Durban Music School: Providing first-class music education

Words: Kim Matthews, CEO, Durban Music School

When I look at the Durban Music School (DMS), I see a tiny glimpse of what is possible when people who are passionate come together. Particularly with sponsors who understand the importance of music education for all children in South Africa, be they orphaned, disadvantaged financially, or physically disabled. The school is a non-profit organisation that has Section 21 Company status and is run by a board of directors with Bongani Tembe as its chairperson.

     We are able to give 611 orphaned or vulnerable children the opportunity to receive first-class music education by giving them full music bursaries. They receive everything they need to learn to play an instrument and are then equipped with the skills they need to find employment in the industry. The children receive the instrument of their choice, which they are expected to take home and practise on every day. Some instruments are very expensive, but I find that when a child, who has very little materially and very little support from adults, is given an expensive instrument and we say to them that we feel they are worthy and we trust them, the child’s self-esteem skyrockets and they look after their instruments with great care. Most children come to the school when they are around 12 to 14 years old and we assess them very carefully and identify those who we feel will be successful as musicians later in life. We pay for their practical and theory lessons, they receive transport money, sheet music, ensemble training and their exams are paid for. The students do internationally recognised exams so that they can use this accreditation if they want to apply for a job or study further.

Durban Music School

     It doesn’t matter how good a musician a person is, if they have been trained by an educator on a one-on-one basis in a studio and have never had ensemble training, they won’t be able to get a job in an orchestra, band or ensemble. Professional ensembles don’t have the time to train someone to read a conductor. So, with this in mind, as soon as our learners reach grade two musically, they join one of our twelve ensembles. This also forces them to work in a group, learn consideration for other members and learn to sight-read well, a major consideration when working in an orchestra. We have a cello ensemble, a jazz band, a string ensemble, a guitar and percussion ensemble, a junior wind band, a marimba group, a saxophone ensemble, two choirs at the Open Air School (which specialises in education for learners with physical impairments), a choir, a contemporary band called Kwini Kuza and our most senior ensemble, the KwaZulu-Natal Youth Wind Band (KZNYWB). All these ensembles practise regularly and perform at functions and do educational concerts at schools. They are often booked by eThekwini Municipality or the Department of Arts and Culture to perform at their functions. Three-hundred-and-sixty-two of our learners take part in these ensembles.
     Our annual street festival is held in October. We close off the street in front of the school and invite our community to a free day of entertainment. The festival starts at 10:30 and the music and dancing goes on non-stop until 17:00. It is a great day with hundreds of people coming to enjoy the entertainment. We have our ensembles performing and then invite other groups to join in the day. These include classical Indian music, Zulu dancers, jazz bands, our music learners from the eThekwini creche, poets, Maskandi artists and the SANDF marching band. This is one way we enhance social cohesion in our community as people from different walks of life, cultures and races come together to enjoy the day. It breaks down barriers between the different groups and they chat and become friends.

To read more about the Durban Music School, KZNYWB and their accomplishments, the Open Air School, their state-of-the-art recording studio sponsored by a grant given to them from the Department of Arts and Culture, purchase our July 2018 issue, or continue supporting the arts and culture sector by subscribing to our monthly magazine.