Connecting with music, thousands of kilometres away

Everett Igobwa has the kind of love of music that you'd expect from someone who plays 15 instruments. He can play the piano and most of the brass and woodwind instruments.

Everett Igobwa has the kind of love of music that you’d expect from someone who plays 15 instruments.

He can play the piano and most of the brass and woodwind instruments. Or he can play and speak with authority about the thum nyatiti, an eight-string Kenyan lyre.

When he’s not chatting about music, Igobwa has an equal amount of affection for technology and what it can do to improve education.

After working at universities around Canada, he’s now a faculty development instructor at Yukon College.

There, he assists faculty with things like bringing new technology into their classrooms and transferring their curriculum to the web.

Those two skill sets combine once a week, at about 10 p.m. local time. Igobwa sets up his computer in his downtown Whitehorse apartment and over the Internet he is able to connect with music mentors in Kenya’s Nairobi School, 13,370 kilometres away, where it is 9 a.m. the next morning.

“I mentor the mentors who mentor the boys,” Igobwa explains.

Igobwa spent three years at Nairobi school and graduated in 1986. He went on to get his bachelor of education from Kenya’s Kenyatta University. After years teaching music at private schools and volunteering to teach classes at his alma mater, Igobwa immigrated to Canada in 2001. He has since earned his masters in musicology and is working on his education PhD.

He returns to Kenya often, usually with music on his mind.

When Igobwa went to school, music education was funded in public schools. It’s not anymore.

“Music is always the ‘other’ subject,” he says.

As an educator, he says you shouldn’t look at topics as if they’re in silos.

“Scientific studies have been done whereby music is linked to mathematics – music can be linked to other things. Music can be linked to memory, to actually help remember things.”

Music exams and music skills can help a student develop confidence and self-esteem, he says.

Located on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi School is a public boarding school for boys from 12 to 19 years old.

The 200-acre campus was established in 1929. It houses about 1,100 students.

Teaching Kenyan mentors to lead the classes is better than doing them himself, Igobwa says.

“It’s good to teach the older boys how to teach. Then it trickles down, a domino effect, to the younger boys.”

The boys school has 28 trained music mentors. Igobwa just started working with Precious Blood Secondary, a nearby all-girls school, this year, where 17 mentors are being trained.

This year the two schools combined to win first prize at the Kenya Music Festival. They performed Vivaldi’s Gloria arranged for mixed choir and chamber ensemble.

Over the years Igobwa and another graduate with the local alumni association have invested back in the school’s music program, expanded it from being a brass band to a small orchestra.

“We have brass, we have woodwind, we have percussion and we are building string,” Igobwa says.

All the fundraising is done in Kenya, through events like golf tournaments. The cash is then brought back to Canada where Igobwa is able to buy instruments, get them serviced and ship them to the school.

He says there’s been a lot of good will from former Nairobi School graduates. Many are part of an alumni association known as the Old Cambrian Society, which has helped him out.

Over the last 10 years Nairobi School’s music program has been given about 80 instruments.

Now the Yukon College is hoping to help Igobwa improve the school’s technology alongside its instruments.

In September, when Yukon College was upgrading computer equipment, Igobwa stepped in and asked that the equipment be donated to the Nairobi School music program.

Fifteen computers and six projectors that used to call the Yukon College student labs home were boxed up.

If they make it to Nairobi, some will be used to replace the “very old laptop” used for web conferencing, and others will be placed elsewhere around the school, Igobwa says.

But getting the technology to Kenya is not as easy as putting the computers in the mail.

Air North has already shipped the equipment for free from Whitehorse to Calgary. Now they’re sitting in a church basement waiting for the next leg of the journey.

As Igobwa explains it, the Kenyan government worries about other countries “dumping” obsolete technology at its doorstep.

To keep that from happening duties are added to older equipment. In some cases, technology that is considered too old could actually be destroyed at the port of entry, Igobwa says.

The Yukon computers are about three years old.

Igobwa has applied for a waiver to eliminate the duty. Meanwhile, other alumni for Nairobi School will be meeting with Kenya’s education department to convince them the Yukon equipment still has value.

Igobwa is working to find the cheapest way to ship everything over once they get the green light.

“We’ve just had very good will. There’s been a lot of good will.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at