Academy Alumni in South Africa, Part 1: Getting to Know the Students in Bloemfontein
The Academy’s relationship with fellows continues after they complete
the program. Alumni return to perform with Ensemble ACJW, lead
professional development for current fellows, and participate in
community engagement programs and residencies in New York and around the
world. This summer, members of the alumni have traveled to South Africa to work with students there. Joanna Frankel shares her experiences as a traveler, teacher, and performer in South Africa.
So we made it to the African continent. First up, we're in Bloemfontein, "The City of Roses," (although Brenton, our violist, says that Tyler, where he's from in Texas, is the "Rose capital of the US," so maybe he has the most experience with roses...). We're going to play a lot in South Africa! Two full string quartets, five individual movements of 20th century works, plus orchestra, opera, and more chamber music. We've been rehearsing, planning work to do with various youth orchestras, and have been sure to pack a lot of bug spray.
The Bochabela Strings hard at work. Rehearsal of 'The Planets,' Holst, which the students will perform with the KZN Philharmonic in Durban.
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
I was 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 to see this young man sitting in my violin sectional. He said 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!"
Joanna working with students.
Today we taught some lessons to the younger children and I was even able to get 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 in 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?" Would that I could!
'Til next time,
Adventures in South Africa