Kenji's CAS Journey

"Experiences to be cherished, moments to be proud of."

The Rise of the Strings Section – A SAISA Music Event

Feature image taken by an ASB photographer.



Although SAISA Music spans across only three days, it has been an extremely eventful time with numerous things occurring each day, keeping me ever excited and aware of the experience. The very first day of our trip resulted in our arrival at 1 in the morning at the Mumbai airport. Tired as we were, the immigration process kept us awake and we were shuttled by bus to the ASB school campus. We were provided with PE mats and beanbags in a room overlooking the pool so that we could get some sleep from 3 to 7 in the morning. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before to be sleeping at a school I had never been to prior and having to awkwardly see ASB students in the locker room as I brushed my teeth… But it was fine anyways, it was a fun experience. After that arduous morning, we walked over to a nice cafe to have a fancy breakfast where the food was great. Afterwards, we were told we could spend the rest of the day at a mall which we went to by bus. This time, as we were traveling on the road in broad daylight, I noticed much of the surroundings in Mumbai, with its dense streets and buildings. It was rather dusty and crowded in my opinion but considerably well developed compared to Colombo. At the mall, we roamed around for quite a bit, stopping by at the food court for some lunch, until we finally decided to go bowling together which was a blast. When we got back to school, we met up with our host and went by bus to his house. Our host’s house was very nice and his mother was even nicer, welcoming us like a mother to us as well. I was slightly overwhelmed by the level of hospitality that was provided by her kindness as she made sure we had enough to eat, and catered to our preferences. However, the day went on a little longer when the mother invited the host’s tabla teacher to come give us a little performance of tabla music. Unbeknownst to me when I told the mother that that was a good idea was that I would actually have to play my violin as well with the tabla for some musical night experience. Admittedly, this may have been the strangest event that has occurred throughout the trip, but it was undoubtedly one that has left a lasting impact on my mind. The night went from a solo performance, to a duo with me playing my piece, to the host also playing the tabla, and finally a full group karaoke of old songs accompanied by the tabla playing. It’s safe to say: that was quite a day.

“SAISA Art and Music students from OSC” Image taken by Loretta Duncan.

“How we felt about band rehearsals” Image taken by Anya Bhatia Arora.

Actual SAISA:

The actual event started the next morning at ASB where all the guest students were welcomed by the opening ceremony for SAISA Music and Art and we were sent straight to our respective events afterwards. For SAISA Music, we went straight to band rehearsal. Surprisingly for me and Savannah, there were double the number of violinists compared to last year’s SAISA Music, a grand total of 6 including the two of us. All of them were ASB students but it was nice to not have to be the only ones playing string instruments in an entire band, which had been one of my concerns. An even greater concern I had was that throughout the weeks leading up to the event I was dreading the pieces that were to be played by the band due to the sheer dullness they provided. As a strings player, I enjoy music written for strings, challenging pieces that sound lyrical and natural. These pieces were none of those. One of the pieces called “Bela the Sun Woman” had a first movement entirely played with shouting words and beating drumsticks on the chair and music stand. It was an utter disgrace and butchering of the musical tradition in my opinion. If that didn’t sound bad, the second movement was worse because it was literally just 8 bars of repetitive words that went on 5 times all while whispering and making a weird sort-of-but-not-really clapping gesture which was apparently meant to be a “visual” thing for audiences to see. The other pieces where I actually did play, with my violin, weren’t much better because they were all boring modern pieces with no depth or soul meant for a band (not strings). Halfway through the rehearsal day, when I was at a point of despair with the purpose of this event, we came across the first piece with a part written for violin called “Freedom”. That wasn’t the part that got me out of despair because the piece was still a boring modern piece with disgusting repeated notes that go on for ages like broken recorder. The only good thing that came out of that was changing the position of all the violins so that the people playing the first violin could all be together. That was when I met Rohaan and Nethra, two other ASB violinists. As we began playing this piece, I heard under Rohaan mutter under his breath something about the dullness of the pieces and my interest piqued. Could it be? Did he feel the same way I did about this disgrace of music? So I asked him, “hey what do you think about the choice of pieces?”. He smiled and cringed at this query replying, “I think it’s soooo bad like this isn’t even music!”. That was it. That was when I knew I wasn’t the only one going insane about playing this crap and I instantly replied with “I KNOW RIGHT?!!!”. Nethra and Savannah also started to chip in as we continued to rant on about every piece we played and making fun of the sheet music on our stands. Then I thought to myself, you know what, I think I could probably stand this torture of boredom now with a more productive pass time. The four of us became fast friends that would prove to be a rebellious group to the band dominated structure of SAISA Music.

