School of hard knocks puts young musos on the right path
“Don’t think because your mom and your cousin said you play well that the rest of the world will think the same!”
They are harsh words spoken to starry-eyed teenagers surrounding Craig Parks, considering that the majority of them are probably not from houses with white picket fences where family soirées are held to polish little egos.
Although they are in high school, this rehearsal in the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town’s District Six is hardly a scene from High School Musical; it is a collection of children from bands at 10 schools selected by the Western Cape education department to focus on arts and culture.
But behind Parks’s words are kind intentions.
After working on live performances for 25 years, the training and development co-ordinator for the Cape Town International Jazz Festival has seen a particular kind of scenario play out too many times.
“With jazz musicians, there’s always the struggle for money. They can’t afford clothes so they don’t look good. And they have transport problems, so they’re often late,” he said.
“So these really talented jazz musicians land gigs at fancy clubs but, when they arrive for their gig, the club owner is already upset because all they see is this late, poor, hungry guy who is not dressed well.”
A guiding hand
If the talented young stars of the school bands wanted to carve their way into the professional music industry, someone had to show them how.
“They have to understand that there are a lot of different people involved when putting on a show and everyone’s role works together like cogs in a wheel.”
Parks and his colleagues are conducting a workshop for the second year in a row, helping the teenagers to put on their own crowd-wowing show, starting with carrying the speakers on to the stage themselves.
Only practical advice is dished out: “If you’ve got broken jeans, make them look good”; “Never play two songs in the same key after each other; the audience will get bored!”
“I didn’t know it’s such a big deal!” said 16-year-old Aaliyah
Murray, a vocalist from Belhar High. “You have to keep so many things in mind. Oh my word!”
Rowan Barends, an 18-year-old trumpeter, agreed: “I didn’t know you need so much time for music. You need to be at the gig two hours before the time.”
But as the long day ended, Parks assured them they had taken the first step towards professional success: “You could have been anywhere today—at home, on the beach, hitting a bong. But you’re here!”
Nadine Theron is a multimedia journalist and a participant in the jazz festival arts journalism programme
For more from the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, see our special report.