Indagare member and contributor Tiffany Schauer recently traveled to Yangon, the largest city and former capital of Burma, to visit a non-profit music center that she calls an “oasis of artistic expression.” Here she shares the highlights of the trip.
“Conductor U Moe Naing, the director of nonprofit Gitameit Music Center (www.gitameit.org) in Yangon invited me to come visit his center and meet his students. He started the center in 2003 with pianist Kit Young to help his community through music. The center provides student programs in all types of music, instruments, and voice—as well as a future full of hope and promise.
“Although Yangon is only about an hour flight from Bangkok, it may as well be on another planet. Burma is virtually closed-off from the rest of the world and embroiled in unending tinderbox political tension. Trade and investments with Burma have been sanctioned by most of the west and tourism has been discouraged by nobel peace prize winner and Myanmar/Burma political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi. Yangon reflects the incongruence resulting from unrest. The city is a mishmash of old, decaying and modern architecture, and there are spots of extreme opulence surrounded by great.
“As I walked down a nondescript dirt alley, I discovered the most curious contrast: from a ramshackle set of rooms sounds of music emanated into the street. In the midst of a city of a repressed people is an oasis of artistic expression, the Gitameit Music Center. I followed the sound of piano scales, violin notes, singing and happy chatter to find Moe and a few curious students waiting to greet me.
“The labyrinth of wooden rooms cobbled together by Moe include practice rooms (I saw a piano in a bathroom), Moe’s office (which was also a practice room) and the scholarship students bedroom (eight students live in cramped quarters). Moe also mentioned there were four other scholarship students, but I couldn’t figure out where they were sleeping. The energy and environment of the center is pure love—and love of music. The students are at all levels of skill and accomplishment but each one had the same level of concentration and gratitude for the opportunity to study at the center.
“I was invited to sit in on a rehearsal. Two students performed an original composition for violin and piano (they have both been awarded scholarships to a university in Thailand to continue their education), a smiling shy boy played the most delicate guitar solo, and the chorus gave a beautiful rendition of the Beatles’ Michelle. While listening, the conflicted world easily dropped away and the only impression I felt was of the vibration and energy of the musicians. Moe is not just helping his community; he is changing lives through music. I felt changed having witnessed his work and the students’ commitment.
“Moe funds the school mainly through donations by friends and some foundations abroad. They also welcome donations of music scores, DVDs, cds, book, instruments, and friendship. He would like to expand the scholarship program for students that stay at the school. He needs more room; I still can’t figure out where four of the students sleep. The cost of housing a student is about $70 a month. Please help if you can. For more information, visit the non-profit’s Web site: www.gitameit.org.
Read Tiffany’s postcard about her finds in Yangon