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Elma Britz
Report from the SASMT in South Africa
17 Jun 2017

Report from SASMT: the ISME national affiliate in South Africa
Elma Britz


The South African Society of Music Teachers (SASMT) was formed in Johannesburg in 1918. The Society can therefore shortly look forward to celebrating its centenary!

The SASMT owes its existence to the fact that, since its inception, there was a need to unify the music teaching profession and to further the interest of the profession ‘collectively and individually, besides bringing music education and our rich and varied culture to as many people as possible throughout all areas of southern Africa’ (SASMT handbook revised 2015).

Harry Garvin, a prominent teacher and all-round musician who had come to South Africa from England as a young violinist to lead various light music orchestras and a small group of music teachers felt the need for such a body. The first annual general meeting was held in October 1922. The broad outlines of a constitution were laid down and Garvin was elected president, a position he held for the next nine years.

Throughout the years, various membership benefits were established and promulgated. A benevolent fund is available to members who experience unforeseen financial difficulties. A small committee handles deserving applications with the utmost confidentiality. The fund accumulates interest in a special account and a small sum of membership fees is added annually. Many centres collect extra money which is paid into this account. The current editor of our magazine, John Roos, has a small concert venue (Tauromenium) attached to his home where he regularly collects donations from audiences in a newly decorated formerly defunct old cello for this purpose. Other centres also have contributed to the fund in a similar way.

The Society has a working website containing information about events, meetings and interesting news countrywide. An important service is the SASMT’s directory list containing members’ names, qualifications, contact details as well as subjects taught. This information is available to the public needing music teachers in certain areas, unless members elect not to have their details published according to the Protection of Personal Information Act of South Africa.

Several scholarships for mainly tertiary study are available to students of SASMT members. The funds for these have been bequeathed to the SASMT for instrumental and vocal studies and many winners have become highly successful professional musicians and teachers in South Africa and abroad. Winners are invited to perform at the annual national conferences. At the recent annual general meeting, the delegates voted to investigate the possibility for more bursaries, especially for disadvantaged students who want to start music studies at a later stage in their lives. A resolution was passed to find sponsors for such a purpose.

In the 1940s and 1950s the SASMT was instrumental in facilitating the large-scale employment of teachers by the education departments. Previously, most SASMT members had private studios and relied on their membership to promote their businesses. However, with the security of full-time employment, teachers no longer felt the need to belong to the Society. Similarly, prospective pupils (or their parents) who had previously regarded SASMT membership as a necessary validation of their teacher's competence, now considered employment by a school to be sufficient. With the plethora of music qualifications and specialisations available, the education departments battled to standardise their requirements for employment and this gave rise to protracted debate, in which the SASMT played a major role. (Andrew P Brown in The South African Music Teacher, #151 2017.)

In 1970, a new category of membership was introduced. Staff members of universities and schools – with a minimum of 5 members – could join as group members.

In the early 1960s, a national youth orchestra came into existence under the auspices of the SASMT. An orchestral camp was held in 1964 at the Hartbeespoort Dam resort in the current North-West Province. The idea stemmed from a nationwide plan for regular orchestral camps for young musicians to be held. The suggestion was made and adopted at the annual SASMT Conference in 1962. The National Youth Orchestra under the managing director, Sophia Welz, is continuing to provide a platform for an increasing number of students learning to play orchestral instruments.
The SASMT is still represented on the Board of the South African National Youth Orchestra Foundation (SANYOF) by one of our longstanding honorary members, Diane Heller.

The publication of The South African Music Teacher magazine has the distinction of being the only South African publication devoted entirely to music teaching and has been published from 1931 until the present. It includes information about the development of music education in South Africa as well as the role of prominent teachers and performers.

In 1998, the International Society of Music Education (ISME) held its conference in Pretoria and the SASMT was appointed the ISME National Affiliate. The stage had been set for the Society to lead South African music education into the 21st century.

