There's enough bad in the world to last a thousand millennia. In my opinion, there's also enough good to offset the bad. One of the brilliant entities that sparkle on "The Dark Cointinent" is a shining exemplar of "good". It's called the Kinshasa Symphony, based in Africa's third largest city, Kinshasa, DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). With almost ten-million inhabitants, they rank among the poorest people in the world, but one man's idea, conceived 15 years ago, has enriched them with a priceless gift: A symphony orchestra and chorus that rivals almost any on the globe.
This evening's 60 MINUTES report by Bob Simon must surely have enriched the lives of any who may have watched his piece. It certainly enriched my wife's and mine. Seeing and hearing two-hundred musicians and dozens of choral members performing Beethoven's Ninth---Freude schoner Gotterfunken---in a rented warehouse, precipitated a continual flow of tears of joy and perpetual smiles here. Sometimes known as "Ode to Joy", the piece itself, Beethoven's last composition, is inspiring enough, but to hear the professionalism of the musicians and chorale in this unlikely setting proved, to me at least, cosmetics and trappings mean nothing. Substance, determination to learn, achieve and perform, mean everything.
The Kinshasa Symphony (you can look them up on the Internet for more information) was the brainchild of a man named Armand Diengienda, a DRC native and former airline pilot. The airline for which he worked went out of business 20 years ago. Following his loss of employment, he decided to follow a passion for classical music, learned how to read music and how to play several instruments. He decided he'd find as many others as he could who wanted to do the same things. They had instruments donated, found some in garbage dumps, repaired them and made learning and playing of music the only focus of their lives. Word about this growing presence spread. Conductor Diengienda, via two Germans who decided to produce a documentary about his miraculous work, recruited two professional classical German vocalists and musicians to coach his fledgling performers. They were featured on tonight's telecast. One of them remarked how unheard of it would be in Germany (or anywhere in the Western world) for people to walk 90 minutes each way through primitive surroundings and dirt trails simply to play in an orchestra or sing in a chorus, but that's what these performers do...for no pay.
I've only touched the surface about the story. The hardships some of the performers endure during other parts of their daily lives are also reflected in the piece. There was a saying we used to have in the Air Force (and all branches of the military), affixed to many barracks walls: it was "Kwitcherdambellyakin". Most of us here have nothing about which to "belly ache". If you think you do, try to watch the Kinshasa Symphony piece on the 60 MINUTES website, and see how fellow human beings with all the problems in the world have found a way to be as happy as any people have ever been. That happiness, as I hope you'll see, resonates not only from their smiles and first-class performances, but also from the obvious joy of knowing they've truly accomplished something very significant, for themselves and those blessed enough to hear them perform. They definitely personnify all people can be and achieve...when given the chance to do so.
The ancient admonition to not judge a book by its cover must certainly apply here. It's a very big world out there, and pieces like the one seen on 60 MINUTES tonight only serve to reinforce the fact we never stop learning. I think Mike Wallace would have been more than pleased.
Thanks for taking the time to read and share in this blog, and I hope you'll try to watch my weekly A SENIOR MOMENT webcast thoughts on www.startribune.com/video whenever you might have the chance or inclination.