Baltimore City

Piano teacher a key change for Ugandan youths

Baltimore resident Amy Klosterman was a piano teacher at the Baltimore School for the Arts for 15 years, but her involvement with a youth band in Uganda started with a journey unrelated to music.

In the summer of 2007, she traveled to Uganda to do volunteer work. One day, while participating in a community event, rain forced her and others to cram into a tent.

"I got to talking to these strangers," said Klosterman, 45. "I told them I was a musician, and they told me about the brass band."

About two dozen youngsters from ages 10 to 18 were in the band. "It was just trumpets and trombones and percussions," she said, and the group had a director in place, but Klosterman wound up devoting a few days to teaching the young musicians how to read notes.

The following year, she returned to Kikajjo, Uganda, with a couple of trumpets that she donated to the group. And those were the opening notes that led to the formation of TUBA, The Uganda-Baltimore Alliance, which now reaches about 60 young Ugandan musicians in Kikajjo and the neighboring village of Masanafu.

TUBA is holding a concert July 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Faith Presbyterian Church in Baltimore to raise money and awareness for the Ugandan band, Toru Stars. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated, said Klosterman.

The music will be "a nice light mix of things," she said, including a jazz ensemble, a trombone quartet, and Broadway tunes. Performers will be students and 2012 graduates of the Peabody Conservatory, Baltimore School for the Arts, Morgan State University, the Berklee School of Music and the Cincinnati Conservatory.

TUBA held a similar concert a year ago on the Loyola University campus. "Everybody had such a great time, they wanted to do it again this year," she said.

Klosterman left her job at the Baltimore School for the Arts in 2011, and now devotes much of her time and energy to TUBA. The organization is affiliated with Fractured Atlas, a group that helps arts-related nonprofit organizations raise money, but Klosterman is working to establish TUBA as a stand-alone nonprofit. Donors are currently eligible for tax deductions, she noted.

Klosterman has returned to Uganda many times, and will be there this summer. In 2008, she was given the unpleasant job of firing the band director, because he had not given the young musicians their fair share of the money they had earned. But the band director owned the instruments, so his departure created a problem.

"The parents would keep sending the kids because there literally is nothing else for them to do in these villages," she said. "I promised them I would go home that fall and start collecting instruments." When people heard what she was doing, they gave her instruments for free or at deeply reduced prices, she said.

Alison Wells, who is on the cello faculty at Peabody, is also traveling to Uganda this summer as part of TUBA. She is taking along her 16-year-old daughter, Olivia Sharkey, who will be taking photographs and videos of the musicians and volunteers and documenting the partnership "so we can hear what the band sounds like now and hopefully hear a difference in a few years," said Wells.

"I'm delighted to be involved with it," said Wells, who will be chairman of the board when TUBA becomes an official nonprofit entity.

"Up to this point, it's really been supporting the band in Uganda," she said. "Our goal, and it's in our name, The Uganda-Baltimore Alliance, is also to make it relevant to young people in Baltimore."

Wells noted there are many service opportunities for young people, but few that are specifically for musicians. A brass quintet at Peabody, called Eastern Edge, will spend four weeks in Uganda over winter break, helping mentor the group, she said. Also, some French horns will be donated, adding a new instrument to the Toru Stars. And she hopes to get high school students involved.

Susan Larson, a research associate with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is also helping TUBA in a unique way. She knows Klosterman through her interest in piano and when she learned about the project, Larson thought about her colleagues who frequently travel to Uganda for research. Through her connections, a student group delivered a trombone, two trumpets, five cornets, and four music stands to Uganda, in January.

"They ended up spending some time in the village," Larson said. "I think there are a lot of shared interests in the health community with projects that are enhancing educational efforts, community efforts, musical efforts." TUBA, she said, "is appealing at a lot of different levels."

For more information about TUBA or the July 19 concert, visit