South Africa with its vast geographic arena is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. Michelle Hattingh wrote:

South Africa is known for its ethnic diversity and with 11 official languages, the country’s melting pot of cultures often astonishes visitors. Referred to as the ‘Rainbow nation’, South Africa is home to a fascinating mix of citizens. (Cultural Diversity in South Africa, June 13, 2013).

The 2017 National Conference of the SASMT and AGM were held in Paarl, one of the picturesque wine producing regions of the Western Cape. The principal of the Frank Pietersen Music Centre, Vaughan Pietersen, President of the SASMT at the time, and his staff hosted a very successful event; the theme was Building Cultural Bridges Through Music.

Presentations ranged from titles such as Embracing cultural diversity in music education: changing perspective, changing clientele and changing identities (Carika de Swardt) to Contextualising the theme of building musical, cultural and cross-curricular bridges, with practical application to the classroom, using movement, dance, sound, music, theatre and research techniques (Glenn Morton) to a newly designed mobile phone teaching application, Piano boost, by Frelét de Villiers and a real time Skype connection between South Africa, Jakarta (Indonesia) and Utrecht (Netherlands). Groups of young people alternated musical performances, for and with each other. It was facilitated by Frank van Berkum. 

Various national competitions in South Africa were started and organised, some on an annual basis. For example, the SAMRO Hubert van der Spuy Competition is organised and presented by the Tygerberg Centre of the SASMT. In 2013, the competition celebrated its 25th anniversary. This year the competition will take place from 10 to 14 October.

The mission of the SAMRO Hubert van der Spuy National Music Competition is to offer talented young music learners the opportunity to learn from one another in a competition environment and to compete on a national level.

The late Leon Hartshorne described the role the competition plays in the community as follows:

In addition to offering participants the chance to distinguish themselves within the ambit of their own sections, the structure also facilitates interaction and contact between students, teachers and parents from divergent communities, from all parts of South Africa …

Poential candidates from poor/disadvantaged communities who are receiving music tuition in development outreach initiatives, but whose progress is being delayed or jeopardized by socio-economic issues, are assisted to enter, audition and finally compete, on equal terms with all entrants and within their own peer group.

From 8 to 10 September 2017, the Pretoria centre of the SASMT is hosting a national ensemble competition for young musicians in four age categories, from under 10 to under 19 years of age. The competition is aimed at developing young musicians through collaborative participation and by encouraging the enjoyment of performing with others. Participation is open to learners up to, and including, the age of 19.

Evidence of diverse cultural endeavours towards the achievement of artistic and cultural harmony in southern Africa can be found in a variety of projects that are kept alive like campfires through the incentives of our members, musicians, and music lovers all over the country. To mention a few:

The Keiskamma project
The Keiskamma Music Academy’s vision is to give children the life-changing opportunity to become highly skilled and trained musicians. The discipline and knowledge that are required in this pursuit, as well as the fulfilment and sense of achievement that come with creating beauty, are some of the highlights of this kind of training.
The children in the programme receive regular recorder lessons, enter examinations and competitions, and perform regularly. The Music Academy includes a marimba band, bringing musical game activities to nursery school children, and aims to provide lessons on orchestral instruments. It was initiated by Helen Vosloo, a professional flautist and member of the SASMT.

The Mangaung and Bochabelo String project
In 1998, American double bass player, Peter Guy founded the Bochabelo String Orchestra and started teaching music to disadvantaged children in Bloemfontein's black townships. Today, the programme reaches over 700 kids, and has become so successful that the project has expanded to many areas of the Free State province. The programme is instrumental in broadening the horizons of the young people of Mangaung: the most talented ones received bursaries to continue their studies, some to the USA and Europe. Teaching the younger ones what they have learned, they now share their knowledge with the community, making the circle round.

This project’s philosophy has been to build on success, seeking ways to expand the programme to areas outside of Bloemfontein. ‘If it works in Mangaung, surely it can work in other areas as well,' says Peter Guy.

