Sunday, June 7, 2009

What happens when your clarinet breaks in Mozambique?

For budding musicians in developing regions, acquiring an instrument only goes so far. Eventually its keys or valves will become stiff, strings will break and leaks will develop. This is in addition to the inevitable acciden
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ts that will occur in a child's hands. For many children around the world, this damage can be devastating if there are no replacement parts and qualified technicians in the vicinity to help with repairs. This is where people like Pierre Helou come in.

Helou is a native of France and is employed by The Music Fund, a Belgian non-governmental organization that provides instrument repair services and new instruments to children in partner schools located in the West Bank, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Helou at work on one of al-Kamandjati's oboes

After we discussed the condition of the oboes at al-Kamandjati, I was able to talk with him about the general nature of his work.

Helou has been in the employ of The Music Fund for the last year. During his vacation time he has travelled to Ramallah in the West Bank and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An instrumental technician for seven years with a speciality in wind instruments, he has seen the difficulties that music programs in developing regions face.

"At the school in Kinshasa they had no workshop for repairing wind instruments," he explained. "So we had to install and develop a new workshop there."

The biggest issue for repairing instruments in the areas that he works in is a lack of viable equipment. "Corks and pads wear easily over time and need to be replaced regularly. They can be difficult to find in places."

Helou noted the differences between working in Kinshasa and Ramallah. "With al-Kamandjati in Ramallah we have a running workshop so the work becomes much easier. The trick is making do with what you have in the place you are."

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