DURBAN MUSIC SCHOOL
Providing first-class music education.
When I look at the Durban Music School (DMS), I see a tiny glimpse of what is possible when people who are passionate come together. Particularly with sponsors who understand the importance of music education for all children in South Africa, be they orphaned, disadvantaged financially, or physically disabled. The school is a non-profit organisation that has Section 21 Company status and is run by a board of directors with Bongani Tembe as its chairperson.
We are able to give 611 orphaned or vulnerable children the opportunity to receive first-class music education by giving them full music bursaries. They receive everything they need to learn to play an instrument and are then equipped with the skills they need to find employment in the industry. The children receive the instrument of their choice, which they are expected to take home and practise on every day. Some instruments are very expensive, but I find that when a child who has very little materially and very little support from adults, is given an expensive instrument and we say to them that we feel they are worthy and we trust them, the child’s self-esteem skyrockets and they look after their instruments with great care. Most children come to the school when they are around 12 to 14 years old. We assess them very carefully and identify those who we feel will be successful as musicians later in life. We pay for their practical and theory lessons, and exams. They also receive transport money, sheet music and ensemble training. The exams that the students do are internationally recognised so that they can use this accreditation if they want to apply for a job or study further.
It doesn’t matter how good a musician a person is, if they have been trained by an educator on a one-on-one basis in a studio and have never had ensemble training, they won’t be able to get a job in an orchestra, band or
ensemble. Professional ensembles don’t have the time to train someone to read a conductor. So, with this in mind, as soon as our learners reach grade two musically, they join one of our twelve ensembles. This also forces them to work in a group, learn consideration for other members and learn to sight-read well, a major consideration when working in an orchestra. We have a cello ensemble, a jazz band, a string ensemble, a guitar and percussion ensemble, a junior wind band, a marimba group, a saxophone ensemble, two choirs at the Open Air School (which specialises in education for learners with physical impairments), a choir, a contemporary band called Kwini Kuza and our most senior ensemble, the KwaZulu-Natal Youth Wind Band (KZNYWB). All these ensembles practise regularly and perform at functions and do educational concerts at schools. They are often booked by eThekwini Municipality or the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) to perform at their functions. Three-hundredand-sixty-two of our learners take part in these ensembles.
The KZNYWB, junior wind band and jazz band have all done well recently. In March 2017, the KZNYWB entered a prestigious international youth music competition held at Carnegie Hall, New York, and were one of five ensembles chosen to compete out of 36 from around the world. They went on to win a gold award.
In October 2016, the junior wind band entered the annual SAMOV (The South African Marching Band and Concert Orchestra Association/Suid-Afrikaanse Mars- en Konsertorkes Vereniging) competition, taking home first place and the award for Best Overall Impression, Discipline and Neatness.
The jazz band was recently invited to take part in the University of Stellenbosch’s ensemble competition where they did well. They also won first place at a national competition in Empangeni in 2016. The band has performed at the Dundee Jazz Festival and the Edinburgh Jazz and
Blues Festival – where they have an open invitation as they were a real hit with the audience there. Another highlight was being asked to perform for the then Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Ms Liu Yandong. She loved the band and asked them to visit China.
A definite highlight for DMS has been a grant from the DAC that enabled us to build a state-of-the-art recording studio. The studio will be used to teach our students what to expect when they do recordings and to record them playing so that they can play the recording back and hear what their performance sounds like – all without the expense of
“We are able to give 611 orphaned or vulnerable children the opportunity to receive first-class music education by giving them full music bursaries”
booking out a commercial studio. One of the main reasons for the studio is to use it to train people with the skills needed to become sound engineers. This is a good job that pays well and I believe a partially sighted person would also be able to excel in this field. We are planning to give bursaries to children from the Open Air School so that they have another option when it comes to a career.
Our annual street festival is held in October. We close off the street in front of the school and invite our community to a free day of entertainment. The festival starts at 10:30 and the music and dancing goes on non-stop until 17:00. It is a great day with hundreds of people coming to enjoy the entertainment. We have our ensembles performing and then invite other groups to join in the day. These include classical Indian music, Zulu dancers, jazz bands, our music learners from the eThekwini creche, poets, Maskandi artists and the SANDF marching band. This is one way we enhance social cohesion in our community as people from different walks of life, cultures and races come together to enjoy the day. It breaks down barriers between the different groups and they chat and become friends.
For many years now, DMS has been sending educators into primary schools to teach music education.
As the school is a non-profit organisation and relies completely on donations, I would like to thank our sponsors who continue to support us and the important role they undertake in the development of our youth.
This amazing community arts centre is only here because there are people and organisations who understand the importance of the arts and how it impacts communities. Playing and listening to music can be a powerful tool for creating social cohesion in communities. Music breaks down barriers, even if people can’t speak each other’s language, being involved in music gives them a common language that they can all understand.