Following on the success and the model of the Mangaung and Bochabelo programme and at the encouragement of the Community Services Department at the University of the Free State, contact was made with several schools in the southern Free State, commonly known as the Xhariep District. Tuition is provided in the towns of Philippolis, Springfontein, Edenburg and Trompsburg. The programme later included Kroonstad. In 2014, the programme was expanded to include schools in Thaba Nchu, Vredefort, Koppies, Parys, Lindley and Welkom in the northern region of the Free State.

The Free State province of South Africa stretches over an area of 129,825 sq kms (50,126 sq mi). The teachers do a weekly roundtrip of all these towns and young musicians receive tuition in all string instruments. They benefit hugely from the involvement of several tutors, using the same method, all of whom have different strengths but the same goal in mind.

There are four different orchestras in ascending order of competence. Children seamlessly advance from one orchestra to the next, depending on their progress.

The programme is going from strength to strength. Around 700 Free State learners are currently involved and children from even the most impoverished communities can learn to play an instrument.

According to the principal of the Chris van Niekerk school in Vredefort, Erna Rademan, ‘it is an amazing programme run tirelessly by a team of incredibly committed individuals’. This school is currently a centre for schools from surrounding towns.

The orchestras perform a wide variety of music from baroque to traditional and popular African music. The Bochabelo String Orchestra regularly performs for government, corporate and community functions - these performances are a practical way to raise funds for pupils to attend music festivals, national orchestra courses, tours and orchestra camps.

While the provincial government of the Free State pays for two senior instructors, the University of the Free State also sponsors thirty-hours of specialised individual tuition. A link with the Free State Symphony Orchestra makes it possible for the most advanced young pupils to receive additional individual tuition. The Mangaung String Programme Trust and MIAGI provide modest stipends to nine junior instructors who have all progressed through the programme.

Note: Manguang Metropolitan Municipality governs Bloemfontein and surrounding tows in the Free State Province of South Africa. Bochabelo is a lrage township 45km each of Bloemfontein. 

The Musikhane Musical Project
Bertha Spies, who initiated the project, at the North-West University, Potchefstroom campus, explains that it became more than an outreach to people who were less fortunate than I was, because as a group of workers we also grew in our appreciation and understanding of people whom we did not know before ̶ the interaction enriched our lives. Even more, we discovered that it is working together towards a common goal … that helped to strengthen the social fabric; … working together is a sustainable strategy …

The Mus-E project
Living the broad idea of arts education, Yehudi Menuhin initiated a project in Soweto, Johannesburg called Mus-E under the auspices of the International Yehudi Menuhin Foundation (IYMF). This programme focuses on the development of children through music, singing, drama, painting, dance and other forms of art.

The fundamental principle of Mus-E is that art should be part of daily education, accessible to all and therefore to open new possibilities of expression and ways of looking at life and people – and, the programme intends particularly to help those children coming from challenging environments to begin the road of personal fulfilment.

The Hillbrow project
Hillbrow was and is at the forefront of social change in South Africa. Many South African social issues are concentrated here: There is a high incidence of HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, refugee influx, urbanisation and degradation of urban environments, drug dealing, prostitution and crime. Many of these iniquities are related to or aggravated by the lack of social structure, urban socialisation of the new residents and unemployment. There are, however, indications and efforts in place that suggest a visionary rethinking about the role of Hillbrow.

The Hillbrow Music Centre (HMC) is run and sponsored by the Lutheran Community Outreach Foundation. Participation is voluntary (usually with no parental encouragement) and the sheer number of applicants over the years is evidence of the community’s need for such an enterprise. The primary objective of the project is to provide an alternative, positive and skills-development after-school activity for children and youth in Hillbrow and the surrounding inner-city areas. The project aims to keep children and youth off the streets and provide them with activities that support their holistic development. Their philosophy states that learning to play an instrument and musical appreciation impacts on a child’s personal and socio-economic development.

