Social Contacts are More Important Than Money

By Liz Lindvall | Translated from Swedish to English by Bruce Brolsma
Published: June 30, 2009

Talent, access to music, and many social contacts were how Patrick Kabanda took himself from Uganda to the USA and became accepted to world-renowned music schools. He had no money.


Four years ago he inquired about the Organ Festival. Last fall he finally had a conversation and received an invitation. Now, after his performance last week he is vacationing on our islands.

"But if I had known that a triangle sandwich with a little cheese slice cost 7 Euros here, I would not have stayed so long. It’s the most expensive sandwich I’ve ever bought," says Patrick Kabanda with emphasis, and looks distressed. Then he smiles broadly.

Patrick is originally from Uganda and saw an organ in a church when he was five years old. His mother was a devout Christian and sang in the church choir. Patrick began to play act that old benches at home in the garden were organs. "I hammered with my fingers over the slit wood and stomped in the air with my feet." The musical interest changed everything.

War Broke Out

"To learn to play one had to,  at that time in Uganda, be part of the choir. I went through several entrance exams and finally ended up in a boy’s choir. But only two weeks later, our choir leader was shot and died. It was war then.

"I  was in my mother’s choir awhile, but I stopped. The situation in the country was rather unstable, and it was difficult to go out in the evenings. I didn’t begin again with music until I met a rather good organist in high school."

Then music became, for Patrick, more important than school. There were few books and few teachers, but he was truant as often as he could, and copied notes from different music books he was able to get his hands on.

To support himself as a 16-year-old and help his extended family, he took a job as pianist at a hotel.  He could play Bach. They wanted to hear jazz and lighter music. "I listened to records every evening and taught myself new sounds by ear.  It was then that an American businessman happened to hear me and became interested. He wrote a letter of recommendation to a school in North Carolina for me, and I sent in music recorded on a cassette at the home of one of my students, who had a better piano than I."

Generous People

And he was accepted. "I was extremely happy, but had no money. The school gave me a scholarship of 1,500 dollars. The yearly tuition was 20,000 dollars."

Patrick sits, crossing his legs. His eyes are soft. We sit on a bench outside Saltvik’s Church. He paused for a long time. I waited patiently for him to continue.
"Then the American businessman arranged a charitable fundraiser to collect money for me. And I could,  fantastically enough, be on my way. I was afraid to lose my tickets and identity papers."  He smiled. "I received a shock. I believed the whole USA looked like New York, and in North Carolina,  it was quiet, small, and the drawling dialect difficult to understand."

The up-from-the-ashes story doesn’t stop here. A year later Patrick entered Juilliard, one of the most famous schools for theatre, dance, and music in New York and received a full scholarship to the school. "The school was quite different. Serious, and all the students were extremely proficient."

Today, Patrick works as an organ teacher at an esteemed school outside Boston.

"And how did you come to be in land and the Organ Festival?" I ask.

"I met Johanna and her mother at a book lecture in Boston. I like to go to book lectures, and the author introduced me to the book by Johanna."

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