Beginning:  7:51 p.m. on Friday, April 10th, 2015
Listening to:  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 (“Lied der Nacht”)
Reading:  The Cycle:  A Practical Approach to Managing Arts Organizations, Curtains? The Future of the Arts in America by Michael M. Kaiser, and Fearless Food Gardening in Chicagoland

Dear Internet:

Before unpacking another memory from my time abroad, I thought it worthwhile to share a few of Keiskamma Music Academy‘s recent successes.  Since its official move from a single converted classroom at St. Charles Sojola High School into its own building, Music Academy has gone from strength to strength.  KMA  has been especially effective at generating national-level prestige and opportunities for widespread exposure.  (For more background on KMA’s move last autumn, see an earlier Texts from Africa post  “Keiskamma Music Academy Moves In.”)  I continue to take in as much Keiskamma Music Academy news as I can through updates to the Keiskamma Trust’s main blog and Facebook posts by program manager Anthony Drake and assistant program manager/recorder specialist teacher Sjoerd Simon Duim.  Some of my students get in touch from time to time and share what they can about their UNISA progress, concerts, and studies as well.

Annual practical exams for the University of South Africa were held in Hamburg from September 24th-26th, 2014.  As when I first arrived in Hamburg and assisted with 2013’s practical exams, an adjudicator was invited to sit at three dozen or more performances on recorder, violin, saxophone, clarinet and other instruments.  A room in a large home owned by the Trust, housing, I believe, the only piano in Hamburg, was rented for the two days, and a schedule of performance time slots along with transportation, housing, practice, and food for the students was organized.  I imagine that primary and high school participants, even with seasons of travel and performance under their belts, would have been grateful to play this most crucial test in their home township, rather than elsewhere.  I know, too, that they would have been required to appear in Keiskamma Music Academy uniform:  navy KMA shirt, dark pants or jeans, black socks, black shoes.

Thabo Ngoxo (grade 12) wearing the Keiskamma Music Academy uniform en route to Port Alfred.

Keiskamma Music Academy’s saxophone trio performing in uniform. Photo taken at a spring 2013 concert in Port Alfred. Shown from left to right are Qhama Nongce (grade 10), Lwandile Mapuma (grade 9), and Siphelo Mvaphantsi (grade 11).

This year, the exam results arrived just a couple weeks afterward in early October.  83% of Keiskamma Music Academy students received merits and distinctions.  Of the top ten participants, all were awarded distinctions as well as places on the 2014 UNISA honor roll.

Sinazo Mvabaza (grade 7) – 91% on recorder
Sambesiwe Mavela (grade 7) – 90% on recorder and flute
Wonke Mapuma (grade 9) – 90% on recorder and 85% on clarinet
Asonwabile Nompunga (grade 7) – 87% on recorder
Qhama Nongce (grade 10) – 87% on alto saxophone
Thandikaya Matiti (grade 7) – 86% on recorder
Lukhanyiso Cuka (grade 11) – 85% on recorder
Sibongiseni Gxamza (grade 11) – 82% on recorder
Thabiso Ngoxo (grade 12) – 82% on violin

For the equally crucial UNISA music theory examinations held December 2014, Sambesiwe Mavela received  a 97%, KMA’s highest score that year, followed closely by Sinazo Mvabaza, who scored 92%.  KMA’s records included one perfect theory exam score in 2013; Thabo Ngoxo, grade 12, was the first KMA student to receive 100%.

In November of last year, the Keiskamma Trust was selected as one of the National Arts Council‘s thirteen flagship organizations.  For the award, the Trust proposed a year-long multimedia project formulated during my last months in Hamburg.  This involved joint effort by the Trust’s Arts, Music, Health, and Creative Development branches culminating in an exhibition and production showcasing Xhosa cultural heritage.  The project is now in its final stages of preparation and will be launched at the 2015 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown this July.  Along with the Eastern Cape Philharmonic, the Keiskamma Trust was one of only two South African musical organizations to receive support from the NAC for 2015.

Accompanying national awards and yearly music exams scores, top Keiskamma Music Academy students traveled throughout the Eastern Cape to pursue rare opportunities with nearby orchestras.  Two KMA clarinetists, Zimkhitha Nompunga and Wonke Mapuma, appeared as guest artists with the new Buffalo City Metropolitan Orchestra in November performances of Handel’s Messiah at the Guild Theatre in East London.  Wonke Mapuma and Sambesiwe Mavela traveled to Cape Town in February this year to take part in the first Galway Flute Festival, led by internationally renowned flautist and pedagogue James Galway.  As a result of his participation, Sambesiwe won a free lesson with Sir Galway via Skype.  I fondly recall watching Sambesiwe’s very first flute performance at a high school ensemble concert in Chintsa after only two weeks of study and am astounded to realize the rapid progress made since.  At the premiere concert, Sambesiwe was supported by his tutor, flautist Lihle Mtshonisi, a pupil of former Music Academy director Helen Vosloo, and one of KMA’s three founder students.

A similar recollection of my time in South Africa took me by surprise last week:  standing in line at a bank downtown during my lunch break, I recalled having to travel out of town to be paid each month.  To receive your monthly stipend was an involved process:  after submitting a requisition, by the end of the week you were usually issued a cheque signed by the Executive Director of the Keiskamma Trust.  On calmer weeks, it might be possible to catch a ride with one of the two Trust drivers into town.  If a driver was heading into East London or Port Alfred on a weekday, you could ask to be dropped off at a local branch of Standard Bank to cash in your cheque.  Waiting in line at the bank in South Africa provoked irrational fear–that the cheque wouldn’t clear or that the bank branch wouldn’t be able to produce the whole sum at once.  However long you waited in line was how long you waited.  If the transaction didn’t work, the signature wasn’t accepted, the account wrong, etc., there would be little to do but return along the dusty road to Hamburg empty-handed to wait another week or more till your next opportunity to visit town.  If all went smoothly, which it usually did, you got groceries at the store in town:  fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, baked goods–a veritable cornucopia that couldn’t be acquired in the township.

Back in America, a long line had formed.  It was lunch time, and only two tellers were at their posts.  A few bank visitors were visibly frustrated.  Minutes passed.  I watched as one person, then another, broke out of line, offering their complaint to the front bank manager before storming out.  I reflected on the patience required in South Africa–the weeks’ wait and hours of travel, the uncertain final moments at Standard Bank, the gratitude afterward–and noted its contrast with the certainty and ease I now enjoy.  T.I.A.  In South Africa you wait for everything.

