Pianist, Kamilla Arku is a graduate of Yale University and the Royal Northern College of Music. Born in Switzerland to Liberian and Norwegian parents, she studied the piano aged 5 in the US.
Her artistry provides a space to breathe and take in the world around us. Note by note, Kamilla combines her heritage and classical training, to create her own beautiful expression.
Alongside music her passion lies in her charity #MusicforLiberia, a movement that supports and empowers young people in Liberia.
Photo by Eddie Aidoo
How has studying and playing the piano shaped your life so far?
The piano is a force that shapes my daily life, and guides my bigger life decisions, whether it’s carving out hours of the day to practice, or moving abroad to continue my studies. The piano has been a constant companion since I was young, ever since I learned ‘Oh When the Saints’ on my first keyboard. Musical moments are among my most formative: singing along to Bob Marley and the Beatles with my parents; walking into a theory class where the teacher was blasting Beethoven’s 7th symphony; playing chamber music for the first time in college; discovering the music of Gabriel Fauré, Florence Price, Fred Onovwerosuoke and so many others.
Today, the piano is at the root of all my work, whether it’s performing, teaching, or my charity work with Music for Liberia. Teachers, mentors, and fellow musicians have taught me the awesome power of the arts to connect people across borders and cultures, and I’m inspired by the energy of emerging artists addressing larger social issues, especially when it reflects the experiences of women and people of color. Increasingly, I find that the joy of this work is discovering how channelling my love of music can empower and inspire those around me.
Can you tell us more about Music for Liberia?
Music for Liberia is a charity that supports young people in Liberia, west Africa, through music-based fundraising in the UK. I started it as a way of honoring my heritage (I’m Liberian-Norwegian) and using my passion for music to help support and empower young people in a country that is struggling to overcome its traumatic history.
Music for Liberia’s has funded crucial work in Liberia, including supporting rural schools, creating scholarships, and financing accommodation for Ebola orphans. Our latest fundraising concerts supported Music for Liberia’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, which is helping our beneficiaries purchase food and protective equipment, while also providing financial relief for Liberian educators.
It’s been exciting for Music for Liberia to collaborate with a diverse group of globally recognized musicians, including kora player Sona Jobarteh, pianists Ric’key Pageot and Stephen Kovacevich, vocalist/violinist Alice Zawadzki, marimba band Otto & the Mutapa Calling, the Heath String Quartet and many more. Music for Libera is also proud to work with diverse local communities in London, especially through our music workshops for young musicians. To find out more about Music for Liberia, or to get involved, visit www.musicforliberia.com
As a teacher, what impact do you wish to have on your students?
My most fulfilling moments as a teacher are when I see my students taking pride in their achievements, whether it’s mastering a technical passage or conquering their nerves before a performance. My wish for all of my students is that, through music, they’ll learn to express themselves with confidence, empathy and strength, and that the practice of music will arm them for whatever life throws at them.
I also want my students to believe in the power of the arts to transform not only their communities, but society at large. One of the most inspiring things for me as a performer and a teacher right now is that the people being celebrated for making art, and the stories told through their work, are increasingly diverse. I wish for my students to be a part of and celebrate this change.
The #EveryVoiceChallenge champions diversity please tell us more and how people can get involved.
The mission of the #EveryVoiceChallenge is to champion and celebrate diversity in the classical piano repertoire through promoting music by composers of colour. Inspired by my passion for music by underrepresented composers, as well as by activist movements around the world, I spent 2020’s lockdown curating and commissioning pieces by composers of colour for piano students of all ages and levels. The resulting collection contains well-known classics, unearthed gems, and specially commissioned new pieces. I hope that with this growing resource at their hands, music students and teachers alike will embrace the wealth of piano music by previously neglected composers.
I also look forward to organizing #EveryVoiceChallenge virtual concerts, so that pianists can share the pieces they’ve learned with a global community! Pianists and teachers who wish to participate (or donate a composition) can find out more by following @everyvoicechallenge or visiting www.kamillaarku.com/everyvoicechallenge.