School Outreach in South Africa: Gonubie Primary School

Eddie Lewis with the Gonubie Primary School Marimba Band and their band teachers, Dawena Jonck and Charlotte Thorpe.
Gonubie Primary School  stands on a hill overlooking the ocean. As if that’s not scenic enough, you will find the Gonubie River flowing behind the school. It’s a little piece of paradise, which my wife, Pearl, can proudly call her old school since she spent all her primary school years on this campus. She’s even part of the school’s history that lives on in the tall rows of trees around the boundary of the property. Ask her and Pearl will enthusiastically tell you how she and her class mates filled buckets with water from the school swimming pool and carried the buckets to water those trees when they were still were just sprouts in the ground.

Standing at the entrance to the school hall watching the majestic sun rise over the glistening ocean, I couldn’t help but consider how fortunate all the young students playing around me were to be part of a school in such a beautiful location. My thoughts were still entangled in the stunning seascape when I was introduced to the school’s principal, Cyril Prinsloo. Mr Prinsloo is a music lover and expressed his delight at meeting me by smiling widely and offering me a job. Now wouldn’t it be a treat to go to work every day in a place where music is appreciated and you only have to step out of your classroom to get a blast of the sea breeze and an eyeful of the bluest of oceans?

The school principal’s passion for music is reflected in the enthusiasm of the school’s music teachers. I had the pleasure of meeting two of the teachers, Dawena Jonck and Charlotte Thorpe, a few days before I first visited the school. I was introduced to these teachers in one of East London’s major shopping malls, Hemingsway Mall, where they were co-ordinating the mall concert given by Gonubie Primary School’s marimba band. The young musicians in the marimba band looked like old hands at public performance as they comfortably worked through their repertoire. The show included some African-inspired dance steps and invited audience participation. My young niece, who wouldn’t normally rush to be on the stage, enjoyed the show so much that she soon found herself up front and eagerly shaking the maracas she was offered by the band members After seeing the band in action, I was looking forward to meeting and working with the musicians at the workshop I had lined up for them.

Gonubie Primary School’s Marimba Band Workshop was designed around the requests of the band teachers. Their concern that the show wasn’t as fluid as it could be because of delays between songs was one of the issues we worked through in the workshop. Down time often loses the attention of the audience which can be difficult to regain, so I shared some of the ways performers maintain the attention of the audience as the band transitions from one song to the next. Since the band wasn’t new to public performance, we didn’t need to focus on the basics of connecting with the audience. Instead, I devoted a part of the workshop to helping these young performers polish and take their on-stage performance to the next level. To test out their new skills, I jammed with the marimba band on three songs and had a good time doing that.

After the Marimba Band Workshop, I had the opportunity to address a larger school group. Grades three to seven students and their teachers gathered in the school hall and quickly hushed in anticipation of the edutainment presentation I was about to deliver. For many years, I have been involved with music-oriented edutainment presented in US schools by Young Audiences, and have come to expect that sometimes young school students can be somewhat unruly and disrespectful. The students of the Gonubie Primary School were a refreshing change: respectful, disciplined, bright-eyed, and apparently eager to learn.

Weaving education in with entertainment, I played and talked, much to the delight of all present. The audience was led on a journey that took them through a brief history of the trumpet, the basic mechanics of the instrument, and the importance and benefits of learning to play an instrument. A trip to the local hardware store prior to the presentation equipped me with just the right tools to demonstrate to the children that the trumpet is really just a long, open-ended pipe. The loud exclamations of amazement confirmed that they didn’t believe me until I attached my mouthpiece to the hosepipe and played a song they all recognized. Regular, spontaneous applause by the youngsters and plenty of laughter and big smiles confirmed that my audience had as much fun as I did. I even signed some autographs afterwards, which is unusual when dealing with children in the lower grades.

Thanks to the Gonubie Primary School, and teachers Dawena Jonke and Charlotte Thorpe, for hosting the Marimba Band Workshop and the edutainment presentation for the children. It was a delight to interact with such enthusiastic music teachers who are passing their passion for music on to their students. These teachers went the extra mile to make us feel welcome. When the school’s security guard accidently locked our vehicle into the school grounds during my presentation, it was these two teachers who chased down security and helped us get on the road quickly so we wouldn’t be late for our next school engagement. It’s little gestures of kindness like these that help to create a great atmosphere in a school.

If you as a reader are interested in your school hosting one of our future workshops, clinics, or master classes, please send me an email. You are welcome to use the contact form on this blog or find additional contact details at www.EddieLewis.com.

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