During my contract for Keiskamma Music Academy, I visited Boston and was hungry coming home one afternoon.  I noticed a handful of food vendors in the Forest Hills station at the end of the Orange Line and went up to one of them, sheepishly eyeing a crisp-looking pastry filled with ground meat.  I realized too late that I had no cash on me, but before I could protest or disappear back into the crowd, the owner of one stand, a Lebanese man, spoke, asking if I wanted a pastry.  “No, it’s okay.  It looks very good, but I don’t have any money on me.”  “You’ll pay me later.”  He peered at me before nonchalantly picking up the flaky pastry with a pair of silver tongs and placing it in the oven to warm.  A gangly, dark-haired teenager, the vendor’s son, loped behind the food stand and set down his backpack to help.  I nodded and thanked the vendor as he handed the pastry to me wrapped in wax paper.  As soon as I had cash the following day, I visited the station to see the stands closed.  Several days passed, and I came back to finally pay $2.50 and offer my final thanks.  The vendor remembered me.  I like to think he saw that I understood.  It is not just South Africa, but much of the world that operates this way:  communities sustained through obligation, giving and receiving in good faith.

I completed my transaction completely unruffled by the wait and walked out of the bank back to work with minutes to spare and a most profound sense of peace.

Trailing off for now,



Beginning:  2:54 p.m. on Saturday, April 4th, 2015
Listening to:  Edvard Grieg’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in F major, Op. 8 and Anonymous 4 with Bruce Molsky
Reading:  Ovid’s Metamorphoses; The Cycle:  A Practical Approach to Managing Arts Organizations by Michael M. Kaiser; and Fearless Food Gardening in Chicagoland

Dear Internet:

Last week I described Keiskamma Music Academy‘s high school recorder ensemble in performance and named strength of the collective as the main factor underlying their success.  I want to devote a second post to the topic of stage fright and recount what occurred when individual students were challenged to stand apart from their peer group and perform past their safety zones.

Starting in primary school, students became used to rote learning and parroting their teacher as a group.  Limited resources typically drove teachers to work this way, conducting classes like an extended “call and response” and drilling students on lessons in the hope that enough information would be retained.  It usually wasn’t the case that each learner would have his or her own copy of the textbook or workbook; during school, teachers and students had to rely upon a handful of classroom copies.  In grades 4 through 7 at Hamburg Primary, desks were arranged to enable a book to be shared by small groups.  This was in theory enough for members to complete their classwork and copy out homework for the following day.  In grades R (kindergarten) through 3, classes were arranged in rows with one book kept at the front for the teacher’s sole use.  Students built early vocabularies this way in both Xhosa and English; they learned the names of the months, seasons, sums, times tables, and how to write.  In this environment, mistakes easily went undetected, as did variation and individuality.

In music lessons, students lacked confidence in learning passages of music on their own and performing without the support of their peers.  Rank beginners felt especially out of their element and required patience when coaxed to notice and address mistakes they would normally be permitted to overlook in a group.  The primary school classroom environment carried over through high school, making music lessons a rare opportunity for students to receive individual attention.  Even the youngest students received copies of their own music books and were expected to bring these home, care for them, and practice.  I realize that, along with how to play the recorder, we were in effect introducing students to a new way of learning.  It was painstaking but ultimately rewarding work:  the older generation of seasoned high school performers was proof of what a small amount of individual instruction can accomplish.

Still, our high school students maintained their preference for the group.  When I began working with individual players in lessons, I was perplexed to receive regular requests that I play along when working on new music.  Older students continued to lack confidence and made frequent mistakes in playing musical passages they would otherwise be able to sight-read perfectly in ensemble.  Perhaps the teachers before me relied too much upon playing along, either out of frustration or belief that this would streamline student progress and make the most efficient use of time in lessons.  Working to improve the individual playing level of our high school class, I learned to hold out and use playing together as an incentive only after students made the effort to sight-read pieces on their own.  Rather than using my playing as a guide for what was right and what wasn’t, we looked at different sections of a piece, questioning where rhythm and notes were off, and then worked phrase by phrase to make corrections.  Slowly but surely students learned to recognize problematic passages, keeping track of where there tended to be mistakes and ways to figure out solutions.  I am very fortunate that the students I taught were willing to adapt to me and cared enough to attempt learning counter to their very culture.  The new lesson environment challenged students to work on a level where they couldn’t be as comfortable, where both stage fright and self-critique emerged.  Without a doubt, there was initial resistance; but, for our high schoolers, it was clear that their commitment to Music Academy ran deeply, countering frustration.

Months into my work for Keiskamma Music Academy, a project began of of nominating and preparing students for the Eastern Cape Eisteddfod, an annual festival that called for young participants throughout the province to submit performances and works of art for graded evaluation.  Fortunately, work started after I had gotten to know my students’ weakness and strengths and also gained a sense of their feelings toward the repertoire we were working on in lessons.  After conferring with fellow teachers and asking each student to see if they wanted to participate, it was agreed that older students in grades 11 and 12 would be allowed to focus on their final exams, while younger students with lighter workloads would be encouraged to compete in that year’s Eisteddfod.  Our nominees were Wonke Mapuma, grade 8, and Sambesiwe Mavela, grade 7.

Wonke Mapuma earns a Bronze Award for his performance on clarinet and Silver Award for his performance on recorder at the 2014 Eastern Cape Eisteddfod.


Sambesiwe Mavela earns a Double Gold Award for his performance on recorder at the 2014 Eastern Cape Eisteddfod.

At the Eisteddfod, our students performed before a panel of judges to receive grades and comments.  Wonke Mapuma earned a Bronze Award for his performance on clarinet and a Silver Award on recorder.  He was praised for his “confident playing” and “attention to dynamics.”  Over the year, Wonke had excelled in both his clarinet and recorder playing, tackling high-level UNISA repertoire at a relatively young age.  Sambesiwe Mavela earned a Double Gold Award for his performance on recorder and was praised for his “understanding of genre.”  Sambe’s Double Gold was the highest award a Keiskamma Music Academy student has received at the Eastern Cape Eisteddfod to date. 

The 2014 Eastern Cape Eisteddfod was the first solo competition either Sambe or Wonke had participated in.  To prepare both students, technical mastery of pieces was bolstered by coaching for solo performance.  Knowing each student’s strengths as players by the time of preparation allowed us to directly address their tendencies in light of stage fright.  One student was gently reminded not to rush during more virtuosic portions of a piece.  I also coached students before performance to feel grounded and focus on their bodies whenever they felt their energy and focus shift too much to their fingers and heads.  As a final preparation, we also asked Wonke and Sambe to perform likely the most difficult task of all:  playing their solos in front of peers.  Again, common practice for Western musicians was something alien to students accustomed to communal music-making.  The trial of playing for other students benefitted Wonke and Sambe’s performance before judges.  Apart from results, there was added benefit in the group being able to see what individuals among them could accomplish and take inspiration from it.  In this case, our ever-improving class could still find strength in numbers while witnessing examples of strength apart.