“Violins Sectionals/Ranting Session” Image taken by Loretta Duncan.

The second day of the event was special in that it we would end the day with solo and ensemble performances by each of the participating schools. I had signed up to perform a solo piece I had performed in public three times already so I was not particularly concerned about that. However, from the previous day, our violin gang had already been considering doing a joint string quartet for the end of the day recital. We had a strong motivation to undertake this challenge so that we would have a chance to play actual music as a group during our time at SAISA but entirely as a strings group, not band. Of course, we had rehearsals that day too but I won’t bore myself recounting these events here. We did have a sectionals session with Ms. Duncan leading it but after the first 20 minutes it turned into a group rant on all the pieces we were playing in the band, fun times. In the afternoon, we had a free period where we could do a number of things like go to the library, do some karaoke, or swimming. The strings squad chose to go to a practice room so that we could sort out something to play at the recital. It was an ambitious venture, to say the least. The first 20 minutes was spent setting up the room and finding a piece and printing it out and the other 40 minutes was all the time we had to rehearse it for the recital. The ambitious part came with the choice of piece which I suggested Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart because it was a famous piece that everyone knew. It was also quite difficult and though we definitely could have played it well, I forgot in the moment that we only had 40 minutes and some people were sight-reading this… We went with it anyways, which goes to show how desperate we were to do something fun and worthwhile. I performed my solo piece at the very beginning of the recital which went wonderfully (a clip of it is below). And at the very end, we performed the quartet and it went horribly. But it was the most fun I had all SAISA! We were able to finish together which was a blessing considering how much we rushed and sped up with the enthusiasm we had whilst playing. That night, I slept soundly and contented with the quartet we had accomplished which I thought was rather impressive considering the time restraints.

“Introduction & Polonaise” Video taken by Marlon Perera.


Although this was the last day of three, it had really felt much longer than that with all the events occurring in such rapid intensity. During the concert itself, the hardest part for me was to keep a straight face while performing the “Bela the Sun Woman” piece. I just stared at my sheet of music as I banged my drumsticks on the music stand knowing that if I took one look to people in the audience making weird faces, I’d burst out laughing at the joke I was a part of. With that said, to be fair, I thought the uniformity and strictness of the whole band in their efforts to play that piece paid off nicely as we sounded like a solid orchestra. I was also surprised to find out that we were the world premiere for performing the piece “Freedom” which was a collaboration between the band and choir. It was an honor to play this piece that was shared to the world for the first time and it sounded quite nice when it was together with the choir. The moments after the concert were hectic as a hundred people piled into the atrium to observe what the art students had made over the course of three days. This was also the time to say hurried goodbyes to all the people we had bonded with during this SAISA. It was a sad time with only the thought of Instagram followings to soften our goodbyes. Unfortunately, Nethra was a senior who wouldn’t be able to come to SAISAs anymore after she graduated. But with Rohaan we made a promise together to prepare for an ensemble piece prior to the SAISA so that we could actually perform it well when the time came next year. The piece will be grand and majestic, something that will amaze the audience and show the true potential of strings music so that even if the band pieces are boring, we have this to look forward to. Next year SAISA Music will be hosted here in Colombo and though it may seem far away, looking back at the previous SAISA in Kathmandu, I remember those days as clear as if it were yesterday. The next SAISA Music will arrive sooner than I can imagine, and I will be ready for it.

“String Squad/Violin Gang Quartet” Image taken by Marlon Perera.

“Anya third-wheeling the strings section” Image taken by Anya Kumar.

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