Rajkumar Shrestha flicked his baton, musicians raised their instruments, and the audience at the Academy Hall in Kathmandu stood up for Nepal’s national anthem gloriously rendered with violins, violas, cello, sitar and flute by a 60-member orchestra.
The lyrics of ‘Sayaun Thunga Phool Ka Hami, Eutai Mala Nepali’ (‘We are different flowers of the same garland’) evoke Nepal’s ethnic diversity, but last Wednesday they also defined the diversity of the musicians from Norway and Nepal, of various ages and ethnicities.
And because this was a project of the Nepali-Norwegian Orchestra, the soothing tones of the Norwegian national anthem came next. In the centre of the orchestra, surrounded by violinists, was Eivind Rossbach Heier from the string quartet KvartalKvartetten on the cello, alongside his father who played the viola.
Raised in a musical family with his mother, a cellist, and his sister a violinist, Heier first came to Nepal in 2015 as an instructor with 3 other tutors and 15 young people through a youth orchestra in Norway. Their goal was to teach Nepali musicians classical music in order to establish orchestras in the country.
The Annapurna Chamber Orchestra met the Norwegian musicians from KvartalKvartetten through the World Federation of Amateur Orchestras. The project trains Nepali students for a week and organises performances in different venues of Kathmandu.
Ten Nepali musicians also go to Norway for the week-long annual Orchestra Summer Course to interact and exchange music with their Norwegian counterparts. During the course, Nepali and Norwegian musicians play music from both countries even though they sound completely different.
Says Heier: “Despite their differences, the appreciation of music is universal. Nepali music has more melodies but not many harmonies, which is the biggest difference from Western music. But it is the language of music that brings us together.”
The exchange has also helped the musicians learn about Nepal through music and share a commonality. “It was interesting that after we heard the translated titles of the Nepali songs, we were reminded of patriotic songs from Norway as well,” said music instructor Ole Rasmus Bjerke.
In the last five years of the project, the instructors as well as the young musicians know that their music has improved. “I used to play in the junior orchestra, and now I play with the seniors. I can feel the difference and my confidence building up,” says 18-year-old Bikalp Singh Dura.
The number of Nepali musicians has also doubled since 2015, from 30 to 60, and is projected to expand in coming years. They range in age from 10 to 60.
“The future of the Nepali orchestra is bright. It is growing through these programs,” says Rajkumar Shrestha, conductor and chairman of The Annapurna Chamber Orchestra. “The only challenge is that most students leave the country after Grade 12 for higher studies and we lose good musicians.”