Trailing off for now,


Beginning:  4:42 p.m. on Saturday, March 28th, 2015
Listening to:  Alison Krauss; The Dufay Collective; Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, and Stuart Duncan
Reading:  Ovid’s Metamorphoses and The Cycle:  A Practical Approach to Managing Arts Organizations by Michael M. Kaiser

Dear Internet:

Although Texts from Africa and Keiskamma Music Academy haven’t been far from my thoughts, it has been long since the last time I visited another chapter of my work abroad.  Instead, I allowed for change to occur, which did; and I have promised to bear its outcome as gracefully as I can.  Blogs are personal, revealing platforms; and the self-consciousness this bred wasn’t conducive to detailing recollections or opening up new thoughts.  While waiting to hear back from the graduate programs I’d applied to, I weighed new topics such as:  Siphesihle Ndogeni, another beloved student with her own difficult story to recount; religion; nature-worship; and the church I attended in the majority of my nine months in the Eastern Cape.  These topics and numerous more will be tackled in their time.  For now, I’d like to pick apart the very self-consciousness that prevented me from writing these past three months and explore a topic intimately linked:  stage fright.

How was stage fright tempered by teachers at Keiskamma Music Academy?  How might it have been inherited from us or inadvertently taught?  One supposed advantage of bringing seasoned music professionals to educate the music academy was the benefit students received in learning the heart of music performance, of artistry beyond the notes.  Young learners were regularly challenged to exceed their level of ability through a graded program of the University of South Africa (UNISA).  Their musical training at KMA required them to tackle difficult repertoire for public performance, in some cases regional music competitions.  Waiting in the wings were coaches and mentors ready to offer moral support and guidance through these challenges.  As far as stage fright was concerned, we teachers had already been through it and survived.  The result was a stock of tricks and fool-proof mentalities to bolster confidence and evade anxiety.   Introducing these tricks to our students when the need would arise appeared on surface to effectively combat stage fright.   But I now wonder whether the culture of music-making we enforced–“high-classical,” individualistic rather than communal, practiced rather than spontaneous–inevitably spread stage fright and similar maladies while simultaneously offering their cure.  Sheltered alongside the South Indian Ocean, miles from the nearest concert hall, a class of brash, fearless children was becoming painfully aware of their shortcomings.  By inculcating our standards and cultural values, rather than adapting to theirs, were we effectively raising the bar for our students or ultimately doing doing them a disservice?

Part of the briefing I’d received from Music Academy founder Helen Vosloo when I first arrived in South Africa was her observation that students had marked strength in numbers:  our twenty-odd high school musicians comprised a daring band of performers, provided they always appeared together.  The ensemble had garnered region-wide acclaim for staged music productions in Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Grahamstown, and Johannesburg, winning a grant and Ovation Award from Standard Bank in 2012.  A subset of the ensemble had even traveled to Germany for professional performances in 2013.  (For an overview of Music Academy accomplishments year by year visit:  The foundation for a strong performing group was embedded in the culture that raised it:  Xhosa children advanced in learning environments founded on a symbiosis between individual students within a classroom.  Their earliest lessons were learned by rote, with whole classes parroting sums and passages from books recited by a teacher.

As a young musician stage fright was a relentless accompaniment to my musical development.  I’d won competitions in junior high and high school; the greater the challenge, the greater my fear and attempts to combat it.  The real pressure, however, arose not from prizes gained or lost, but rather my own sense of what others expected of me and an obligation to live up to that conceived ideal.  During my prizewinning years, the secret to performing past anxiety was repetitive practice; by committing music to memory and making physical motions automatic, I could ensure that my body would perform wherever my addled mind and heart happened to be.

During my time in South Africa, the KMA collective increased its visibility locally, performing on average once a month for a variety of events.  The high school ensemble was and still is the only of its type in the Eastern Cape.  (For an example of the KMA sound, see this video of a 2014 performance:  Our administration believed that funding opportunities could be secured by hiring older students out to play for municipal functions, banquets, and similar events.  To prepare for these performances, the high school ensemble regularly rehearsed a set of pieces arranged for recorder ensemble with djembe and marimba and was expected to be ready to take the stage at often incredibly short notice.  A part of me took issue with this regimen, for one thing, whenever it potentially thwarted learning at the students’ pace.  For another, the majority of this set were works that had remained unchanged in the high school group’s repertoire for years, and thus didn’t encourage musical growth.  These issues aside, the volume of performances may have aided the group on whole, making for an unusually seasoned and professional ensemble in its formative years.

Later in life, deepening my relationship with music and gaining a greater sense of self, I began to dare to use performance as a vehicle for expression beyond a mere means by which to achieve “perfection.”  These days, I imagine the stage as a place where I am, oddly, alone–free to engage with emotion and imagination I would normally keep under wraps.  Instrumental performance now features the satisfaction of communicating a wordless narrative, all the more powerful in its secrecy.  It took me numerous accidents and failures on stage, as well as facing real-life fears off stage, to reach this point.  And for the students in Hamburg who remain with music, I hope their path will be the same.

I recall one particular appearance for the Amathole District Festival in which KMA was one of many performing groups to play for municipal dignitaries on an outdoor stage.  Without a set schedule, our students had to wait their turn under the hot sun.  When our time came, we scrambled to set up their equipment–marimbas and all–and gave a hurried performance in high wind without amplification.  (Strong winds interfere with sound production on the recorder by preventing air from moving over the block.  This more often than not renders this instrument silent.)  The event turned out to be the group’s worst by far.  A number of our kids agreed that it had not been a stellar performance, but soon after any disappointment seemed forgotten.  The schedule of KMA performances reminds me of the repetitive practice and benefits I received from that when competing.  Moreover, through the series of performances that year, students had developed awareness that a single subpar performance was inconsequential in light of more consistent success.

Keiskamma Music Academy’s high school recorder ensemble performs for the Amathole District Municipality Heritage Festival 2014. 

During the months-long hiatus, apart from debating between new topics, I’ve also reflected on importance of maintaining this blog for its potential to help.  If I cease writing and reminiscing about Keiskamma Music Academy, my students lose a voice.  And though they may never read this blog, we are all aware that the advocates for this particular music academy throughout our world are very few.  An old set of deadlines has given way to the new.  Texts from Africa can look forward to more regular posts in future, and the story of Music Academy will continue to be told.

Trailing off for now,


Keiskamma Music Academy students at the 2014 Amathole District Municipality Heritage Festival wait to perform.  Photo by Laura Osterlund.

Keiskamma Music Academy students at the 2014 Amathole District Municipality Heritage Festival wait to perform.


