The Keiskamma Music Academy, a programme of the Keiskamma Trust*, is situated in the isolated village of Hamburg in the Eastern Cape. The Academy was founded just over four years ago by Helen Vosloo, principal flutist of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, part-time lecturer at Wits University and member of the acclaimed Trio Hemenay. spoke to her about the Academy’s past, present and future. *

What lead you to initiate the Academy four years ago?
I worked in a Finnish Chamber Orchestra some years ago and upon returning to South Africa felt the need to extend the opportunity of a Music education to those who have previously been denied it. Friends of ours’ introduced us to the tapestries of the Keiskamma Trust, and we visited the village during the Grahamstown Festival. I simply felt ‘the kids need music’ and well in all gratitude to the community, our teachers, the children and our sponsors, here we are four years later.

Is the Academy primarily aimed at children and the youth?
The Music Academy was started for the children, to extend those opportunities which middle class city children have as a ”birth right” to a remote village’s children too. Hamburg is isolated, with few opportunities for the youth. Unless programmes are developed in the area for the youth, their outlook on life is limited, their options are few, and the chances of them slipping through the cracks and becoming another hopeless statistic are enormous. The opportunity to learn to play a music instrument has huge long term benefits: together with the new skills students acquire, there is the empowering sense of fulfillment and achievement that comes with the creation of something beautiful.

The vision for the Keiskamma Music Academy is to enhance and enrich the lives of vulnerable children rural children of Hamburg and surrounds.

There are a few adult choirs in the village: some of whom has approached us for help. We area hoping to soon have capacity to help them with workshops and sessions with a choir master.

How did you first launch the project, how did you present it and what was the initial response from those involved?
Oh it was not as glamorous as that: I had a gumption of music for the Hamburg kids…

Yamaha South Africa had been very generous both to me and now to the Keiskamma Music Academy and I approached them for recorders to start off with. A friend Wouter Kellerman funded the first two teaching sessions. Various fundraising experts have become friends and mentors and I learnt that money follows success, and not vice versa.

…Hence with Carol Hofmeyr’s bush telegraph to have any interested child in Hamburg at the Old Historic great hall on a given day in August 2006, a bag filled with soprano, alto, tenor and a bass recorders from Yamaha and my preparation thanks to Oliviera Nicolic we started our first week.

It was the time of the huge coastal storms in the Cape, and mustering up all the courage I had I decided with the teachers and children present at the first workshop that the weather had to be a sign of great things to come. After the initial visit I came another three times in the course of that year to teach for about a week each time: hardly a way to teach kids to play a music instrument!

It took just over a year until Linda de Villiers agreed to teach the children every Saturday.

Were there challenges involved in convincing an isolated community such as Hamburg – where one could imagine people struggling to meet much more basic needs – to engage in music education
The community has been empowered by the success of the Keiskamma Art Project and they trust the work of the Keiskamma Trust. This for me has been the shady umbrella from which we operate.

But, the parents did not know anything about music, noise is difficult to bear living so close to one another, and of course lessons take the children away from doing their chores at home.

Only as relationships from me and the music teachers developed with the children, their parents and the community – now four years on, I am starting to realise just what bundu bashing trail bearers the first children and their families were. We have four founder students who has been in the Academy from the outset.

We also formed a parents committee in 2009 and a parent representative now ccompany the group on any outing: whether performance, exam or Eisteddfod.

How big is your teaching staff, part-time and full-time, and who are they?
Daniel Hutchinson is a Grahamstown based composer, teacher and harpsichord player. He teaches part time. We had a visiting German teacher: Senja Barthel from Berlin who had a terrific impact. She left in August. We again have two young volunteers from the German Development Corporation arriving later this month. They help the kids to practice, play music games and help with admin.
Other teachers who have played important roles in sustaining and growing this initiative are Oliviera Nicolic, Linda de Villiers, Eva Schaflein, Meike Engebrecht, Christine Geldenhuis, Mpumi Nyushman and Dean Flanagan.

How many students does the Academy have and what is the teaching schedule like?
We have about thirty students. Children have three to five contact lesson times with their teacher a week with daily practice sessions with the volunteers. Apart from recorder lessons there are listening classes, improvisation times, theory, marimba lessons and aural. Apart from weekly / daily lessons we have started having camps and our first concert tour to Johannesburg last month.

Using the word ‘result’ seems misguided. What positive outcomes, immediate and longer term, have the Academy provoked over the last four years?
Yes the unchangeable are becoming more important to me as time passes… Those ones where I see a student’s growth in confidence, life skills, leadership developing. Where I see an angry angered child in time over the years mellowing and becoming filled with purpose, and pride for what she is achieving! Powerful!

The tangible results have to do with exam results, Eisteddfod results and public performances too. All of which together are important.

Here’s what a student, Zimkitha, wrote in February this year:  When I started it was 2006, when I came to lessons I knew nothing about recorder and as the time went by I learn more. At times my attendance wasn’t so good, but in time I improved. When I was with the other recorder kids, I feel more safe, because before I used to go into the streets and play. In the beginning my mother didn’t like the recorder but in time when my mother meet Helen she agreed for me to come. I also didn’t like recorder, but as the years went by I see that I learn something that I would never have learnt before. And also the recorder makes me to go to places that I would never have gone to before.

And Lihle: I was still a little boy when I came to Music Academy. I always made jokes and Helen didn’t like them. One day she said to me, I don’t like too many jokes all the time, if you keep making jokes you will go back to your hosue. And then I thought, I want to do music, so I stopped to make jokes and focused .. I always came to music because I want to know more about music. Most of the time I am here at the Music Academy. And I thank mostly all the teachers who have taught me everything that I know. I thank Helen mostly because she was the one who see that the kids of Hamburg need music. She thought it was impossible because she lives very far, she lives in Johannesburg, but she didn’t give up. My dream for the Keiskamma Music Academy is to go big. And I thank my mother for being there for me because she is the one who encourages me more.

