So I was thinking of skipping out on Gitameit Music Center: rushing back to the hotel instead to convalesce.

I’m glad I didn’t. It’s an awesome little place: more like someone’s home than a respected arts institution: a little wooden house of three storeys on a side street, with tiny stairways and dusty Aung San Suu Kyi calendars and laser discs hanging from the eaves and a cat and music playing everywhere. Piano exercises, mostly – this is the only private, i.e. non-government-run music school in the nation, and it specializes in western instruments, though in one room there’s a Burmese harp and a Burmese piano (tuned to a non-Western scale). And a wonderfully random library, with encyclopedias and music scores and DVDs and CDs and books about music, film, performance, poetry, even an English primer on the art of zookeeping.
After wandering the space, snapping shots to our hearts’ content, we settled down at a table outside, sheltered by a pavilion. Somehow we ended up talking to Margaret, a scholarship student at Gitameit who’s learning the flute. 

She gave us a run-down of the history of the school: founded nine years ago by the Burmese director Moe Naing and an American musician. (Mr Moe had greeted us at the door, but he couldn't attend to us at the time: he was attending Kaffe's workshop.)

The school used to subsist on aid funds, Margaret told us, but it's finally become self-supporting. Most of the students are studying here for pleasure, not careers, she said: they pay maybe 30,000 kyats for eight lessons a month. In addition, the centre raises cash through performances - Adriaan recalled that their choral shows were freaking amazing. 

Of course, the centre still gets a helping hand from visiting musicians and conductors, who do workshops with the students: they've had folks from Europe, America, Australia, she said. In return, Gitameit does charity of its own: donating to monastic schools, workshops of one to two weeks in the provinces. 
That was how they found Margaret. She's the one all the way in the back, with long hair and a yellow T-shirt. She comes from the wartorn province of Kachin, where the Christian missions have left a strong tradition of choral music, both Western and indigenous-style. We asked her how her parents reacted to her decision to study music, and it turns out their response was just to go, get out of here, go where it's safe. Now when she takes the bus home, she's scared stiff of the bombs, the explosions that are still eating the place alive...

She's done well for herself since she's arrived. She's performed and done masterclasses in Germany and the Netherlands. In addition to the flute, she's also studying the Burmese harp, and she's researching a way to transcribe Kachin tunes through musical notation. She's also linked up with Kachin youth groups who donate money and food to refugee camps.

When we asked Margaret if she wanted to go back, she gave an unhesitating yes. She wants to rebuild the state. How can we do that through music?, we asked. And she told us she believes music can change people's mi
KS: Was this school good for you?

Margaret: Yes. I can do my dream.
Thanks for the introduction, Margaret. Afterwards some folks stayed back for Kaffe's performance, but most of us left - she'd said it'd freak the students out to have all of us crowded into the rehearsal room. Maybe tomorrow I'll get her and KS to fill us in about how it went.
 


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