Beginning:  12:09 p.m. on Wednesday, December 24th, 2014
Listening to:  Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo on NPR and Samuel Barber’s Mutations from Bach
Reading:  The Book of Trees by Manuel Lima and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Dear Internet:

Another subject I’ve long wanted to honor is personal and thus more challenging to write about:  a young girl named Lisekho Mbioza, whom I taught for approximately half of my contract with Keiskamma Music Academy.  Lisekho was and, I hope, still is a student at Hamburg Primary School.  When I met her and began our recorder lessons, she had just started second grade.  We also believed then that the correct spelling of her name was “Liseko”; but I realized this was a misspelling on the part of a former teacher when she herself wrote her name down as Lisekho.  (The added h more conforms with typical Xhosa language and spelling.  Why no one thought to ask Lisekho earlier how her name is correctly spelled remains a mystery to me.)  Of the hundreds of faces and names teachers (re)encounter and memorize yearly, a handful will inevitably stand out:  Lisekho was one of mine, and among my favorite students.  I loved this child; getting to know her as a teacher, as with the other students I was blessed to bond with, was like an unexpected detour taken from my usual trek along the vulgar dirt path to Hamburg Primary–breath-taking albeit difficult, demanding strength, urging introspection.

Lisekho first made herself known as an extremely helpful student.  Ask her to find someone by name, and she would do it, running into any of the five classrooms for the eight grades we taught and brazenly asking young recorder players to be pulled from their regular lessons.  Lisekho’s helpfulness eased occasionally tenuous relations with Hamburg Primary School.  In my term, I realized I had unfortunately inherited a contentious connection with Hamburg Primary teachers from the previous administration, which I sought to rectify.  (See one previous blog post Water and Time.)  Our teaching of primary school students took place during their regular school hours, as opposed to teaching at the high school, which occurred after school.  We supposedly had permission to teach KMA primary school students during class for twenty- or thirty-minute lesson periods; but this was always a struggle to do so consistently, and even with discussion and supposed agreement on a schedule we often faced rancor or miscomprehension from their teachers.  In this environment, while I was still becoming accustomed to my position and learning exotic student names, Lisekho helped lesson schedules run smoothly and on time through her enthusiastic spirit and fearless, extroverted personality.

What made her act more extraordinary was that, of the thirty-or-so students we taught at Hamburg Primary, Lisekho’s English was arguably the worst.  English wasn’t taught as a formal school subject till second grade; so, Lisekho was just starting out.  She was clearly intelligent, my own bias aside.  She also used to get so frustrated, I recall, when trying to communicate with me.  For this reason, I wonder whether her family circumstances–perhaps a predominantly Xhosa-speaking home environment or an unpredictable series of home environments–might have been behind the speed of her learning.  A good number of second graders spoke passable English, enough to get by in a music lesson with more playing than talk.  But Lisekho was somehow different.  I remember another favorite student–Siphesihle Ndogeni, a extremely tall, lanky fifth grader held back multiple years, who I’ll write about later–jealously tried to discourage my interest in Lisekho by citing her lack of English skill.  “She cannot understand what you’re saying,” Siphesihle once interrupted.  It is believed that 93 percent of communication is nonverbal.  I looked into Lisekho’s face and knew that she understood.

Lisekho gave me another gift when she took a liking to me.  I will always remember the sight of her at a distance–running from the Hamburg Primary school yard, past the chain link fence, and down the worn-down grass footpath to meet me.  I have a memory of a particularly overcast day in late October/early November.  She was panting by the time she stopped.  “Lesson today?” she asked.  “No, Lisekho.  Today is Thursday; you’ll have your lesson tomorrow on Friday like before.”  “Lesson tomorrow?”  I nodded, and we walked together, side-by-side, contentedly, back into the school yard.

There was a period of time, I will admit, when I became extremely curious about Lisekho’s family and living circumstances.  Just as before lessons, she would find me afterward and often walk part of the way home with me, as I made my way to teach at the high school.  I asked her then, “where do you live?”  She stopped and pointed in the direction of no single building in the distance.  “Heritage,” she said.  After inquiring among my colleagues, I learned that Hamburg held a Heritage Site, a multi-purpose building used for local cultural/tourist events and an occasional home for those without.  I was disturbed at this knowledge.  Was Lisekho an orphan?  Did she have a family?  A few late nights, I’ll admit, I struggled and prayed over whether this was significant and what I was meant to do.  I had considered the possibility of adoption as a single mother before–only later in life, when I was sure and financially able to support a child–certainly not then.  I wondered:  how long would this mean I’d have to stay in South Africa for the adoption process?  How would this alter my life?

I had a conversation en route to Chicago this month after a gig in Indianapolis with a soprano who described her motley family and a history of foster parenthood.  She had three younger siblings, all from different parents, who for various reasons were legally adopted into her family.  I believe that her household was especially open to the idea of fostering and adoption, and that this increased with each child they welcomed in.  But she also described an intuitive “knowing,” or feeling of belong to the child, an instant recognition, that led to the creation of family, however unconventional.  To think that over a year after the start of my time in South Africa I would find some form of answer and validation of my own experience with a relative stranger is what we live for.  I was both disappointed and relieved to see Lisekho with her mother one day in the square courtyard of Hamburg Primary School.  I was not surprised when Lisekho, seated perfectly by her mother’s side, ignored me.  I made no motion to engage on my way to my classroom.  I saw, and I understood why.

Again, I loved this child; I still do.  And it was for this reason that, when our new volunteer teacher from Germany arrived midway through my teaching contract, I reassigned Lisekho to be her student instead of mine.  I did so without comment and have never pointed out the significance of this till now.  I still saw Lisekho in the square courtyard of the primary school and would receive her greeting happily.  And, naturally, she stopped running out to meet me around that time.  Lisekho seemed to improve steadily under her new tutelage; although I am reluctantly pleased to say that I never learned of a bond formed as strong as the one I imagined she had with me.

On my last day of recorder lessons at Hamburg Primary School, Lisekho came and found me during my final twenty minutes with one of our newer students, another second grader and the younger brother of a high school recorder player, Amiyoli Gqwaka.  The three of us sat in a circle in the sparse, one-room primary school library, not speaking, instruments in hand.  There was a particular riff from Miriam Makeba’s song Qongqothwane that the high school students had learned to perform and that, naturally, primary school students admired and attempted to emulate.  (You can see a recording of a live performance I captured last year here.  Special attention should go to 10th grader Mkhululi Peter, playing the marimba in the performance, a skill he did not learn at KMA, but mastered all on his own.)  Lisekho and Amiyoli had memorized the riff; and so we took our time improvising using it.  I played something new, and they played it back.  We took turns trading musical ideas, over and over again, till the improvisation gradually petered out and came to a natural stop.  Silently, we put down our instruments, looked into one another’s eyes, and nodded.

