Ode to joy Bonn residents bring Beethoven to children in Nepal

Bad Godesberg · Medical doctor Fred Prünte and musician Marcus Schinkel are bringing Beethoven to the children's village. There, under expert guidance, the pupils quickly learn to play Beethoven's most famous melody.

 Marcus Schinkel (2nd from right) and Reiner Witzel handing over the donated Melodicas at the Bhakunde Children's Village near Pokhara in western Nepal.

Marcus Schinkel (2nd from right) and Reiner Witzel handing over the donated Melodicas at the Bhakunde Children's Village near Pokhara in western Nepal.

Foto: Privat

"All men will become brothers" is one of the lines from Friedrich Schiller's ode "To Joy", which was immortalised by Ludwig van Beethoven in his ninth symphony. And you don’t always need a big, professional orchestra or a huge choir to convey this message. In the Nepalese children's village of Bakunde, which is located around 200 kilometres west of Kathmandu near Pokhara at the foot of the Himalayas, pupils have been playing the tune with great enjoyment on their new red melodicas. A small group of helpers from Bad Godesberg, including jazz pianist Marcus Schinkel, brought the instruments to Bakunde.

80 children live in the children's village

The connection between Bakunde and Bad Godesberg is longstanding: Fred Prünte, a doctor and friend of Schinkel's, has been visiting there regularly for 15 years, up to twice a year, overseeing several projects. One of these is the Verein Freundeskreis Nepalhilfe (Friends of Aid for Nepal), which will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year. "It's a children's village for orphans, half-orphans, and street children," explains Prünte during a conversation in a Bad Godesberg café, where Schinkel joins him. The village currently has 100 children, with 80 living there and 20 in a hostel where they are cared for after the eighth grade. The children's village has had its own school for five years. This small anniversary inspired Schinkel to bring "Ode to Joy" there, especially since Beethoven's Ninth also celebrates an anniversary this year, premiering in Vienna 200 years ago.

Schinkel found sponsors to finance the melodicas. Accompanied by Prünte and saxophonist Reiner Witzel, he first flew to Kathmandu, then travelled on a Buddha Air flight to Pokhara. Upon arrival, Schinkel was overwhelmed by the people's friendliness. They were greeted with the traditional "Namaste" ("I greet the God in you"), given scarves, and had red lines painted on their foreheads.

A saxophonist had also travelled with them

Having Witzel along was a stroke of luck. The musician, who teaches in Maastricht, is very experienced in group instruction. Schinkel explains, "We divided the children into three sub-groups: the girls, the older boys, and the youngest, which we then brought together." Schinkel and Witzel mixed the ode with the Nepalese folk song "Resham Firiri," a song every child there can sing. The goal was not to impose European music but to create a musical encounter between the guests from Europe and the Nepalese children. "It was really great and worked very well together," enthuses Schinkel. "The Nepalese song in the center got the children much more involved." Schinkel shows a video on his smartphone of the girls joyfully playing the Beethoven melody after just a short time.

Prünte has found a second home in Nepal. "You feel recognized and accepted there," he says. Helping the local children is personally rewarding for him: "I get so much in return." Schinkel also experienced the warmth of the helpers there. "I walked through the children's village, then a child came and took my hand, then another child took the other hand. It kept increasing until I had a whole bunch of them on me."

"It's a start"

The melodica handover and initial instruction were the project's goals, but this is just the beginning. "It's a starting point," Schinkel says. The plan is to set up an orchestra in the children's village using traditional instruments. Eventually, they hope the children will accompany dance performances. "We realized they only ever danced to playback." Schinkel also wants to utilize the resources of the Jazz Institute in Kathmandu, with whom he established friendly contacts during his trip. The plan includes sending a musician from the Jazz Institute to the children's village once a week for professional music lessons. "On our next trip to Nepal, we would offer a week-long masterclass for the musicians in Kathmandu, then travel with them to the children's village for another week."

For more information about the children's village in Nepal, visit Nepalhilfe.

Original text: Bernhard Hartmann

Translation: Jean Lennox