As we come to the end of a year like no other, most of us probably feel buffeted and bruised and down in the dumps. We’ve all been touched by the pandemic in one way or another, but amongst those who have experienced its most stressful side effects, are children and performing artists. Imagine what it must be like to be a child and a performing artist.
The renowned Handevat Music School in Kleinmond, under the leadership of founder Stefné van Dyk has struggled to keep in touch with its 120 to 130 pupils during lockdown. Online training took place, but proved tricky in terms of data affordability. The trainers were unable to make use of their normal teaching facilities at Kleinmond Primêr and although individual lessons were eventually reintroduced at the Mthimkhulu Community Centre, group work could not commence until a couple of weeks ago at the school.
“You can’t believe how disruptive this has been for both the children and the teachers,” comments Stefné. “It’s like having to start all over again, especially for the beginners.” Every year Handevat learners, as individual performers and members of the famed Handevat Marimba Band, shine at the local Eisteddfod and the self-confidence it gives them to perform before an audience is invaluable. Last year, their Overberg Orchestra which had only just been formed, won the prize for best orchestra and performed at the prize-winners’ gala event in Stellenbosch, as well as at the Artscape Youth Festival. This year, of course, there was no Eisteddfod and no other opportunities for public performance.
Which is why everyone at Handevat is bursting with excitement at being able to perform again at their annual concert this Friday, 20 November at the Dutch Reformed Church in Kleinmond. It will be a joyous celebration, they promise.
“Music is so important for the overall development of children’s brains,” emphasises Stefné. “Just listening to music activates brain cells in both hemispheres, but making music literally sets the brain alight. Our approach is to give as many children as possible that opportunity, whether they are particularly talented or not.” Their training is progressive, starting with work on the marimbas and recorders and then moving on to more challenging instruments, like the clarinet, saxophone, violin, trumpet and piano. It includes music theory, harmony, keyboard skills and sight reading.
“Our aim is to release the inner music in pupils, and in mastering their musical skills, to grow their self confidence and inner strength,” she continues. “I’m interested in whole child development, you see, so I’m also concerned about their physical welfare and sad to say, during lockdown, we had cases of physical neglect which I’m now trying to address by arranging visits to doctors and dentists. How can you feel good about yourself, when your teeth are rotten?”
The formation last year of the Overberg Orchestra is a development about which they are all very excited. Over and above giving the children the opportunity for ensemble playing, which is challenging as well as fun, the multi-cultural orchestra incorporates the Handevat teachers themselves, as well as those adult musicians in the region who are interested in being part of the project. The experience of playing alongside professional musicians is deeply enriching for the children.
Conductor of the orchestra is the energetic and enthusiastic Axolile Hoza, who returned to the Overberg last year after winning international acclaim as a promising young flautist. He and one of the other teachers at Handevat, multi-instrumentalist, Marlon van Rooyen, are local examples of what it takes to become a successful musician if you have the commitment and talent. And, says Stefné, a number of their pupils certainly do have the potential.
The concert, this Friday 20 November will feature the Overberg Orchestra and the renowned Handevat Marimba Band, as well as soloists and small groups of instrumentalists. The music will be varied and performances brimming over with the joie de vivre of young musicians thrilled to be back on stage again. It starts at 19:00 in the Kleinmond Dutch Reformed Church – not the hall, because the church can accommodate more people and social distancing will be observed. Tickets available from Albertyn Pharmacy are limited to 200, so make sure you don’t miss out. (And while you’re at it, diarise the annual Christmas Carols Concert at the Kleinmond Lagoon on 21 December.)
For further information, contact 082 9232723 or email@example.com; or visit www.handevatmusic.co.za.