In conversation with the inspirational Rosemary Nalden

Buskaid will once again be performing their annual concert on 29 September at the Linder Auditorium in Johannesburg and Creative Feel caught up with Rosemary Nalden to find out more:

Building a legacy Buskaid
PHOTO Graham De Lacy

Creative Feel: Over the past 21 years, which musicians and other people do you feel inspired and helped you?
Rosemary Nalden: Without question – my father comes first. Given away by his mother when he was three weeks old, he was brought up in a tough, Victorian-style London orphanage. At 14, he was compulsorily drafted into the Army. Against impossible odds, he gained two Music Doctorates from British universities, before taking his wife and two young children to New Zealand in 1947 to make a new life. He rose to become Professor of Music at Auckland University and founded the first Conservatorium of Music in New Zealand. He was also a fine harpist, French horn player and conductor. He was obstinate, determined and a true pioneer. He has always been with me in spirit.
     Sheila Nelson, the great British violin pedagogue, was a close personal friend from the early 1970s. Without her mentorship and extraordinary teaching material, quite simply I couldn’t have achieved what I have.
     Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Sir Roger Norrington, and all my musician colleagues and friends back in the UK, were, and still are, a huge inspiration.
     Out here in South Africa, Sonja Bass, our cello and bass teacher, has been my constant support, friend, and colleague. I’ve always maintained that she and I alone understand how tough it is to do what we do. Musician trustees such as Jill Richards, who has devoted countless hours to playing for our exam candidates, and other trustees both here and in the UK who have worked tirelessly to raise funds… the list of supporters is endless

Building a legacy Buskaid
PHOTO Graham De Lacy

CF: What have been the most important points for you personally during these years, both highs and lows?
RM: Definitely more highs than lows! The highs can vary from the happiness I feel when driving home from Soweto after a really good rehearsal; the moments of near-ecstasy I have experienced in concerts when one of our musicians moves me to tears; the thrill of playing to international audiences (in the UK, Holland, France, Italy , Germany, Ireland, the USA, Brazil, Colombia, Syria, New Zealand) and feeling so proud when we receive standing ovations (which we always do!); the excitement of teaching children and young adults and witnessing their progress as musicians; the fun of teaching a class of tiny, eager new beginners… Of course, performing at a Prom in the Royal Albert Hall was utterly surreal – I still can’t quite believe it happened! And I think it’s also important to highlight the thrill of being awarded a sponsorship: it’s a bit like winning the lottery (not that I know how that feels!).
     The lows are very much to do with feeling constantly overwhelmed by work, because my job doesn’t just involve teaching! I worry all the time about funding and I’m deeply involved in this aspect of the organisation. We employ upwards of a couple of dozen young people from Soweto, many of whom support their families from their Buskaid earnings. This is a huge responsibility and it causes me a lot of stress. In addition, we are very understaffed in the Buskaid office and we all multitask. I find that I have almost no time for personal stuff, and I haven’t been able to visit my family in New Zealand for several years.
     The other challenges are caused, for the most part, by the environment in which we work. We’re waging a constant battle against the damage to families wrought by unemployment, overcrowding, alcohol, drugs, violence against women, etc. We have to pick up the pieces when our students manifest anti-social, self-destructive behaviour, which obviously has an impact on everyone at the school, because we are such a close-knit community. But I do remind myself at such times that that’s precisely why we are there! Some of our students and ex-students have lost their lives at a very young age: Gift Moloisane was a talented, naughty, humorous kid who became a drug addict, left Buskaid, and came back clean after rehabilitating himself. Just as he was establishing a career in the JPO, he was murdered. When you’ve taught and loved someone since he was a child, that’s really tough!

Building a legacy Buskaid
PHOTO Graham De Lacy

CF: What are your own personal future plans for the project and how do you see your legacy surviving and even growing?
RM: From the age of 60 I’ve been saying that I would stay just five more years, then retire. I’m afraid the time is fast approaching when there may not be five ‘competent’ years ahead! I feel confident that Sonja Bass will be the perfect person to take Buskaid forward, though I know that it will be hugely challenging for her. In the meantime, I want to help make Buskaid financially secure, continue training more young teachers, and assist with the building of bigger premises in Diepkloof that we so desperately need. Sadly, some other dreams will remain unfulfilled: for years I’ve wanted to open an academic school in Diepkloof with an arts bias, but very strong in core academic subjects. There are many many problems in the state education system and they have a direct impact on us: children don’t have the time after school and at weekends to come to Buskaid, as they often have to attend compulsory extra classes at school. We recently implemented a tiny move in the right direction. We now employ a part-time tutor to help a few of our pupils with maths and life science. I would love to develop this as part of a bigger programme, so that our young musicians can enjoy more time out at Buskaid, while receiving the academic help they need, on a one-to-one basis. One thing that Buskaid has taught me – if you are really determined, the sky’s the limit!