Credit: Jenna Hansen | Courtesy

The power of music took six Cal Poly students and two music professors to Nairobi, Kenya this summer. For two weeks, the students sang all day, performed solos and accompanied Kenyan choirs.

The journey to Africa began in 2017 when the International Choral Society’s International Conducting Fellowship Program selected choral conductor Scott Glysson for an exchange. 

“Through that connection, I made friends [in Kenya] who asked to have me back for a conducting workshop, and I thought it would be really cool to bring some voice major students,” Glysson said. “The purpose of the trip was to give my students a cultural experience, learning about Kenya and its music first-hand.” 

Music sophomores Jenna Hansen and Mady Frei said they found deeper appreciation for their craft while immersed in Kenyan culture. One day after a lunch break, Hansen said she recalled walking into the music workshop, only to hear someone playing Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” on the piano. Soon, she realized everyone in the room was singing and harmonizing to it.

The Nairobi trip immersed students not only in music, but in Kenyan culture as well. As a former British colony, Kenya practices traditional tea time breaks. Frei said this provided an opportunity to build friendships and hear voices outside the chorus.

“It was the best thing because during rehearsals, you’re singing and singing, and tea was my time to interact with my fellow singers and really get to know them,” Frei said. “Plus, the tea was absolutely delicious.” 

The six vocal students — Frei, Hanford, senior Michaela Donofrio, sophomore Sheridan Liaw, junior Erin Ichimura and sophomore Zahra Rothschild  — said they felt fortunate to set their program’s maturation into motion with this trip. 

“I’m so lucky to have been offered this opportunity by Dr. Glysson,” Hansen said. “The department has graced us with so many wonderful opportunities already, and I can’t wait to see what it has in store for the future.”

This choir trip to Africa was only the beginning, according to Glysson, who said he has plans to bring a group to South America in the future. The choral director said he aims to continue the exchange every two years. 

“I would love for this program to be a vessel for students to see the world,” Glysson said. “Music is a shared emotional experience, and that connects people on a deeper level.”

In March, Cal Poly’s music program will welcome its Kenyan friends in a collaboration on musical and cultural growth. 

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