Then it was over.  I packed my belongings and walked one last time away from Hamburg Primary School, pausing to look back only now across an ocean of separation.  I gave Lisekho my address, printed by hand on an index card pilfered from the high school Music Room cabinet, in some shy hope that I might get to see the beautiful woman this beautiful girl might someday become.  But English was not among her many strengths; and in that environment it’s so easy for things to be lost.  I think one of the things I loved most about Lisekho was that, contrary to Xhosa patriarchal culture in which boys typically dominated and took advantage of girls from the earliest age, Lisekho did just the opposite:  teasing the boys, making them blush, yet always getting away with a wry smile and spirited giggle.  This quality was unique among the girls I taught.  I wish it were not so.  I would like to think that such joyful abandon, resilience, and beauty will continue to grow strong, will last; and for that I can at minimum continue to keep watch and hope.  She would be ten years old now, eleven next July.

I recently reached out to teachers I had during my undergraduate degree at McGill for letters of recommendation to graduate school.  For all, there’d been minimal contact since I left Canada over two years ago, and countless names and faces since.  I wish to acknowledge them and thank them for their recollection of me, which I can better comprehend with each passing year–that we are not forgotten to one another and for this reason might have chance at a more hopeful future.

Trailing off for now,

Beginning:  3:40 p.m. on Wednesday, November 19th, 2014
Listening to:  Treasures of Tudor England (2008) by The Sixteen and Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka
Reading:  A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell
Rereading:  Undergraduate papers (“A Solus Tenor Prototype in Codex Faenza 117,” “Adorno’s Radio Days:  Anti-Temporality and Ill-Fated Progresss in the Early 20th-Century,” and “Jazz Inflections:  American Legacy and Musical Apprehension in Duke Ellington’s Jungle Music and Aaron Copland’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra”)

Dear Internet:

At Keiskamma Music Academy, high school students achieved their greatest success in an egalitarian learning environment reflected in the placement of chairs.  Former KMA staff developed a truly good approach to interacting with students as teachers, developing the confidence of individuals while raising the level of the collective musical ensemble.  Eschewing competition and unnecessary hierarchies, students adopted habits for rehearsal and performance that enhanced their music-making and encouraged them to function as a team.  I was extremely fortunate to inherit this approach; although, I did not realize it at first.

During my first workshop teaching experience with KMA’s high school class, I stood at the front and center of a semi-circle of broken plastic seats set up in one of St. Charles Sojola’s austere and cluttered classrooms.  All the better to conduct the new pieces I’d selected:  I assumed this all was nothing new for the high schoolers, an exact model for how they’d worked before.  To my discouragement, the arrangement was not met with overt complaint, but rather an eerie, quizzical detachment on the part of my students that made me feel all the more on-the-spot at the start of my job.  Was I doing anything wrong, or was this the classic experience of a teacher working with a new group of students for the first time?  Coming from a traditional, Western classical music background, it made perfect sense that the teacher should be the one in command, issuing direction and critique at the symphony like an expert baton-wielding conductor at an imaginary podium.  Perhaps I simply needed to get used to them and vice versa.


Eighth grader Sambesiwe Mavela peer teaches a class of four beginning recorder students during workshop at St. Charles Sojola High School.

I continued my conducting; and as the lesson drew on, with high school attention spans growing more and more stretched, I found I had to stop and correct ensemble mistakes with increasing frequency.  I also had to work harder to keep despondent members focused.  This ended up being a taxing first experience; exacerbating it was the burden of my own expectations–how successfully I ought to’ve gotten the students to respect me and appreciate the music I’d picked, how quickly they ought to master a piece.  When hired, I was encouraged to bring in my musical preferences and expertise to benefit the students and expose them to a new point of view.  But in reality, this point of view, encompassing both intermingled overconfidence at having been hired for the position and apprehension at having to step into an unfamiliar role, was not helpful to the students, nor the path to success.

What did breed success was talking with students to understand their preferences and learn more about experiences with their past teachers.  One student confided that the previous Recorder Specialist never conducted at the front of the room but instead sat alongside her class, everyone shoulder-to-shoulder.  She also required that each player take a turn leading the ensemble to start and stop a piece.  As soon as I adopted this approach, my students relaxed and readily welcomed the new music I introduced.  Rapport grew along with students learning pieces at greater speeds and daring to play with often amazing expressivity.  Letting go of the reins gave me greater freedom to use my ear; I could then home in on students to help solve their technical problems and exercise the same level of musicality saved for peers in professional ensembles.  Achieving this mattered much more to me than maintaining a flimsy display of authority or control.


Keiskamma Music Academy intermediate level high school students during a Saturday workshop at St. Charles Sojola High School. Pictured from left to right are Sandiswa Gqwaka, Zizipho Makhubalo, Chumisa Mtshonisi, Siphelele Maxontana, Nomambinga Mangwane, Nangamso Ngqakaha, Mihle Cuka, and Mkhululi Peter.

The most beneficial result of “stepping down from my podium,” in more sense than one, was the confidence it bred in students, particularly those with limited experience in leadership roles.  Even the most reluctant students found themselves willing to lead their favorite piece among the dozens learned during the nine-month term.  The psychological benefit of placing myself on the same physical level as my students was simple albeit profound:  it created a classroom set-up in which we could all see one another’s faces along with an immediate sense of camaraderie.  Workshop became a laboratory in which each participant could safely leap beyond themselves, even if at first they fell flat on their face.  Beyond music, this was a higher goal all Keiskamma Music Academy teachers hoped to achieve, the translation of musical skills to social skills that might ultimately make a difference in the lives of each student and their community.

From my vantage point, lately at the front of a Harrington College classroom, confidence for me now seems the natural result of education geared predominantly toward addressing student needs.  It was in South Africa that I realized and put into practice the teaching tenet it’s not about me.  Instead of satisfying my personal ideals, the challenge became one of putting myself in the mindset of my students, placing their questions and course of study before a biased sense of how well I was or wasn’t doing.  Because of this, successful teaching, rather than performing, became the real and better measure of success.  Back in the States, given ample planning for the school term and preparation prior to class, I’m rarely self-conscious or nervous before a roomful of students.  While focused on conveying information to them in simple, deft terms, self-critique is sublimated, and the demands of perfectionism buckle under the greater weight of leadership.

