During the half term of the Institut Jaques-Dalcroze I travelled to Tanzania and, with a group of friends, I climbed (or trekked) up mount Kilimanjaro. I had agreed to do it a couple of years ago when becoming a student in Geneva was but a dream and a couple of weeks before the trek I found myself becoming increasingly nervous and apprehensive about the climb.
The week consisted of 5 days of trekking across very different terrain including rain forest, scrub, rocks and at the summit, snow. The summit climb was arduous: 7 hours was needed to reach the Uhuru peak at 5895 metres. We started at midnight and wore head torches. The footing was not secure, there was the possible threat of altitude sickness (although we’d spent a few days acclimatising) and, of course, it was possible we might not have the strength to complete the climb.
How then, did music help me achieve the goal?
I’m sure the technique I adopted has been used by many before me but perhaps not with awareness of the musical elements being employed. Simply put, I found a steady pulse when trudging up hill. One foot + one walking pole followed by the other foot and other walking pole created a slow but inexorable pulse which undoubtedly aided my journey. That steady plod gave me the feeling that it was inevitable I’d reach the top! The plod was strength and determination! Once, when we caught up with a slower party (and the mountain was very busy with a line of head-torch lights seen behind and in front of us higher up the path) my plodding was interrupted and it felt very uncomfortable. The steady march was what mattered to me….I guess it was not unlike the march of soldiers.
As the night went on I started to think of rhymes to fit in with my plodding. The sound of my boots and the tapping of the walking poles were used as the pulse for my chant. I had watched the BBC programme ‘Children in Need’ for the charity Red Nose Day back in March 2019, when a group of celebrities climbed Kilimanjaro. One of the group was the politician, Ed Balls. He was an older member of the group and had initially struggled with altitude sickness. In addition, he wasn’t the most athletic-looking member of the expedition! My chant then was: ‘If Ed Balls can do it then so can I!’ which I repeated, for many minutes (hours?) When I got tired of that chant I chose another: ‘I am fit, I am strong, I can climb Kilimanjaro!’ I leave it to the reader to create the rhythms with which these rhymes fit the walking pulse! Finally, I used songs to sing (in my head) and to fit with the pulse. Being someone who is poor at remembering words my songs were mostly nursery rhymes and I used them to practise my solfege (singing using doh, re, mi etc.!)
I’m glad to say that all of our party made it to the summit and back. We swapped stories about the difficulties and challenges of our climb. A few others agreed that the steady plodding helped them too.
It wasn’t Dalcroze that got me up Kilimanjaro…but music certainly helped!