Youth orchestra means business

Andrew Kay

The 25-year-old Johannesburg Youth Orchestra (JYO), which had its annual subsidy cut without warning last year, has formed the Orchestra Company to raise funds through the private sector for the various youth orchestras affiliated to it. Judging by their full concert schedule, and the enthusiastic reception they receive at recitals, the strategies seem to have met with some success.

The company has allowed for the financial affairs of the various orchestras to be more efficiently managed. It has also resulted in the need to broaden the outlook by catering to people with different musical requirements.
For example, jazz skills are being made available for children who are not interested in the classics.

By instituting a structure that works from the ground upwards (in pyramid fashion) the children that join the youth orchestras are taught the basics, and then given the opportunity to grow in whichever direction they choose, as their skills improve, says Kerry Swift, chairperson of the board of the Orchestra Company.

Perhaps it’s the orientation towards Western art music that motivated the department of education’s subsidy withdrawal. Some argue that the legacy of apartheid goes hand in hand with the sense of cultural imperialism inherent in the Western art music tradition which needs to be marginalised in order for new generic forms to appear.

This argument is, of course, out of date, as many traditional forms have already been cross pollinated with musics that long ago arose out of western art music, such as jazz, rock and pop. Then there’s the vibrant tradition of community gospel choirs that is widespread throughout both rural and urban South Africa. It is this verdant musical miscegenation that has created one of the most dynamic sub-genres of contemporary South African music: world music.

“If one thinks, for example, about the Soweto String Quartet, and the success they have achieved, one must realise that they are trained musicians creating a new music using a mixture of African and Western traditions,” says Swift.

Apparently only R350 000 a year is needed to keep the youth orchestra going. This is indeed “small change”, as Swift puts it. “When you consider how much money is spent on advertising, or on sport, it’s actually nothing,” he says.

“It’s vital we keep going” he continues. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever, but I’m optimistic. People talk about everything degenerating, but South Africans must stop whingeing and start getting pro-active. I think in the new South Africa things are still segmented - we have to discover ways of finding each other and one way is through music.”

I was privileged to catch the JYO’s last performance at the Linder Auditorium, which doubled as the launch of the Orchestra Company last month. They received five encores after performing a passionate rendition of the finale from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Their next performance is on April 24 at the East Rand Mall. If anyone is interested in having their children join the orchestra, contact musical director Laurie Wapenaar on (011) 484 1257, fax (011) 484 1537, or e-mail: .

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