In September 2012, I was part of a small group from Spirit of America Band that traveled to Durban, South Africa. This was a “follow-up” visit from our tour in 2011.
This experience, the second time, was as eye-opening and inspiring as the first. I was responsible for teaching the “drummers” how to play marching percussion and how to begin to read music. We had five days together during which time we covered: basic exercises, rehearsal techniques, basic theory, music notation, and we learned a few pieces for performance. The experience with these students was so uniquely different from my experience with teaching here at home.
- It’s pretty universal that a student struggles with new material, however the students in Durban had such an instinct when it came to rhythm that anything I played for them, they would be able to play back almost immediately. Students back home often struggle with this kind of internal rhythm.
- I often encounter problems with short attention spans in public school students in the US and Canada. In Durban, there were very few issues with discipline. The desire and excitement to learn was so strong that we could go for hours without someone giving-up or giving-in to distraction.
- Reading music was the biggest challenge. So much of what they are taught musically is by rote, and many have never seen standard Western music notation. Whereas, at home, most high school students can read music, but struggle to learn music through imitation.
- Perhaps the biggest difference is their outgoing nature. They do not hesitate to move and dance to music, no matter what they are playing. They are not afraid to ask questions. They are rarely shy. They will spend maximum amounts of energy for extended periods of time with no signs of letting up. At the end of our workshop days we would sometimes have these outdoor “jam sessions”. We would play some of the music and exercises we’d been working on and they would turn into these energetic block parties where we would attract the attention of all the other children in the neighborhood. There was nobody telling us to be quiet or that we were breaking noise ordinances. This was something to be celebrated – and it was!
As was the case the first time we visited the country, the exchange of information and experience was invaluable. On these trips, we always strive to give as much as we can, but we always receive so much more in return.