Keiskamma Music Academy Today

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,



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: