder of MusAid, Kevin Schaffter, in 2014. Soon after, I was asked to take on the role of Program Director. In that role, I spearheaded our primary program, the “Teaching Artist Lab”, which provides the opportunity for leading music educators from around the world to experience the intersection of cultural exchange and music education through immersion in our overseas programs. I was in charge of recruiting professional teachers, writing curriculum, and collaborating with our regional partners to design and implement short and long-term goals. I was also in charge of establishing our program in host countries, including El Salvador, Bolivia and The Philippines. I was recently asked to step in the Executive Director role and now oversee all of our activities and partnerships. I feel very lucky to be a part of this organization and look forward to further developing our initiatives!

VA: How did this project with the KSO come about?

AW: I lived in India from 2016-2017 as a recipient of a Fulbright-Nehru Grant. During that year, I traveled the country extensively spending time with many different music schools and youth music projects. I visited Kolkata twice during this year and absolutely fell in love with the city and the people. When I left India, I promised myself that I would come back to Kolkata and make a contribution to the Western Classical community of players, teachers and community members. It took two years to happen, but I finally made it back!

VA: Apart from this partnership with the orchestra, you also did a few concerts for social outreach. Why did you decide to include those?

AW: I believe that music should be a right for all and not a privilege for a few. Sharing music in a wide variety of spaces and communities helps to connect our world, making music more accessible and more relevant.

VA: Could you outline a few highlights from this visit to Kolkata?

AW: The outreach events were a special highlight for me personally. We performed and led activities in three very different community centres for those with little access to arts engagement. It was profoundly moving to see the impact of sharing music in these spaces and reaffirmed my belief in the absolute necessity of artistic communication in a troubled and deeply divided world.

VA: Does MusAid have any future projects for India?

AW: Due to the success of our recent visit, MusAid has established a long-term relationship with our partners in Kolkata. Our goal with our community partners, is to commit to at least three years of sustained collaboration and at least one annual workshop. We plan to return to Kolkata in June 2020!

VA: What about you, what does the future have for the two of you? And do you see yourself coming back to India soon?

AW: We absolutely love India and hope to continue building on the many wonderful relationships! We will be returning to Kolkata in June 2020 and possibly even before then!