The HMC provides both formal (instrument study and music theory) and informal (group work and workshops) music tuition to some 150 students by eight qualified music tutors. Tuition is offered in piano, violin, cello, trumpet, trombone, marimba, guitar, recorder, saxophone and clarinet. Theory of music and music appreciation are offered as an integral part of the instrument study.

The programme provides beneficiaries the opportunity to discover their creative and artistic abilities, and although the HMC is not a member of the SASMT, we support them in heart and mind.

Their string orchestra enters successfully in the orchestra section of the Johannesburg/SASMT annual festival.

Unisa Music Foundation Community Projects
After the 1998 ISME Conference held in Pretoria, a financial sponsorship and some music instruments were donated to the Unisa Music Foundation. They decided to donate the instruments to the Ochrim School of Music in Soshanguve, north of Pretoria (Ochrim = Organisation of Christian Musicians).

Initially a small budget could pay one of the first teachers, Mandy Low, for recorder classes. Later in the project, more tutors were acquired and it developed to include music theory and tuition in stringed instruments, eventually growing to a full symphony orchestra – thanks to a sponsorship by Sasol. Pupils come from far and wide e.g. the Themba Music Project and projects in Hammanskraal and Stinkwater. The Unisa Music Foundation sponsored projects at the Khenzani Primary School in Soshanguve, projects in Mamelodi, the Baviaanspoort prison and elsewhere. Renovations were done in Soshanguve until the new Unisa School of Music was opened in 2011. Tutors graduating from this project have later opened their own music schools e.g. a school in an informal settlement in Mamelodi East.

The Johannesburg Music Initiative (JMI)
For several years, the JMI arranged and produced a feast of monthly concerts called Word on Music, entertaining and educating learners, their tutors and the public in various styles of music. These concerts introduced learners to the wonderful world of orchestral instruments; solo instruments as well as their role within an orchestra. Concerts were advertised as ‘Musical Poetry’, ‘Jazz Classics’, ‘Fluted Things’, ‘Gumboots to Ballet’, ‘Kwaito to Opera’, ‘Hands on Ivory’ or ‘Bass on the Double’, all sponsored by the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation).

Education Africa
Joan Lithgow manages this project with the aim of exposing pupils to the basics of music, providing opportunities to learners to play an instrument, integrating social cohesion through a unique method that can teach large groups of pupils simultaneously. Learners participate annually in marimba and steelpan competitions at national and international level. According to their website:

Over the past number of years, Education Africa has arranged several International Arts & Culture Tours to provide disadvantaged learners with the opportunity to travel abroad and perform in front of a global audience. These young marimba players have wowed audiences in London, Vienna, Slovenia and New York whilst having had the opportunity to experience different cultures, countries and languages. Many have described such trips as "an opportunity of a lifetime". For many of the learners who have attended such a tour, it has been the first time that they have ever been outside their home town let alone in an airplane!

In 2017, the Carter Primary School from Alexander township toured the UK with Education Africa where they participated in workshops and performed at various occasions.

Education Africa has ear-marked a new project for social franchise development to facilitate Marimba Hubs. This project is designed to create many job opportunities for teachers and potential trainers as training is provided at Hubs. A unique method enables teachers, even those who have no previous skills, knowledge and experience in music to teach a group of children to play a piece of music within 40 minutes!

Several Hubs have been established in rural areas and townships in Gauteng. Planning includes the creation of Hubs in all parts of southern Africa. Go here for more information about the projects.

On 29 and 30 July 2017, Education Africa’s 6th International Marimba and Steelpan Festival will take place at St Dominic’s Catholic School for Girls in Boksburg in Gauteng.

The festival has a variety of components to it:

  • Marimba and steelpan competitions divided into various age groups and categories. 
  • Hands-on workshops on a variety of traditional music topics. 
  • Massed marimba and steelpan experiences. 
  • Performances on marimbas and steelpans by leading artists. 
  • A massed drumming experience. 
  • Composition competitions restricted to residents of South Africa as well as all African countries and divided into various age groups.


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