7 August 2018 – Music is, simplistically put, about sound, but the reasons why we play music, love music and share music are much deeper and more diverse. The Saints Music Academy is about music, but it is also about so much more than that, so we sat down for an in-depth discussion with two matric boys, Martin van Rooyen and Pranav Poken, both veterans of the Academy, to find out more about the role it has played in their lives.

Meaning and reason are important drivers in our lives, so why did they pursue music?

“There was the answer I needed”
“Music is, for me, about passion. It helps me get through things,” Martin, whose sister Jana is also part of the Academy, said. “When it was offered at Saints by Mrs Swart, there was the answer that I needed.

“It’s a stress reliever, firstly, and then it’s also about general enjoyment.”

Martin van Rooyen (right) performs with vocalist Thato Thamae

Pranav weighed-in: “It really is one way to just express yourself. You have no worries about what is going to happen, because when you are on that stage you can do what you want to do.

“For me, it’s something that has always been part of me. For a long time, I have had music in me, and to be able to play music and to bring joy to others, and to see people scream and shout in appreciation makes me very happy. That’s the reason why I do it.”

Both boys said the fact that the music they play at the Saints Music Academy is not prescribed to them – they choose what they want to play – makes all the difference and the music so enjoyable.

“That freedom has been incredible”
“Mrs Swart tells us to do whatever we want to do, as long as it sounds good. That’s it! And that freedom has been incredible. It’s exactly the type of music we might listen to while sitting at home and doing work,” Martin reckoned.

Pranav added: “I think that’s what makes the Saints Music Academy a lot different to any other school or any other organisation’s music academy. They aren’t as free and as open as to the songs they want to do. It is normally regulated and they have to stick to a specific genre. We can do anything.”

Martin van Rooyen (third from left), with Pranav Poken (to his left) during the Saints Music Academy’s Eastern Cape Tour

There are no restrictions on what types of instruments the Academy members may play and many of them play multiple instruments. Age, too, is not an impediment.

Pranav exclaimed: “There are no rules. There are no age rules. If you need a drummer and he is in grade 10, you can use him. There is no limit on anything.”

“If you want a violin in a rock song, go for it!” Martin weighed-in.

The wide choices of music lead the musicians choosing to delve into a wide variety of genres, which, in turn, enables the Music Academy to appeal to a wide audience. Considerations about what to play include personal preference and what the crowd might enjoy.

Who, where, and how are questions that are always posed before a gig in deciding what the playlist should be. Eliciting a strong response from the audience is always exciting, said Pranav, and it never gets old. For Martin, this is best expressed when performing at other schools.

Choosing the right song
Choosing the right song to start a performance is important. It’s needed to grab the crowd’s attention and create the momentum that will carry throughout an entire show.

The ability learned from experience to “read” an audience is important. “If we go to a school, we keep it more upbeat. When we do slow songs, we do love songs that everyone knows. We have the right people in it to make it look attractive,” Martin explained.

“There was someone at Woodridge that started crying because she so enjoyed our performance of Adele’s ‘Someone like you’.

“If you’re going to play for a slightly older audience, you can look more towards the acoustic guitar and 90s, 80s hits.”

The Saints Music Academy includes girls, too, like Lisa Lensley, who starred as Sandy in Saints’ 2017 production of Grease, and Jana van Rooyen, who played Cha Cha.

Performing regularly has led to the development of the Music Academy members, not just as musicians, but also as entertainers.

The first performance the Academy put on at Plenty was very much like a school concert, Pranav reckoned. “There were a lot of nerves, a lot of mess-ups and a lot of slip-ups. But you have to start somewhere. We learn something from each gig we do.”

Shows are not only about performing, they are also about setting up and that, too, has seen massive improvement, the duo said.

It took an hour to an hour-and-a-half when they first started out, but that time has been slashed down to mere minutes. “Our record, when we were pretty late for one of our gigs on tour, at Woodridge, was seven minutes!” Martin shared.

“That was show ready!” Pranav added. “That includes unpacking the trailer and moving the equipment.”

Setting up
Setting up, he continued, is one of the highlights of performing, watching each person key in on their jobs and execute them. It’s when the rush of a show takes hold.

The response from other schools to the Saints Music Academy has been phenomenal, the boys said. A day after performing at Woodridge on their Eastern Cape tour, two girls from the school ran into the musicians in Saint Francis Bay. They revealed that WhatsApp in their school community had been blowing up all day, with everyone talking about the previous evening’s gig.

The response of other schools to the Saints Music Academy has been extremely positive

“At the first gig we did at Saint Andrew’s Grahamstown, they were insanely shocked at what we could do. I think at every place we performed, even at the Acoustic Café, the people were really surprised by our talent,” said Pranav.

A lot of top talent will be moving on, including Martin and Pranav, when the boys finish their school careers this year. While it will be a challenge to replace them, the seniors have been mentoring their future replacements on how to do gigs, including set-up, playing and performing, and some songs they can take over.

Influence of the music teachers
The influence of their music teachers has been immense, and the freedom the boys have been accorded to express themselves is especially appreciated.

Martin said: “It’s been about us trying to improve ourselves as entertainers and musicians, rather than about teachers trying to show off what they have managed to accomplish. We recognise that and we appreciate it so much.”

The Music Academy experience has been about so much more than they music, though. “It’s more about the family. That music group is really close,” said Pranav.

“We’re like this,” Martin gestured, with his index and middle fingers locked tightly against one another.

The Saints Music Academy performs for schools and in commercial venues.

Music will remain with them once they finish school, the boys said. Martin will be heading down to the Western Cape for university and his guitar will accompany him.

“Whenever I get the chance, I am going to come here and see what’s happening at the Saints Music Academy. If they’re on tour down there, I will, for sure, go and watch them.”

Pranav, meanwhile, will be studying architecture in Bloemfontein. He plans to assist the Music Academy where he can.

“Those crowd reactions!”
Both agree that they’re going to miss performing together. “Those crowd reactions!” Martin exclaimed.

“The crowd reactions are indescribable. You have to experience it,” Pranav chimed in.

The Saints Music Academy has brought together people who otherwise might not have had much to do with one another, he added. Now, though, those same people actively seek out one another to hang out whenever the opportunity presents itself. And it’s not just about the boys, it’s the same with the girls too.

Performing has helped develop the personal confidence of both of them, Martin and Pranav said.

“You always thought you were limited by age and experience and these types of things, and then you get those types of reactions, and you think, wait, I was completely wrong. Those limits are out of the window,” Martin concluded.