[From the 5/24 www.sfcv.org]
HUSAVIK - A runaway iceberg of phantasmagorical shape from
Greenland is floating majestically into the nearby fjord as the
schoolhouse atop the windswept plateau between flat, volcanic
mountains resounds with vital, pulsating sound. Freckled Icelandic
seventh graders with upturned noses and bright, mischievous eyes
are raising the roof on marimbas and mpiras (thumb pianos),
playing and singing African songs so authentically and passionately
that it takes the listener's breath away.
"It's not just a `bit of world music here and there,' explains
school music director Robert S.C. Faulkner (who came from the
Royal Music Academy two decades ago to visit... and never left),
but he and Hafralaekjarskoli School specialized in the art of
Zimbabwean music, purchasing the instruments and starting up the
program at a cost of a million kronur ($16,000). In the past
few years, the children have played for Iceland's top politicians,
visiting royalty, and participated in cooperative productions
with local theater and choral groups.
This one-time whaling center of the world is not an exception
to the rule. Although Iceland's population is a meager 280,000
(against Oakland's 400,000), the country funds 90 music schools,
up to 400 bands and orchestras, and more than 400 choruses.
Reykjavik's symphony (lead by Rumon Gamba, with both Vladimir
and Dmitri Ashkenazy as frequent visitors) and opera company
(Kurt Kopecky, music director) have substantial seasons, the
latter with Britten's Noyes Fludde, Verdi's Otello and Aida, and
- so help me - Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen in its recent
How is it possible, asks the visitor from California - the world's
sixth-largest economy, where music education is a pale shadow
of what it once was - to have this level of government- and
community-supported music life in this tiny, isolated country
in the North Atlantic?
What's both frustrating and incomprehensible is that Faulkner
and others not only cannot answer the "how is it possible?"
question, they don't really understand what is being asked. Is
music a priority, do you pay what is required? Of course. "It's
obvious that the little money we spend on music education pays
for itself in a hundred ways," says a school administration.
There is no real answer to a question that doesn't make sense.
Notwithstanding the bright, invigorating sound of African rhythms
around me, the beaming musicians, the enthusiastic audience, I
feel sad, contemplating the unanswered question - why not do the
obvious in California, why not invest in music, a low-cost,
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