STRING ACADEMY IN SOWETO SOUTH AFRICA WHICH OFFERS HIGH QUALITY STRING TEACHING TO CHILDREN FROM THE LOCAL COMMUNITY WITH A FLAGSHIP ENSEMBLE CALLED BUSKAID SOWETO STRING ENSEMBLE
Buskaid is a thriving Academy of String Teaching and Performance, situated in the heart of the South African Township of Soweto. Its primary mission is to give opportunities to impoverished and previously disadvantaged township children to learn classical (bowed) string instruments to the highest international standards. Buskaid also runs a highly successful string teacher-training programme, and nine of its eleven teachers are drawn from within its student membership. Its flagship Ensemble, which has gained international recognition, was voted one of the world’s most inspirational orchestras by the UK’s Gramophone magazine in 2008. Through its teaching and performance activities, Buskaid is able to offer employment opportunities in an environment where currently 75% of the 26% of unemployed South Africans are young, black, and living at subsistence levels. Buskaid’s presence in Soweto is a powerful tool for transformation in the local and wider township community.
In 2017 Buskaid celebrates a double Anniversary: 25 years since its inception, and 20 years since the opening of its Soweto-based project.
Buskaid was founded in 1992 by British viola player Rosemary Nalden, in response to a BBC radio interview highlighting the difficulties of a group of young string players in Diepkloof, Soweto. Rosemary responded by organising a fundraising event, when 120 professional musicians ‘busked’ simultaneously in 16 British Rail stations across the UK.
In January 1997 when the original project had fallen into difficulties, Rosemary established the Buskaid Soweto String Project. Initially the fledgling music school, situated in a tiny run-down church office in Diepkloof, consisted of fifteen members from the original project and a handful of new beginners. Since then, in response to the huge demand by local children to learn a stringed instrument, it has grown exponentially, and currently comprises approximately 115 students ranging in age from five to thirty-five, all of whom are drawn from the less privileged local community. The Buskaid Soweto Academy of String Teaching and Performance is now situated in its own purpose-built school in the grounds of another church in Diepkloof. In the 20 years of its existence the organisation has grown from a modest social development project into an internationally recognised institution of high quality string teaching and performance.
• Innovation in String Teaching and Inhouse Teacher-training
Buskaid’s reputation as a centre of excellence can be ascribed in large to its innovative approach to string teaching. The UK pedagogue Sheila Nelson’s Essential String Method is the primary resource of teaching material used by all teachers at the school. Buskaid implemented its own job creation programme in 2002 when a number of senior students were identified to be trained as teachers. All Buskaid’s young teachers have themselves been taught by Rosemary Nalden and Sonja Bass using this approach, and they have all subsequently been trained in its application to their own teaching. Buskaid is the only string music school in South Africa where all the students are trained using the same teaching approach and the consequence of this approach is the Ensemble’s unique, blended sound and playing style.
• Performance successes
The Buskaid Ensemble has undertaken 26 highly acclaimed international tours and is the only African classical orchestra ever to have performed at the BBC Proms (2007).The Ensemble is well-known for its knowledge of stylistic performance practice, and its unique format of performing Classical, classic pop, Afro-pop and Township Kwela in one concert is a great attraction for its public concerts. Ensemble members have also created the largest collection of string arrangements of traditional Township music in South Africa, and this is a continuing process. Buskaid musicians are also known for their ability to memorise entire classical works and perform them with choreographed actions: a further innovative approach to classical performance. In breaking the conventional mould, Buskaid has thus introduced new audiences to classical music.
• Employment opportunities
Many senior students at Buskaid are now employed by the organisation in a variety of roles. Currently 21 senior Ensemble members are paid for performances; in addition Buskaid employs nine Assistant Teachers, two librarians and an administrator. The Buskaid Learnership programme offers a modest monthly stipend to tertiary-level students who wish to study music and take international Diploma exams. For the majority of these students, Buskaid’s financial support provides them with the wherewithall to support their families, and pay for their own tertiary education.
• Pastoral Care
The Academy addresses the creative needs of children in its community who have very little access to cultural activities either at or after school, offering them a safe, nurturing environment in which to acquire a musical skill, the wherewithal to achieve this with access to excellence in teaching, and the provision of pastoral care. Buskaid now employs a psychologist on a part-time basis who gives regular counselling to those children and their parents who are in need.
• Tertiary Study abroad
Buskaid has also enabled seven of its most talented students to undertaken tertiary study at both the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, and Royal Academy of Music, London. One of these, who gained his B Mus with Distinction, is now the leader of the University of Bloemfontein’s resident string quartet.
• Inhouse Instrument Repair Project
To address the lack of trained stringed instrument repairers in South Africa, Buskaid’s cello and bass teacher Sonja Bass has herself received training as a skilled repairer. Buskaid has now set up a repair workshop in Soweto with the aim of training local young people in this skill.
Buskaid provides young people from the Diepkloof community with unparalleled possibilities to uplift themselves from an environment of poverty and unemployment. The transformation of young people who enter the programme can sometimes be quite dramatic: many of whom come from particularly difficult home circumstances are shy and troubled but seem to recognise instinctively that this environment will enable them to change the course of their lives and their futures. These benefits also extend to their general education where, because of improved self-esteem, reading and motor skills, their confidence is boosted and they begin to show marked improvement in their school subjects and, most significantly, in their lives in general.
What the nominator wrote:
Buskaid has accomplished the difficult task of creating an ecosystem where classical music can thrive. It has done this in a poor community which has little access to classical music. This ecosystem comprises teaching children to play instruments, training teachers, an instrument repair workshop, securing access to higher education opportunities for deserving students and a string ensemble.