June 14, 2017
Nearly 65 percent of Uganda's youth are registered as orphans thanks to the HIV and AIDS epidemic, poverty and domestic violence.
As a child, Texas Tech University graduate student Branco Sekalegga was not a part of this statistic.
Born in a small village in central Uganda, Sekalegga had a childhood and upbringing he described as "happy in many ways," despite limited resources and the accidental death of his father. From a young age, he was exposed to music by his parents and encouraged to participate in church choir and drumming for church events.
"These initial experiences inspired my love and passion for music," Sekalegga said.
Sekalegga excelled in school and received scholarships to attend both high school and study music at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. In 2009, he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a Master's in Music Composition at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
In between schooling, Sekalegga founded the Bitone Children's Center and Troupe in 2006 with the mission to restore hope and empower disadvantaged young people.
"I was provoked to do something in appreciation of the musical arts and educational opportunities I was given growing up," he said. "I especially felt drawn to the plight of children and youth within the communities."
Bitone Children's Center and Troupe provides children with shelter, education, vocational training, entrepreneurship skills, artistic skills and expression through music and dance.
Since the center's opening, Bitone has impacted more than 100 disadvantaged young people through its various programs. The center has supported five students though university and college level graduation, 25 students through primary and secondary education and five through vocational training.
The Bitone Arts Troupe program, a project of the Bitone Center, helps children develop creativity, expression, problem-solving skills and discipline through singing, playing musical instruments, dancing and poetry. The troupe performs nationally, internationally and in collaborations. The program has produced and released two music albums that highlight Bitone children's voices, stories and promise to raise funds to support the music program.
"Ultimately, Bitone was founded to nurture the next generation of creative, compassionate, innovative leaders and entrepreneurs in Uganda," Sekalegga said.
In 2013, Janice Killian, chair and professor of music education at Texas Tech, traveled to Uganda and visited the Bitone Children's Center. She was audience to one of the troupe's performances in effort to learn of Uganda's cultural heritage.
"Upon visiting Uganda, I expected poverty," Killian said. "What I did not expect was the absolute joy these kids perform with."
Killian said her group was taught to dance and play drums by the children who performed. Her group then spoke to the children about getting into college and what to expect as musical arts majors. As she was leaving, Killian said she stopped Sekalegga and told him to contact her when he was ready to pursue a doctorate. In 2014, he was accepted to Texas Tech, and he will graduate with a doctorate in music education in August.
Killian said Sekalegga has accomplished wonderful things at Texas Tech while also keeping the Bitone Arts Troupe funded and running. She said the work Sekalegga is doing in Bitone is saving the lives of children.
"He is using the musical arts to make kids believe they can do more," she said.
While at Texas Tech, Sekalegga has participated in various programs. He participated in the Texas Tech International Pageant and was named 2014-15 Mr. International. In 2015, he served as a research assistant under the East Lubbock Promise Neighborhood grant at Ervin Elementary School, where he shared and taught musical arts in an after-school program. He has performed with the University Women's Choir and in graduate student-directed plays through the School of Theatre and Dance.
Sekalegga has served as a teacher of record for an undergraduate course through the School of Music for two semesters, and he has conducted and presented research poster sessions on a national level. He said he is constantly drawing inspiration from his experiences at Bitone in all of his endeavors at Texas Tech.
Since coming to Texas Tech, Sekalegga has shared the story of the Bitone Children's Center and Troupe with various members of the Texas Tech community. This has resulted in donations of scholastic materials to the center and spiked the interest of Texas Tech students to the multicultural musical arts experiences and the story of Bitone children and their empowerment struggles.
Sekalegga said he wants to explore ways of bringing the Bitone children to the U.S. for a performance tour at Texas Tech. He said he believes this venture would consolidate further the Bitone-Texas Tech partnership, which may lead to opportunities like Texas Tech student internship placements and summer travels for students' academic and cultural knowledge and growth.
"My intent is to sustain this partnership and continue to explore collaborations and opportunities with Texas Tech, even after I have graduated," he said.
The J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts at Texas Tech offers a diverse array of programs and courses in art, music, theatre and dance.
The college seeks to prepare students who will be leaders in the profession by employing the highest standards in performance, teaching, research, and artistic and creative vision.
The college includes the:Twitter
The School of Music is part of the J.T. and Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts.
With more than 500 students, the size is ideal for creating larger ensembles as well as ensuring individual attention with private study.
Faculty includes a performing specialist on all band and orchestral instruments as well as piano, voice, organ, harp and guitar, and specialists in conducting, composition, electronic music, music education, musicology, world music and music theory.