The Phoenix Online - A perfect match: Orchestra welcomes transplanted organist for concert

Orchestra welcomes transplanted organist for concert

By Carla Greenberg

At the tender age of 17, Patrick Kabanda began making a living as a lounge pianist at the Sheraton Hotel in his hometown of Kampala, Uganda. In 1996, at the age of 21, Kabanda received a scholarship to study organ at Brevard College in North Carolina.

Thus began Kabanda’s North American odyssey. In a few days, he will perform with the college orchestra.

Under the direction of new conductor Daniel Wachs, the Swarthmore College Orchestra will perform in a concert featuring Leaya Lee ’02 on violin in Pablo de Sarasate’s “Gypsy Airs” and Kabanda on the organ in Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 (‘Organ’).” The concert, on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m., will also include the suite from George Bizet’s “Carmen.”

Kabanda began his musical career as a choirboy at Namirembe Catherdreal, where he taught himself to play both the piano and the organ. While playing at the Sheraton, he also taught private piano lessons. In 1998, Kabanda transferred from Brevard College to The Juilliard School, and in 2000 he received a summer grant from the school to teach and perform in Uganda and Kenya.

Wachs met Kabanda at Juilliard, where Kabanda is currently in his first year of the Masters Program. Wachs, himself pursuing a second Masters degree at Juilliard in orchestral conducting, has been involved with the college orchestra since last spring, when he was a substitute for former conductor Sarah Ioannides.

This year he is the full-time conductor for the college orchestra, a job he describes as “a way to get away from [New York] city and do something that he really loves.” As for working at Swarthmore, Wachs says “the thing about Swarthmore is you all are so brainy. Everyone is so unbelievably smart — it makes it so much easier.”

The reason Wachs has brought Kabanda to Swarthmore is that when he “first walked into the Lang Music Hall, I saw the organ and thought that this piece [‘Organ’] just had to be performed here.” According to Wachs, not many concert halls have permanent organs, making Lang an ideal place for performing the piece. As for how he chose Kabanda, “Let’s face it. How many organists from Uganda are there?”

The process of working with Kabanda has been “hairy.”

“When he’s sitting up there, he has to look in a rear view mirror, literally.” Because of the way the organ is situated in the hall, the organist must sit with his back to the orchestra and the conductor, and look into a rearview mirror to observe what is going on. “We also had the organ break down [during the] last rehearsal,” Wachs says.

All in all, though, Wachs seems very happy with the orchestra’s work this semester. “The orchestra has worked very, very hard. It’s a challenging piece. They’ve been real troopers.”


Posted on 04/01 (1) Comments

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