A Nigerian at the Kennedy Center
Growing up in the Southeastern city of Enugu, Nigeria (whose landscapes have become a popular scenery in Nollywood films), I held silent dreams of becoming a Film Director. Or maybe a Journalist. But my environment dictated that these paths would lead to lifelong poverty. So, my family and well-wishers directed me towards more “prestigious” fields like Engineering and Medicine. Still, wherever I go, I am drawn to the arts.
Miles away from Enugu, one of those places I find inviting is the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts located in America’s capital, Washington, DC. Artists here give so much. Practically every day throughout the year, there is a free performance at the Center’s Millennium Stage.
The other day, I heard the World Children’s Choir. I love choirs, but this particular experience opened up a new meaning, one deeper than words and sounds. The chorus was so moving you could imagine their voices wave the majestic flags that drop from the ceiling of the Center’s Halls of States and Nations.
From the sculpture of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (35th U.S. President, in whose memory the Center is named) to the chandeliers that hang in the Grand Foyer, the Kennedy Center is glorious. Walk outside to the River Terrace; here pillars reach for the skies, tiles flow into the earth, fountains echo beneath the laughter of the crowd. In close distance, the Potomac River reflects the brilliance of the artists inside. The architects envisioned their work so intensely that the grounds represent a calm instruction of what art can translate: a connection to the divine.
The chorus of children (ages 14 to 18), located in Falls Church, Virginia, represent 14 countries. They have performed for justices of the U.S. Supreme Court; two queens; four U.S. presidents; at the United Nations; not to mention national and international broadcasts. Their voices signify how a collective passion for the arts can unite nations. I kept thinking, “One of these kids could be Nigerian.”
The choir performed a collection of music from masters like Händel and Puccini, and from their own resident composer, Pianist and Associate Director, James Selway. They included the song, “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” during which the audience was invited to sing along. We began with vocal warm-ups in triads and in chromatic progressions. Everyone blew air bubbles and made oohs and aahs. Soon, we were waving our arms and swaying in full unison. The Sign Language Interpreter followed along beautifully. No one was left out.
The highlight of my evening came when Sondra Harnes (Founder and Artistic Director) explained in the most accommodating manner, that at 30 years-old, I can learn to sing. If you ever meet her, she’ll probably talk you into singing too.
I may not go on to train my voice or sing for presidents and queens. But, I can support children who in their core are artists. And who knows, I could direct… A Nigerian at the Kennedy Center.
Kem runs programs to empower youth in the D.C. Metro Area (United States). She grew up in a low income community in Southeast Nigeria and believes that every young person can be a valuable member of their community. Her writing explores development in education, the arts, and culture of Africa.
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