25 July 2017 – Enjoyable, rewarding, exciting. Just three words of many positive ones that described the Saints Music Academy’s tour of the Eastern Free State at the end of the July holiday.
The origins of the idea to go tour are a little unclear, Saints Music Academy teacher Elize Swart admitted on Tuesday: “Gerrie [van Heerden] and I tend to have these ‘great’ ideas when we sit and have a coffee. It potentially happened there. It is a continual thinking process about the next step and how to take it a step higher. The tour was the obvious next step.”
Different venues, different experiences
The Eastern Free State was decided upon because it was an area that she was familiar with and it offered up difference venues and experiences.
“We wanted to give them different platforms and we were able to find those there, and it is not too far from Bloemfontein,” she explained.
The Saints Music Academy took their music to the Clarens’ town square on Saturday morning
“Everything they did was different. The first night they performed at a restaurant and that turned out to be amazing. It was lovely. Then they played in the square in town and then they went busking. They loved the busking! On Saturday night, they played at Die Punt. It’s a venue made for shows, so, again, it was a different feel.”
“Monday morning was spent at a high school, with a thousand kids. That was amazing. They fed into it completely. It was like a rock concert! And then we finished with a primary school, which was a totally different feel, because you can’t play just any songs. You have to think about what songs to play for each platform.”
Busking was a novel and gratifying experience, she added: “People enjoyed it. And the more people enjoyed it, the more the boys and girls enjoyed it. It’s a different feeling because it is acoustic. When you’re plugged in, it’s a different vibe completely. They were able to do it because they have a lovely variety of songs. Their repertoire is 45 songs! That gives you freedom to do quite a lot.”
Living life on the road, setting up and then packing up, is not easy. At each venue set up for the group, provided everyone pitched in, took an hour, while packing up took half-an-hour, but it was all done in good humour, Elize said: “The boys and girls were very gracious. There was no moaning. They did it and never complained about anything, except the food maybe, because I fed them at random times. Some of them get pretty grumpy without food! They handled it like champs.”
Happy days on tour
From the beginning to the end of the tour she witnessed huge growth in the children, especially as performers.
“Confidence is a huge thing and I am seeing that more and more, confidence and learning to adapt and learning to perform. It is one thing to play an instrument and to play together, but performing, getting your crowd to engage and to enjoy you… There is more to it than just standing there.
“By the last show, the girls were dancing. They were interacting with the kids. They weren’t just standing there singing. There was a huge difference, and that kind of thing you can’t teach them. That can only come from performing. One of the reasons why we took them on tour was to take that to the next level.”
The universal language
The group was culturally diverse and their success showed that music is, indeed, the universal language.
Elize said: “Having boys and girls makes for a fun dynamic. Also, there are so many different cultures represented. Looking at the group, we have Black, Indian, Asian, White, Russian… Just them being on the stage breaks so many barriers because you have such a mix of everything. Everybody sits back, nobody can be offended.
Now, where are we again?
“You get a little apprehensive on how people are going to receive them, because they are still kids. But then you see music is something that wants to be enjoyed. It crosses every boundary. It was lovely.”
Immediately after the completion of the tour, the group were asking whether or not they could go on another tour. “Ma’am needs to regroup!” Elize laughed.
Next public appearance
In the wake of the tour, excitement around the Saints Music Academy is high and practice is under way for their next scheduled public appearance: “We’ve got something coming up at Emoya on 16 September. That’s something to work for again,” Elize said. “We are trying to combine with the Eunice Marimba Band and set a platform again, even using some of our classical and jazz musicians. It’s another different platform. There’s an amphitheatre at Emoya, which can seat 3 000 people. It’s a beautiful place.”
“We want to give it to the younger guys as well, so we can start training them at younger ages and get them out there a bit more.”