21 November 2016 – The Saints Music Academy began eight years ago with only 11 pupils, but today that number has grown to an astounding 300. It’s a success story that is delivering not only good musicians, but happy children too.
A jovial group of Saints Music Academy pupils put on a superb performance at 59 Plenty at the end of October, together with Mrs Elize Swart (front) and Mr Gerrie van Heerden (back)
“When I got here, there was nothing”
Elize Swart is one of four teachers – the others being Inez Ferreira, Gerrie van Heerden and Noel Stockton – at the Music Academy and has been a part of it since it began, helping to grow it into a very exciting part of the school. Looking back on its origins, she said: “When I got here, there was nothing. Schools had stopped music and the Department of Education got rid of their music teachers. There was a bit of a gap in the school system.”
“The Music Academy idea started at Sand du Plessis, where I did something similar, and then I came to Saints and offered to do it.”
She added: “It is private, so it doesn’t cost the school money and they normally have classrooms available. It’s something that they add on.”
In the past, schools owned instruments, but those were sold when music departments were closed, so children now need to provide their own instruments.
Instruments like guitar, violin, and the recorder are taught in groups up to the point where individuals have progressed beyond a certain standard, while individual tuition is also available, but the emphasis is on making it affordable for all.
Music Ensemble evenings
The development of the Saints Music Academy has been shared with others for the past two years through Music Ensemble evenings, which have become can’t-miss events for those who have been fortunate enough to attend one.
Most recently, 59 Plenty hosted an evening, which ran in conjunction with a Senior Art Expo, and was very well received. The gallery owners have confirmed they are eager to welcome the Music Academy back for another evening of entertainment.
Saints Music Academy boys clown around after a Music Ensemble evening
The focus of the Academy, Mrs Swart explained, has been on getting children to play music: “The dynamics in music have changed so much, so kids aren’t doing classical piano anymore, or as much. They want to play and they want to be able to make bands. To teach them everything that goes into it is quite a process. I think everyone wants to be a rock star until they realise what they have to do.”
Saint Andrew’s has recognised the value that the Music Academy brings to the school and has responded by providing it with some much needed equipment, such as amplifiers and microphones, which have been used for Music Ensemble events.
The benefit of music extends beyond learning how to play an instruments, Mrs Swart said: “It does a lot for the kids. I think of the bond I have with the music kids. They don’t see it as a school thing. My husband has always said it is like music therapy. People start opening up. It’s a safe environment. There’s growth from that side.”
Carols @ Saints
Another huge recent success, apart from the Music Ensemble evenings, was the Carol @ Saints evening at the start of November. A big crowd roundly praised the superb late afternoon/early evening family production, which catered for the very young to those of “more advanced years”.
“That was lovely. What a wonderful evening,” Mrs Swart said. “Every year Carols @ Saints is evolving and it takes a different shape. As with Eunice this year, I would love to get more schools involved in future too. The problem with Bloem is that everyone is trying to keep their little thing to themselves. Slowly, though, we are getting a new breed of teachers who want to connect.
“Next year, I would really like use a smaller choir (not the Chapel choir) and get other schools to come and do a choir ‘thing’ with bands. A lot of schools don’t do bands like we are doing, but we can incorporate other people. Every school does something different: Eunice has the marimbas, Grey has the Boere orkes, Sentraal has a brilliant small brass band. They have all taken different shapes.”
Saints Music Academy teacher Elize Swart plays the keyboards during Carols @ Saints
Eastern Cape visit
Earlier in the year, a visit to East London’s Stirling High School and Selborne College, both of which have put significant funds into their music programmes, showed the Saint Andrew’s boys that they and the Saints Music Academy don’t have to stand back for anyone.
“We learnt quite a bit. It is encouraging to see people are building music schools,” Mrs Swart said. “Culture has come back into schools. A lot of money was invested there, and it was also encouraging to see that what we have been doing other schools are starting to do too.”
Approach to music
Addressing the Saints Music Academy’s approach to music, she said: “Although one of our teachers focuses on classical training, we have approached music more from a standpoint of making music that we listen to every day. The people that are very classically trained are starting to do that as well. Everyone is going back to making music that kids enjoy and everything has changed. Where classrooms used to be little square boxes, they’re now big spaces where you can put in groups.”
Children simply need to play and share music, Mrs Swart said: “It was never designed to be played alone and never be played out. That’s what kids are learning. It’s a gift to be able to play something on an instrument, put it together, and people just love music. Music is something that you want to enjoy.”
How to be a part of the Saints Music Academy
For those interested in becoming part of the Saints Music Academy, forms will be sent out at the beginning of 2017, or Mrs Swart can be approached. Fees are charged for the Music Academy, but, as was said previously, the focus is on making music affordable and accessible to all.