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Kumalo launches mentorship program

Bakithi Kumalo is grateful for his success in music, and wants to share his knowledge.

Kumalo was talking to the staff at Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts Center about his Jan. 24 concert in Baker Hall. The concert is billed as Bakithi Kumalo and the Graceland Tribute Band.

Kumalo spoke about wanting to teach younger musicians, which led to the start of Zoellner’s Music Master Mentor Program.

Kumalo and keyboardist-composer Will Smith will be teaching high and middle school students for six consecutive Saturdays, Feb. 22 - March 28. After a dress rehearsal April 2, the students will give a free concert, 4 p.m. April 5, Baker Hall.

“My role is to teach them what works for me,” says Kumalo. “I want it to be fresh, fun, and have them learn to love music. I want them to love to practice. They will learn 12 or 13 songs by the end of March. It will be a challenge, but I’m ready.”

Tahya, Zoellner Program Assistant, says, “This is the first time for the mentoring program, but we have every intention of continuing it.

“Bakithi said he wanted to do something like this in the Lehigh Valley. We reached out primarily to high school and some middle school music directors. We had an online application process that included submission of a two- or three-minute video. We narrowed 22 applicants down to 17.”

Kumalo previously taught a student musician mentorship program for seven weeks when he lived on Long Island, N.Y.

The Zoellner program is not be a formal, academic type of workshop, although students will be asked to practice at home.

Says Kumalo, “I have experience from traveling the world. I learned on the road. I want to teach them some of the little things I have learned.

“There will be different types of music, including classical and rock. We want to build on what the students know. When I taught in Long Island, we played just for fun to see what everyone can do. We can’t work on one song for three hours.

“But we also want to take them from their comfort zone. And we will play without written music. What if you are playing, and the wind blows the paper away?

“They have never played together before, so they have to learn participation, to listen, and to understand other people’s parts. They have to know each other and help each other. And leave the phone at home. When you play music, you have to focus without distraction,” Kumalo says.

Kumalo plans to do more mentoring, and hopes to run a music camp someday.

Smith was requested by Kumalo for the Zoellner program.

Says Smith, “I have played with Bakithi since about 2003. We have done a lot of work together. I have hired him and he has hired me many times for gigs. We have had a really good connection.

“The place where music comes from is a fun place. The music is not what is on paper. It comes from within a person, and from working together with other people.

“We will start by working with what people know, and then introduce songs, trying to keep it simple,” Smith says.

Young musicians have an advantage with a vast amount of learning materials available online, but Smith points out, “With electronics and YouTube, it is fantastic to know that stuff, but it interferes with talking with people.

“The more tools you have, the more elusive the music becomes. We want to emphasize working with others, and not just going to your room to practice.

Adds Smith, ”Bakithi is very big on giving back. I couldn’t agree more.”

CONTRIBUTED PHOTOBakithi Kumalo and Will Smith to teach high and middle school students, who will present a concert, 4 p.m. April 5, Zoellner Arts Center.