News Release

A Celebration of Music Marks Twelve Months of Music Training in Three Nairobi Stakes

45 Piano Students Perform at Church’s Upper Hill Building Marking One Year of Piano Training

On Saturday afternoon, 8 June 8 2024, at the Upper Hill Building of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 45 piano and conducting students participated in a piano recital.  The event celebrated twelve months of piano and music conducting training for church members from the three stakes in Nairobi, Kenya.  This ambitious music training is the result of the inspiration of Elder Thierry Mutombo, first counselor in the Africa Central Area Presidency.   Elder Mutombo recognizes the power of music to enhance worship and spirituality through music, to invite the Spirit, to learn doctrine and increase faith in Jesus Christ, and to increase love and unity in families and in wards and branches. 

Sacred music in Sunday worship services in the Africa Central Area is rarely accompanied by piano and is generally conducted by someone with no musical training.  Africans love to sing.  In Sacrament Meetings, without accompaniment, the conductor may sing the first line of a worship hymn, and then signal the congregation to join.  What Africans lack in formal skill they make up for with enthusiasm and love of music. 

While at Church headquarters for General Conference in April of 2023, Elder Mutombo met with Ryan Eggett, a Music Department Manager for the Church who helps with member experience, training and resources. He asked Ryan about the possibility of beginning an Africa Central Area wide music training program.  Ryan and his team offered the resources to get formal music training initiated in the area.  Upon his return from General Conference, Elder Mutombo asked Lisa Luke of the Langata Ward of the Nairobi West Stake to serve as Area Music Training Specialist and organize music training for members of the three stakes in Nairobi.  Sister Lisa got to work organizing.  A plan was developed, approved by the Area Presidency, and shared with the ward and branch leadership of the Nairobi East, West and South Stakes.  Leaders of each ward and branch were asked to fill three music callings: music coordinator, music leader, and accompanist. Those accepting these callings were invited to participate in a two-hour piano and conducting class to be held every Saturday.  All other interested members in the three Nairobi stakes were also invited. The Area Music Training Program was initiated at a music workshop on 6 May 2023 that was led by Sister Lisa Luke, Brother Screven Usi, Sister Lilian Odiero, and the Church Music and Production Team that had traveled to Nairobi from Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.  About 150 church members attended the workshop, and over 80 joined the first music training class.

After a short time, the 80 members who attended the first music workshop reduced to 55 consistent participants in the Saturday music lessons.  19 of the participants were from the Nairobi East Stake, 18 from the Nairobi West Stake, 17 from the Nairobi South Stake, and 1 is at large. The student-to-teacher ratio was overwhelming at first, so Sister Lisa and Brother Screven recruited senior missionaries to assist them.  Sister Julie Allen from Antimony, Utah was involved from the very first day.  She was followed by Sister Pat Kimsey of Sandy Utah, Sister Rochelle Crimin from Ivins Utah, and then JeanMarie Bassett of Elizabeth, Colorado.  Also providing valuable assistance were the rest of the Luke family, Emma Baddoo, and Catherine Moatlhodi. Every week, these instructors meet with and give personal attention to about 30 pianists and conductors in training.

Keyboards and music workbooks are provided for the weekly classes by the Harman Music Education Fund.  Its engagement is greatly appreciated.  Participants qualify for their own keyboard by attending class and passing off five musical skills.  Nineteen of the 55 participants have already received keyboards.  The rest are working to receive their keyboards by September of this year. The awarded keyboards provide students with the opportunity for regular, at-home practice and greatly increase piano proficiency. Many students are already conducting music and playing the piano in their wards and branches.

The completion of the first year of The Area Music Training Program is not an end—it marks the beginning of an even more ambitious training initiative in the area.  The 55 students who completed the first year of training are continuing to attend and learn. The program is also being improved and expanded.  Music training videos are being developed and made available on the internet to church members in Ethiopia, in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and at YSA gathering places throughout the Area.  This online training will also be extended to seminary students at several Kenyan high schools, to students at a primary school in Kisumu, Kenya, and to youth in Nakuru,  Naivasha, and Mombasa, Kenya.

The 55 original students are blessing their families and their congregations with their musical skills, and their skills will continue to grow.  More aspiring pianists and conductors throughout the Africa Central Area will join them. Those who have earned their keyboards have been promoted to music teachers, and they are passing the skills they learn on to others. They are part of the fulfillment of Elder Mutombo’s vision to bring members of the church closer to Jesus Christ through music.

At the one-year celebratory recital on 8 June 2024, each of the 45 participating students, prior to playing their recital hymns, bore a brief testimony and expressed gratitude for the training.  Judith Mayende said, “Music has helped me have confidence.  Now I can conduct music at church.”  Jeremiah Muthoni, prior to playing How Great the Wisdom and the Love, shared, “I love that music is a form of testimony.”  Phoebe Jennifer Oduor testified, “Music has helped me get closer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.  It helps me feel happy when I am sad.”  Rachel Atieno, when announcing that she would play Jesus the Very Thought of Thee, affirmed, “Playing music brings my thoughts closer to God.”

To those who journey to Upper Hill every Saturday from around Nairobi by foot, by boda boda, and by matatu, Nairobi East Stake President Denis Mukasa said, “It is not easy to come here every Saturday.  Before this course we had a drought, a famine of musical talent.”  And in encouraging the music students to continue their work he quoted President Russell M. Nelson, “The Lord loves effort because effort brings rewards that can’t come without it.”  He added, “As we work on our musical skills we will get better at it because we are actually using it.”

The music students are working hard, and their patient efforts are bringing spiritual rewards for themselves, their families, and their congregations. This music training will be transformative in Nairobi and ultimately throughout the Area because the students are remembering the reason spiritual gifts are given—to bless the lives of Heavenly Father’s children and to bring them closer to Jesus Christ.

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