The story of how Phillips Academy’s new Organist Patrick Kabanda came to America from Uganda is straight out of a Hollywood movie. At age seventeen, Kabanda got a job at the Sheraton Hotel in the Ugandan capital of Kampala working as a cocktail pianist. One night, a group of American businessmen heard Kabanda play – his repertoire included everything from jazz to classical to pop. One businessman was so intrigued with his playing that he asked Kabanda where he had learned an American pop song. Kabanda answered that he had heard it on the radio, and played it back by ear. The man was so impressed that he wrote to Brevard College in North Carolina about his discovery. Brevard sent Kabanda an admissions packet, and in 1996, at age twenty-one, Kabanda journeyed to the United States on scholarship to Brevard. Kabanda interest in the organ dates back to his days as a choir boy at the Namirembe Cathedral in Kampala. “It’s the king of instruments,” he said. “It’s very powerful, and it has this great range of many interesting sounds.” He continued, “It can be very quiet, and very loud; it has many colors, it’s like being in charge of the orchestra.” Kabanda received no formal training as a child. He said, “There were wars in Uganda, so it was very difficult to learn, and also there were no teachers – I did it all through the church course in the cathedral. I always wanted to play seriously, but not many people could understand that.” Kabanda took full advantage of his opportunity to come to America. After two years at Brevard he transferred to the Julliard School in New York, where he earned both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Music. He graduated in 2003 and received the William Schuman Prize for outstanding achievement and leadership in music. Besides the playing the organ and piano and composing, Kabanda likes to play soccer, mountain bike, and travel. “One of my professors stressed ‘travel, travel, travel,’” Kabanda remembered. “That’s how you learn – about different people, the world, and stereotypes.” In the summer of 2000, on a grant from Julliard, Kabanda created a cross-cultural musical exchange program. He conducted Western music workshops in East Africa and then brought African instruments to schools in New York City. Kabanda was working in Europe when he first heard about Phillips Academy. A Harvard professor with whom he wanted to study was contacted by one of her former students, Music Department Chair Elizabeth Aureden, who was looking for an organist. Kabanda gave up his job as Assistant Organist at the Trinity Church on Wall Street when he was offered his position here. He said, “I didn’t know what PA was… so I went and typed in www.phillipsacademy.edu and nothing came up! And I was like, what school is this that its website doesn’t even work? [laughs] Then I found [the site] and I was amazed [at] what this school has to offer… the beautiful campus and the chapel… I thought what a great opportunity to see how this system works.” Kabanda plans to apply what he learns at Andover to achieving his dream, a performing arts center in Uganda that would infuse arts in education. The center would also facilitate cultural exchange, allowing Americans to go there and study African music and dance. Kabanda explained, “Music is an international language; there are many instances when it connects us.” Said Kabanda, “In this country there are so many great schools, and that competition is great because everyone has to maintain a high standard. I have a chance to use my talent in that direction… It’s a very big dream and I don’t expect to start tomorrow, but it’s my goal to one day at least see it happening.” Here, Kabanda plays the organ for school functions and Sunday services, directs the Handbell Choir, accompanies Chorus, teaches private lessons, and is a house counselor in Taylor Hall. On his early impressions of PA, he said, “I think kids here are very lucky. I wish I had such an experience. This is one of the most beautiful campuses I’ve been on… if you come here focused on something it’s a great place to be. You can achieve so much.” Kabanda has set would like to give a recital and get more people to participate in music in the chapel, so that it’s not just organ every Sunday. He also hopes to adjust to his role as a house counselor. He said, “You know, it’s strange, when I was at Brevard I was a peer advisor in a dorm that was also called Taylor Hall! But I was more like a prefect… I have so much to learn about house counseling. I think, though, that I will learn by doing.” And learning by doing, as Kabanda has demonstrated, is certainly not a bad way to learn.
Subscribe to The Phillipian Newsletter!
Read the week’s top stories from The Phillipian, curated for your inbox. Subscribe here!