Monday, June 6, 2011

June 6, 2011 - Getting to know the Students in Bloemfontein

On Saturday the string quartet met the oldest group of string players, the Bochabela Strings.  They'll travel with us to Durban next week to perform with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.  The first day we played for each other - and this group of players has the best rhythm I've ever heard. They danced when they played, cued each other, and grinned ear to ear.  I couldn't believe it!  All with no conductor.  Peter Guy, the group's founder and a bass player himself said, "I used to conduct them but they never paid me any attention so now I let them play without me!"  I was really fascinated by the instinctual rhythm and creativity of the boy playing the congas during the performance - he really seemed to be the pulse of the traditional music the group was playing.  Needless to say, I was shocked then to see this young man sitting in my violin sectional - he said that his name was Morena, "But you can call me Renzo."  He is also an excellent violinist, but right now he is getting a degree in engineering.  When I asked him if he would keep playing after he finds an engineering job, he said, "Of course!"

It seems a daunting task that Peter's pulled off - moving halfway around the world and setting up a complicated network of musical instruction, hundreds of children involved in private lessons, orchestra, and for the most advanced, touring Europe for concerts.  Peter used to have a bus driver to pick up all the children and bring them to the school, but after the driver quit, he took on the job himself.  We saw first hand today just what that means - he does an hour long loop of all the schools in the area, piling instruments and children into the huge painted stick-shift bus, navigating tiny dirt roads around neighborhoods and schools and somehow always managing to get everyone back and forth safe and sound.  The bus jolted and shook, vibrating with children speaking at least five different languages, and jumping back and forth so easily it makes my head spin.  At least four children crowd in around him on a platform in the front of the bus and think nothing of it, their violins serving as places to temporarily rest their heads for the trip to the music school.  Peter has to wear a lot of hats in this program, but he seems not to mind, as he's very content to do simply what needs to be done.

Today we taught some lessons to the younger children and I even got some to start improvising.  Then they really wanted to hear me say something in another language, so I taught them the Latin phrase "Ave Caesar.  Moreturi te salutant," which I explained to them means "Hail Caesar.  Those who are about to die salute you."  It was the necessary greeting of the gladiators in ancient Rome.  It was a hit, and then we talked about how to say hello on Sotho, but there are simply sounds in Sotho that I cannot pronounce.  The kids have been very kind to tell me nicknames that I can call them, which are easier for an American...

When I told the girls that I was from New York, one said, "Can you put me in your luggage and take me back with you?"

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