I look at it this way:  a teacher can grasp the limit of his or her expertise in relation to the subject being taught, because he or she possesses more knowledge in greater depth.  Insecurity can come about in light of this awareness–moreover, when the teacher fails to designate crucial from superfluous information.  The extent of a teacher’s knowledge can become an impediment if he or she cannot translate deep concepts into a language beginners can comprehend.  Novice students, unlike their instructor, typically don’t yet have a grasp of how much information is out there or how many facets of the subject taught exist.  A teacher can forget this, as well as the fact that the job is to reconcile his or her individual point of reference with that of the class.  Consider the audience:  often with beginners it is enough to introduce broad concepts with succinct terminology so that students come to understand salient points and build a foundation for their own practice and further inquiry.

By balancing my knowledge against that of my students and challenging myself to meet them on their terms, I find that classes tend to fly by with minimal stress, and lesson plans demand less rigid, time-consuming preparation.  Working with college-age classes now, I realize that having taught such a wide range of students at KMA helps me to better appreciate the adult group’s alternative perspective and realize for them a more flexible, down-to-earth, and holistic teaching approach.

Trailing off for now,

Beginning:  10:35 a.m. on Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
Listening to:  Whitacre:  Choral Music (2010) by The Elora Festival Singers
Reading:  Graduate Admissions Essays by Donald Asher and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Rereading:  Composers at Work:  The Craft of Musical Composition 1450-1600 by Jessie Ann Owens

Dear Internet:

It’s good to return to the daily grind.  Since my last post, I’ve begun work teaching for INSEEC Grande École de Commerce at the Harrington College of Design; hosted members of an award-winning early music ensemble during a competition in Chicago; and come upon a number of powerful, uplifting realizations regarding plans for graduate school next year.  In short, I’ve been busy.  🙂

To ensure regular non-academic writing practice and a steady output of posts, I’ve been weighing whether to include occasional diversions not related to this blog’s original intent.  Initially, I’d decided that Texts from Africa’s primary purpose was to document past experiences from my nine months in South Africa, pairing these with ex post facto revelations from back home in the States.  What I have to share now does in some way reflect a deep lesson learned abroad, namely gratitude.  Yesterday, Thanksgiving was observed by dear friends in Montreal, my once and always second home.  In honor of them and (Canadian) Thanksgiving 2014, I’ll share my take on the Gratitude Challenge.

The Gratitude Challenge is an exercise that charges participants to list persons, places, events . . . really, anything they’re grateful for over seven consecutive days.  On social media such as Facebook, participants have the option to tag three new users each day, thereby perpetuating the challenge and thanksgiving.  When Kevin, one of my oldest friends, selected me for the challenge, I decided to participate but modified the exercise to avoid overwhelming colleagues and mentors with spam by tagging three new users only on the first day.  Also, because I am a relatively slow thinker, I did not perform the challenge over seven consecutive days, but rather allowed sometimes several days to pass before composing the next installment.

One of my aims was to think outside the box and list items I wouldn’t normally acknowledge, let alone give thanks for.  It was a good exercise to consider aspects of life and our world today beyond comprehension; how out of randomness can result good fortune; and how history and humankind perpetually interact.  From day one:  here is what I managed to muster to meet the challenge.

First day of the gratitude challenge:

1. My mother, particularly at this point in life, for her example of womanhood, and the intelligent, sage advice she has always given.

2. My students in South Africa for teaching me what it means to be responsible for others and offering me seemingly inexhaustible perspective beyond myself.

3. My friend Kevin Wyllie, who took me to Ann Sather restaurant in Chicago all those years ago for the best meal I’d had all winter.

Second day of the gratitude challenge:

1. Access to clean, drinkable water–anytime, at any temperature. In Hamburg, the elementary school where I taught had its water shut off by the municipality, because there wasn’t enough money to pay for it. For over six months–from the end of November 2013 till June 2014 and beyond–the school did not have water for cooking, cleaning, drinking, and the toilets. Through word of mouth and help from the Keiskamma Trust, the shortage eventually made the local paper. A donation was made to restore the school’s water supply. Each day when I went to teach I inquired about the water and learned that fortunately students and teachers were able to access drinking water and toilets in the village. Occasionally they could also make use of rainwater collected in a large drum by the side of the school.

2. The fact that my parents wanted and anticipated my birth, and afterward had the means to raise me to adulthood without lack.

3. A healthy, whole body that makes possible the cultivation of my mind–legs that enable me to walk to a library and up flights of stairs, eyesight allowing me to read.

Fourth day of the gratitude challenge:

1. In the early 1440s, German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg combined art and enterprise to develop an idea for a new form of printing. One of its initial projects was a Latin Vulgate Bible at forty and forty-two lines per page. From this profoundly ambitious product, the idea has proven its revolutionary ability to inform and inspire us, princes and paupers alike, to this day.

2. At the Paris Exhibition of 1867, French gardener Joseph Monier introduced reinforced concrete to European intelligentsia and obtained his first patent that same year. What was conceived as a means of building a better flower pot now constitutes a multibillion-dollar world-wide industry whose applications and structures dwarf those of steel, wood, plastic, and aluminum.

3. In 1855, the State University of Iowa enacted a policy to admit men and women on an equal basis. That year, forty-one female students enrolled with access to departments in ancient and modern languages, philosophy, history, chemistry, and mathematics. 1870 saw the founding of the university’s medical department, which welcomed an inaugural class including eight female students. This first coeducational state university continued a precedent set by American institutions as early as 1826, with Cumberland, Oberlin, Lawrence, et al.

Fifth day of the gratitude challenge:

1. Employment: having the ability to write, teach, and perform work in service of others with ample time still for music, travel, and the pursuit of long-term goals. The fortune of securing employment in safe, clean, and accessible work environments for competent, equitable employers who basically have my best interests at heart.

2. Upcoming concerts near and far: for the fellowship I’ve found in music; the challenges and inspiring arenas; and most of all the invaluable votes of confidence along my path.

3. Memories made along the road–like that time after a concert in Vermont when our hippie host waxed poetically about religion versus nature and the universe and then took me outside in the utter darkness to see something akin to this (

Sixth day of the gratitude challenge:

1. Probably the most interesting person I’ve met on the road was a middle-aged woman in Newark, NJ who assumed that I, too, was homeless and gave me a card for a local women’s shelter. At the Newark bus stop, during our ten-minute break, she prayed over me and gave me a cotton floral shirt she had washed by hand.

2. The fact that North America’s major mountain ranges extend north and south. We can discern the significance of this in histories of Civil War tactics, Manifest Destiny, and fast food franchises. The experience of mountains presents itself even in our choice of rain gear and the taste of wine.

3. My friend Ting, for grounding me in her maturity and alternative perspective on life.

I haven’t yet completed the seventh day.  I’ve decided to save it for when it’s time and I’m able to state something truly meaningful.  If I take anything away from the challenge, apart from further confirmation that I have good friends, it’s to be more cognizant not only of what I’m readily grateful for but also what I habitually take for granted.

Trailing off for now,

Beginning:  12:39 p.m. on Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
Listening to:  Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina Missarum liber primus (2003) by Coro polifonico dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Reading:  Teaching What You Don’t Know by Therese Huston and The Faculty Lounges by Naomi Schaefer Riley
Rereading:  Composers at Work:  The Craft of Musical Composition 1450-1600 by Jessie Ann Owens and Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins

Dear Internet:

Teaching in South Africa was eye-opening from the start seems a glib statement when I recall the mental obstacle course that comprised my first weeks.  The time presented so many episodes calling for problem solving beyond what I thought I possessed; but working through each issue toward a solution honed my self-control and granted me numerous other personal skills required to lead.

When hired as KMA’s new Recorder Specialist teacher, the Music Academy founder encouraged me to bring my particular musical background into lessons and workshops.  We agreed that this would benefit students by exposing them to new repertoire, such as a type of composition from 11th- and 12th-century Paris called Notre Dame Polyphony, and introducing to them a style of playing they’d never heard before.  Following through on this proved trickier than anticipated.  In fact, it was more effective to modify my teaching to existing levels of proficiency from the start.  I also made many conscious attempts over time to bridge the gap between the previous Recorder Specialist teacher’s instruction and my own.  This was achieved in part by supplementing our UNISA (University of South Africa) music syllabus with additional repertoire I’d brought and talking about technique in ways my students would understand.

Learning my students’ language was a lengthy process of trial and error.   For one thing, English is the second language for the majority at KMA.  It was important to remain cognizant of this while building up a repertoire of instructive phrases I could reasonably use that Xhosa children and teenagers would understand.  In working with students one-on-one during music lessons, I also had to be careful that the tone and pace of how I spoke didn’t come across as too critical.  Many dedicated students, for example, came to their lessons nervous or addled after school.  As teacher, I had the ability to speak to them in ways that would either exacerbate their stress or assuage their fears and allow them to focus.

Each young person was different, although their distinct culture and its contrast to mine became clear, curiously, as we became more comfortable working with one another.  At the start of my teaching, I see that I related to students within my own cultural framework and history, recalling persons most like them from my past in order to get along, and thinking:  “Oh, they’re just like me.  Aren’t we all connected in the great circle of life?”  But it was all too easy as a well-meaning, First World outsider to compassionately cast these unfamiliar individuals in my mold.  To maintain proper distance and perspective initially, it was important to keep in mind that my Xhosa students didn’t know me from Eve.  Some, because of their connection with the previous teacher, weren’t necessarily prepared to give me the benefit of the doubt; others were more receptive.  Likewise, I barely knew them:  what they brought into their lessons I could work with, but apart from that their day-to-day lives were remote and mysterious.

I won’t easily forget the day I thought to introduce sputato tonguing in one ensemble piece by comparing it with the aspirated “t” in the word “umthi.”  Umthi means “tree” in Xhosa and is pronounced not with the “th” in “thousand” or “thankful,” but rather a hard, aspirated alveolar tap more like “taste” and “testosterone.”  I picked up the word from Musa, second grade girl at Hamburg Primary School who liked to teach me words in Xhosa and subsequently began recorder lessons during my nine months teaching.  In making a connection between her language and mine, I was able to win over a few resistant students, namely a 10th grader named Khanyi, who cried “we want umthi!” when my manager suggested an alternative piece.  And they all got it, the articulation:  a beautiful, small victory won.

Trailing off for now,

Beginning:  3:47 p.m. on Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
Listening to:  The Family Crest and Diane Cluck’s Boneset (2014)
Reading:  Singing Early Music (edited by Timothy J. McGee with A. G. Rigg and David N. Klauser) and Volume I of The New Cambridge Medieval History
Rereading:  Composers at Work:  The Craft of Musical Composition 1450-1600 by Jessie Ann Owens and A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Dear Internet:

Another episode in the nine months that underscored the stark reality of T.I.A. (“This is Africa”) occurred at the end of November 2013. One morning, I arrived to teach at Hamburg Primary and discovered that the school’s water supply had been halted by Amathole District Municipality (ADM). The cessation would last over six months, during which primary school teachers and students went without a local water source. The shut-down by ADM impacted not only the school’s access to potable water, but also sanitation–water used for washing, cleaning, and cooking the students’ daily meal. There also wasn’t any water for the toilets, which one teacher told me would increase the spread of infectious disease.

The situation was heightened by the year’s meager rainfall. Rainwater was collected in two nine-meter-tall vertical tanks beside the school. Times when the tanks held enough water were celebrations for students. I noted then their excitement upon arriving at school and regardless always asked whether the water had been turned back on. Regularly inquiring after our water supply and developments with the municipality ingratiated me with primary school teachers. I learned that the supply had been shut off due to a missed payment and in my seeming compassion promised I would bring the lack to the attention of program managers at the Keiskamma Trust. With the bewildering passage of each month, all of us hoped more and more to get to the bottom of the issue with ADM and unearth funds to restore access to water.

I realize I took on a weighty responsibility in speaking with those at the Trust on behalf of Hamburg Primary teachers to seek an end to their dilemma as well as a source of funding. Throughout South Africa, there is a tragic power dynamic between whites and blacks that has persisted long after Apartheid: this played out as the Xhosa teachers broached the subject of money with me, a white woman, assuming I had influence and means to help.

Indeed, the Trust did eventually come to the rescue, landing the story of Hamburg Primary in the local paper and drawing upon the Education Program’s resources to help with payment. My involvement was merely speaking as I said I would to as many in the Trust as possible, including those primarily responsible for the donation of funds.  I am very glad in this case that the Trust performed its function of bringing vital relief to Hamburg.  In my position, I had sufficient authority to liaise between the Trust and Xhosa community and enough reason to believe that the former would follow through.  Still, in retrospect I see that it was not ethical to voice a promise I couldn’t necessarily keep, even one as benign as, “yes, I will help you.”

An additional realization spotlights my ignorance in coming to the developing world from the First. The very first time I experienced drought in South Africa happened less than a month into my contract. Teaching at St. Charles Sojola High School one afternoon, my students told me that their water had been shut off since the morning. Again, in my seeming compassion I panicked at one’s request for a drink and began rapidly filling our collection of unwashed plastic cups with my own bottled water. Barking at students to help me distribute the cups elicited both wary acceptance and angry looks.

My eyes had not yet opened to how my students lived with South Africa’s water scarcity longer than I had or ever would. Expertise landed me work across the Atlantic teaching young adults—experts in their environment, experts in their own right—with clearly as much to teach me.  Working effectively with them entailed my education in their systems and living circumstances, not the other way around. The more I became accustomed to this idea and put it into practice, the better I could adapt my teaching to Hamburg’s austere and changeable landscape. Far easier to weather drought as a member of a community than as an expert apart.

