Walking the streets of Bangkok’s largest slum, Khlong Toey, you might not expect to hear the notes of a string quartet sailing through the air. But they’re there if you listen hard enough, played by the dedicated students of Immanuel Music School.
The school was established in 2000 by Norwegian missionaries with a musical background. Realising violin was not well known in Thailand they started teaching it to a small class of six. Seeing the deprivation in the slum around the church they wanted to grow the school, buying violins out of their salaries and funding from the Norwegian government.
Today Immanuel works with 100 disadvantaged children aged 3 to 24 years old. The kids have the chance to master a range of instruments, from piano to violin to cello, as well as taking part in choir, orchestra, singing lessons and electric string band. There are 15 students aged 6 in a day nursery, and lessons in the evenings and weekends for older students. For many of the kids Immanuel is a route into higher education – there are currently three former students studying music at university. In 2015 the school received a major boost when famous composer Jonathan Mann joined as Artistic Director.
Tonkluay, the only full time teacher at the school, describes how the school is having a transformative impact on children’s lives: “I graduated from the school myself. It changed my life. They have a society here, they have friends, they learn together and improve together. Even though I am very strict they always come! We show them how to teach other people, it’s not just for yourself. We have jobs for them, we give them a little money to show them you can make money from it. After I graduated from the college I started the orchestra. Jonathan Mann came to listen to our concert and was very impressed and he came to improve it. This has an impact on the kids, it shows them they can have a job through the music.”
2016 saw the highest attendance records ever for Immanuel. School staff are keen for this to continue, and to expand the programme to new parts of Bangkok and Thailand.
There are many ways to support the school:
- Fundraising to help with buying new musical equipment and maintaining what they already have.
- Volunteer as a music teacher
- Head along to their live performances, normally held at least twice a year
- Help with organising and promoting the live performances
Those interested in helping with the next concert or in any other way should contact Tongkluay on [email protected].