Arisa Voges with three of her student at the final of the Artscape Youth Music Competition in October 2009. Hamman Schoonwinkel was the overall winner of the competition. From left to right: Meyer Scholtz , Arisa Voges, Hamman Schoonwinkel and Levi Alexander

We talk to Arisa Voges about her recent appointment as the Director of the Unisa Directorate Music and music education in South Africa.

You come from a strong educational background – teaching at the Hugo Lambrechts Music Centre, as well as at the University of Stellenbosch. As this position will consist mostly of managerial duties, will you not miss teaching?
After 25 years of intense, dedicated teaching activities I really need a break!!  I will really miss the excitement and enjoyment that go along with discovering, studying and even commissioning new repertoire.  I will also miss witnessing the sense of joy, pride and fulfillment displayed by pupils when they have done well in an exam or a competition.  But I will not miss the daily frustrations that are so inherent to our profession.  Hopefully I do not soon again have to listen to reasons as to why or how somebody’s music or homework book disappeared after “the new domestic servant cleaned the room” or “the dog ate it”, or “a burglar stole it”.

Apart from having studied extensively as a musician, you also have an MBA and have been teaching Business Management and Entrepreneurship at the Music Department of the University of Stellenbosch. Do you think too few musicians and artists are informed of business management?
I think too few people all round are informed about good business management and entrepreneurship practices.  Our country is desperately in need of good leaders everywhere.  Business management does not only teach you strategic management, financial skills or managerial law, but there is also an emphasis on people management including diversity and emotional intelligence, and business ethics.  My MBA really shaped my life in the sense that it made me as a person much more focused and goal-oriented.  It also taught me how to persevere under great personal and work pressures, stress and time-constraints, and how to bring out the best in people and teams.  But most of all the inter-disciplinary nature of the course really broadened my mind and horizon.  You really do view the world differently afterwards.

Do you envisage introducing a course in arts management, or more specific music management at Unisa? Do you think this should be a compulsory subject for musicians?
The recent Cape Festival Music Development Forum highlighted the need for better training of arts administrators. Arts administration certainly is an area that should be addressed by our universities, especially at post-graduate level. Whether that need can be met by UNISA, we’ll have to see.  I would rather not yet comment on what I envisage because I do not want to create false impressions. I definitely would not want to see business management as a compulsory subject for all musicians The moment you make something compulsory it becomes much less powerful and effective. That would be the fastest way of killing initiative and entrepreneurship within our music industry.

The Music Directorate is not only responsible for the vast programme of music examination that they offer, but also a concert series, several national and international music competitions, a music education programme, a musicology department and a youth music festival. This is an exciting portfolio to manage. Is there any one of these aspects that you are specifically interested in placing more emphasis on?

In my career I have been fortunate to have had high-level exposure at primary, secondary, tertiary and international levels to all of these different aspects of music education I hope I never have to choose, because I am passionate about all of them, but times change and one must never become complacent – it is very important to remain flexible and adjust to the industry environment. We’ll see what the future holds!!

Do you think music examinations are important for children studying music, or do you think it puts more of them off playing an instrument than encouraging them?

A child should never stop playing an instrument because he/she does not want to play an exam. But, music examinations are very important in guiding development. An exam provides a strong goal to reach and work for, a yardstick for measuring progress, objective feedback, access and exposure to good repertoire, a motivation to practise technical work and an incentive to develop theory, aural and sight-reading skills. For many instrumentalists it is even the only chance they get annually to play together with an accompanist.

With the new UNISA Performance Level Assessments there are wonderful new opportunities created for pupils to do an assessment and get feedback without the required theory, technical work, practical musicianship and sight-reading components.  I am sure the pupil, who gets put off by an exam, will feel much more comfortable in an assessment environment.

However, the passing of the grade exam should never become the main goal – playing the instrument well should always be the objective. Playing with good sound and articulation, rhythmic and intonation control and sensitive phrasing remain vital whether you play an exam or not.

Do you think enough energy is put into music education at government level? If your answer is no, what would you advise them to do? Eg. do you think school music should become a compulsory subject at school level again?

In the Western Cape we have been fortunate to have had 3 WCED music centres in the greater Cape Town area. I know the other provinces are not that lucky. But that does not mean I think the government is putting enough effort into music education. Just look at the El Systema example of Argentina – so much more can be done at government level to encourage regional music centres to give children access to especially instrumental music education.

But make it compulsory for everybody at school level? As I said before, the moment you make something compulsory it becomes much less powerful and effective.  The class music I had at school certainly was not a positive experience.  And we must keep in mind that only the select Model C schools in fact had music teachers during the previous regime.  Community music and church music programmes played a big role in training young black musicians – as is still the case today.

If I had the opportunity to advise the government I would certainly encourage them to establish many more regional rural and urban music centres and to invest in the training of teachers that can work there – creating employment opportunities as well as providing access to music education where it is most needed.


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