And a conversation between myself and Siphelo, Sips being one of those extraordinarily gifted boys, and he has suffered attendance much! Thank fully he is now one of the most advanced five students, our bass expert and completely “present” in every sense of the word.

Helen: Why did you start coming a lot?
Sips: Because I like recorder.
Helen: It was the time Yannic was here? Wasn’t it? (Yannic was a super young German male role model – from the German Development Corporation)
Sips: Yes, Yannic helped me in the way he always asked me to come to the lessons. And I always thanks (Helen) for telling me that I am talented. At my house there are six people. I live with my mother, my grandmother, my uncle, my aunt and my younger sister.

The tangible results you mention are awe inspiring. The academy’s students have achieved great heights at established institutions such as the Eastern Cape Eisteddfod and Trinity College Music Examinations. Please elaborate?
One year after we started the recorder children performed at the unveiling of the new Keiskamma “Creation” Altar piece at the Grahams town Cathedral at the 2007 Grahamstown National Arts festival.

Two years in the children won three silver certificates at the East London Eisteddfod and seven students passed the Trinity Initial Recorder exam, six with merit and one with distinction. Four students travelled to Johannesburg and Pretoria for three Benefit Concerts for the Music Academy in November 2008, playing with Italian harpist: Claudia Antonelli.

In 2009, fifteen children played Trinity College of Music Examinations in November, 10 distinctions and 5 merits. These were the best marks achieved by any school in East London entered into the exams.The children received silver and gold certificates at the East London Eisteddfod and they performed at two concerts of the “Baroque and Blue” concert tour in Port Alfred and Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape in July.

2010 saw our first performance at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival and the children wowed their audiences: three performances with standing ovations and favourable newspaper report. We also raked in a gold certificate at the Grahamstown Eisteddfod, following our first music camp in Hogsback.

Most recently sixteen children travelled to Johannesburg for three concerts, culminating in the Keiskamma Music Academy Benefit Concert on 28 August at Wits Great Hall together with trio hemanay.

Why are participation in these events, exams and eisteddfods important?
Outside world view, it means much and impacts hugely on all the children and the lives of their families to achieve in the world outside the strict poverty consigns of their village.
Pride, self esteem, world view, opportunity are words that come to mind.

The academy published a songbook recently?
Yes, we published our first Keiskamma songbook in August, based loosely on the Aquarium from Carnival of the Animals by Saint Saens.

Through Daniel ‘s reworking of this simple tonal arrangement with the kids, they have come up with twelve birds form the Hamburg area and how to create their bird calls on the recorder by using extended techniques. Part of the inspiration comes also from Vuyisilie Gamza: a Hamburg artist.

Our Aquarium had its origin in 2007 when the Academy wanted to contribute to the Keiskamma Creation Altar Piece at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.
The Music Academy was still very very young at that time but we thought it would be lovely if we could add to the occasion of the Altar Piece’s unveiling with music. We had to take into account our very humble beginning at the time and decided on a very simple tonal arrangement of the Aquarium by Saint-Saens which we called “fisheees”. We added bird calls as a middle section during which the children created calls of various birds using extensive techniques on their recorders.

From the first lessons we had fun in teaching the children these techniques: a child would for example make up a story, whereby every character or element would have its own sound on the recorder… In starting the process of really listening, remembering the sounds that surround us in our village, the children came up with beautiful bird calls, to astonished looks of recognition on their friends’ faces.
Audience’s are profoundly touched when we perform this work, the children drop onto their knees in between the aisles from sight from the audiences and start making bird calls, often with question and answer across the auditorium.

What are the current and upcoming events at Keiskamma?
UNISA exams middle September and a series of Christmas concerts in December.

Daniel Hutchinson’s vision for the Music Academy inspires me: he draws bridges he between the Art Project and the Music Academy. I am inspired by this emerging unique sound voice of the Music Academy: enabling us to make music outside the strict consigns of our genre: “classical music”.

Empowering the children of the area with an ability to create their own new voice by integrating music of their Xhosa for fathers and music of the immigrant for fathers from Germany (to the village of Hamburg). Together with this the opportunity for free improvisation, the skills base of the children is being extended.

Between the JPO, Wits and Trio Hemanay, how much time do you get to spend in the Eastern Cape?
I go down about 5 -6 times per year, sometimes for a ridiculously short zip in and out and other times more properly for 5 – 10 days where more is achieved.

What are the Academy’s goals and needs, for the immediate future as well as the next four years?
All students start off with recorder, theory, music appreciation classes. Our senior most five students are now ready to start playing orchestral instruments: we are in the process of together choosing instruments. We have funding from UNISA to purchase some instruments but still have a direct shortfall of about R20 to R30 000.

The next group of about 12 students will be invited to start lessons on an orchestral instrument by the end of next year. We are starting music as subject for the 4 grade 7 students: after initial explorations to have them attend school in Grahamstown this has now been shelved: their academic marks are very poor especially the maths due to their school not having a fulltime trained maths teacher.

In four years’ time it is our hope that these young adults will be able to further their studies at tertiary level and yet simultaneously give back to their community.


The Keiskamma Trust activities include the Keiskamma Health Project which includes the HIV/Aids treatment centre (incorporating prevention and education, care and support, early treatment and the hospice),  Art Project, Bursary Fund and Museum and Cultural Centre, Gardening Project, Early Childhood and Development Project, Education, Music Academy and Capoeria Group.

Visit for more information and to contribute.


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