Trailing off for now,

Beginning:  2:50 p.m. on Tuesday, September 16th, 2014
Listening to:  Julia Kent’s Character (2013) and music by The Watersons
Reading:  The Best American Essays 1986 (edited by Elizabeth Hardwick) and Ballistics by Billy Collins
Rereading:  Composers at Work:  The Craft of Musical Composition 1450-1600 by Jessie Ann Owens, A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, and Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins

Dear Internet:

Here is a subject I’ve wanted to shed light on since this blog’s start:  Keiskamma Music Academy‘s relocation to its new music building.

There is a saying among Western European Trust workers I heard throughout my nine-month contract:  T.I.A.  “This is Africa,” a country where you wait for everything.

July 22nd of this year saw the official launch of the Hamburg Town Centre hosted by the Amathole District Municipality and company Aspire.  On that day, KMA received the green light to move musical instruments and teaching equipment from space rented at St. Charles Sojola High School to their new permanent home.  The move was celebrated with musical performances by KMA students on recorder, marimba, and various orchestral instruments, to which all members of Hamburg’s Xhosa community were invited.


Keiskamma Music Academy’s room at St. Charles Sojola High School (Hamburg, SA). The space was rented for use by KMA from 2006 to 2014.

I received news that the move was to take place roughly a month after leaving South Africa.  At that point, KMA had waited over seven months since its first projected move in late December 2013.  Had we then been able to move, the new facilities would have been ready to use just before the start of the January term.  But the date was pushed back, and pushed back, and pushed back till it seemed it would never come.  This had partially to do with the speed of some slight remaining construction through Aspire as well as lengthy, perilous negotiations with the municipality over the building’s lease.  On the ground, lessons continued as we made effort to minimize tension with our lessors at the high school and to assuage our students’ disappointment.


Keiskamma Music Academy’s new music building. Pictured from left to right are Music Academy founder Helen Vosloo and Keiskamma Trust director and founder Carol Hofmeyr. Photo by Anneke Viljoen.

July’s swift, unanticipated welcome to move warranted thanks for the long-awaited arrival of the day we’d assured students would come; but the end to the months-long period of uncertainty was also a dire reminder of the truth “this is Africa,” the reality of a glaring disconnect between South African public and private sectors that risks damage to small communities even within actions designed to help.  Short of blind indifference and corruption, competency at the municipal level and greater remains an issue to address.  In my nine months, I saw students already wise to the system take it upon themselves to improve local circumstances.  To complement this, KMA staff assisted high schoolers in community action projects facilitated by the Trust and outside organizations like Enke.  I hope that students continue to use these opportunities as much as their musical training to launch careers and become leaders in their own right.

In my current life I’m also noting the remarkable passage of time and proof of the speed at which unanticipated change can occur.  Alongside work for the Illinois Department of Human Services, writing, and performance, I’ll soon begin teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) at the Harrington College of Design downtown.  I felt secure in January that my return from South Africa would see me settled on the East Coast, a goal I upheld and worked steadily toward till only two months ago, when I had to make the intuitive choice to remain in the Chicago area for grad. school preparation and work.

Contrast January with September:  I am standing before a small class of French exchange students at Harrington, telling the story of my career’s course from Canada, the United States, South Africa, and back.  In less than a month, I make the leap from guest speaker to lecturer.  For now, I am busily crafting a new syllabus, very much looking forward to taking responsibility for classes of my own.  The students I spoke to today were the most positive and attentive yet; and as with those in Hamburg I hope they exceed my example and surpass themselves en route toward their respective career goals.

Trailing off for now,

Beginning:  1:52 p.m. CDT on Monday, September 8th, 2014
Listening to:  The Lonely Island’s Incredibad (2009), The Family Crest, and this child reciting Billy Collins’s poem “Litany”
Reading:  The Known World by Edward P. Jones and The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
Rereading:  Composers at Work:  The Craft of Musical Composition 1450-1600 by Jessie Ann Owens and A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Dear Internet:

This morning I learned that an esteemed colleague (whose website I showcase in this blog’s inaugural post) finally left South Africa following a year of service to Keiskamma Music Academy.  Martin Kratzing, now nineteen, of Germany, is one of many young volunteers sent to South Africa each year by SAGE Net Deutschland.   The program provides exchange opportunities for German students:  for example, placing pre-professionals in South African institutions with a decided lack of capable staff.  Those on the exchange receive critical occupational training at a formative point in their career; the organizations and communities they engage with receive invaluable support.  

This was no small matter to our music academy in Hamburg:  in many of our best months, we were a staff of five supporting a rapidly expanding project already catering to over a hundred students.  Each component of that meteoric expansion was a godsend.  (To learn more about SAGE Net, visit their website.  This brings to mind another organization I learned of in Hamburg, Round Square International.)

Although not officially employed by the Keiskamma Trust, Martin’s volume of work for KMA seemed at times on par with that of our manager Anthony Drake and myself.  This in fact coincided with the music academy’s “poorer” months when we were a staff of three.  At that time, Martin’s teaching schedule was just as rigorous as mine; he also faced the added challenge of instructing our youngest students, many of whom had approximately a year’s worth of (in)formal English language instruction.

I won’t easily forget the Saturday workshop when I opted to relieve Martin of some work and teach a class of our youngest beginning recorder players.  These students were at most ten years old:  bright and cheerful as they were, their attention spans couldn’t yet expand to fit the workshop’s hour-long sessions, nor the structure we’d implemented for our older students.  By some grace, the class took to me as I’m sure they’d taken to Martin and left at the end of the day with an introduction to improvisation and a few new tunes under their belts.

Martin returns to his hometown of Nordhausen, once a part of the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik, to a large family and, I’m sure, anxious girlfriend.  The year abroad in South Africa was a decisive and necessary step along his career path:  a bridge between secondary education and university where he hopes to specialize in elementary-age teaching.  This was the first time the teenager had lived apart from home.  I recall from conversation that following this initial eye-opening experience Martin intends to travel in future as much as life will alow.  I also recall the genesis of a grown man in his embrace of a nation and in witnessing him reach out to those vulnerable and apart.

Three entries in:  I still wish for posts to this blog to be more frequent, as I wish for my memories from South Africa to be retained.  But what is equally important to me in maintaining Texts from Africa is that I not take on an additonal deadline because of it.  I’m glad that I’m finally allowing myself to live at least less consciously of deadlines than before; and the memories made abroad will regardless develop, gaining perspective and maturity in future.

Trailing off for now,