Building An Orchestra From Scratch

In America, when your child comes home and says “I want to play an instrument,” it usually means buying a student version or, if you’re lucky, playing one provided by the school.

What if you and your child had to build whatever instrument they wanted to play?  There would probably be a lot of percussionists shaking popcorn kernels between two paper plates.

Armand Diangienda lost his job as a pilot in the Congolese capital Kinshasa when, while he was on holiday, the Fokker F-27 he normally piloted crashed.  When he decided to form an orchestra in the aftermath, his friends could be excused for thinking he was a bit crazy.  One of the big problems was, he couldn’t read music.  Even that didn’t stop him.

While there were some instruments and musicians available, Diangienda’s father headed up a popular local church which had a brass band, flute orchestra, and a guitar ensemble, they were still missing many instruments.  They borrowed what instruments they could, and “reverse-engineered the others,” building violins and double-basses from the ground up.

Diangienda says many African rhythms can be found in Beethoven’s music, which compelled him to undertake an even larger task, putting together a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, a portion of which you can hear in the video above.

We take so much of what we have for granted.  How much would we be willing to do to have an orchestra?  Buy an instrument for our youngster?  Build one?  During these uncertain times in the Arts and Culture, these are important questions to ask.

Read more: The scratch orchestra of Kinshasa (The Guardian)