Providing access to music education for underprivileged children through recorders

The recorder was a popular instrument 400 years ago inspiring renowned composers like Monteverdi, Vivaldi, and Bach to write concertos for these small whistle-like instruments. Over time, it has become synonymous with primary and elementary schools worldwide. In South Africa, it is something that is also taken for granted in many private schools but underprivileged children do not have access to recorders. Roland Moses, a musician, and senior lecturer at Tshwane University of Technology wants to change that and introduce recorders and formal music teaching into underprivileged schools. He has just launched a pilot programme to introduce recorders into the Love Trust’s Nokuphila School in Tembisa on the East Rand. Moses told BizNews about the recorder craze at the school and the benefits of music training in early childhood development. – Linda van Tilburg

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Excerpts from the interview

Partnering with the Love Trust and Yamaha 

I’ve purchased some recorders in 2016, and I was trying to introduce them to Sunday School at the church that I attended and it just never got off the ground. When I was doing a Bible study with Martin Morrison, who was the CEO of the Love Trust that runs Nokuphila school, he mentioned that they were trying to start a music program. During that time, I was recording my debut album and I’ve always wanted to help a music program or form a music program where the sales of the CDs could fund these programs. So, it all came together within 5 minutes, sitting across the table having some coffee. 

Nokuphila School caters for kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds where the parents earn a maximum of R3500, so they pay a minimum school fee of R350 a month or around there, to get a private school education. So, they can barely afford to pay the school fees. Things like uniforms and extracurricular activities are a definite luxury that they can’t afford. So, the school provides them with meals, transport to and from the school and Martin was actually telling me that most of these kids live in households of about 10 to 12 people. 

I partnered with Yamaha who already had a recorder program. They supplied the books and they did the teacher training and I supplied the recorders together with the books, but they did the training of about 40 teachers and from there we just used about six teachers who now teach the recorder to the kids. 

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The benefits of formal musical education for school children

It ranges from psychomotor skills to  social skills, etiquette, leadership skills and numerous educational and psychosocial benefits. Besides improving the motor skills, it’s also helping them enhance their understanding of mathematical concepts, the use of language, the ability to relate to English and history, improving the oral skills and listening skills. My main aim was just to provide free access to music education. You would find that music education nowadays it’s just reserved for private schools or people who can actually afford these lessons. So, I decided that with the Nokuphila School, that’s actually part of the Christchurch school in Midrand, its sister daughter school, which is also a private school and didn’t have access to instruments and a music program, that this was a good place to start with the program and the school is pretty well run in terms of leadership and organising these sort of programs. 

A recorder craze with older pupils wanting to learn 

It’s amazing, the second batch of recorders that I took through a few months ago, which was about 120, has grown from 30, they were waiting patiently for. They were so excited and they just had groups performing from 3 to 6 people and then all the way to 50 kids performing. So, when you look at the enthusiasm of learners from this type of school and you compare them to learners from the private schools, it’s just heart-warming to see that kids are so enveloped and enthusiastic to play these instruments, whereas at some of the private schools, you’d find recorders thrown all over the fields and nobody’s really interested. So, I actually approached some of these schools to donate those recorders to the Nokuphila program as well. But, just to see the kids there and performing, it’s difficult to explain it because you get a lump in your throat and you have to hold back the tears to see them so excited but, besides that, these kids are also performing at donor functions. 

At the moment there is a recorder craze at the school. The older kids have formed their own groups and hence now we are able to supply 120 recorders instead of 30. So, they’ve all formed little groups, even the pre-school and the pre-grades are interested in playing the recorder. They also have little groups and these are included in the extra-mural activities after school. 

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From growing up in a township to a self-taught musician and post-graduation studies 

I grew up in a township in Phoenix in Durban, which is largely an Indian township. It was one of the largest outside of India, and I learned to play music by playing piano at church. But the piano I had at home was riddled with wood borers and it was barely playable and I didn’t have access to formal music education. I was studying computer science at school and when I got to university I had a bursary.  I had a bursary to do computer science but changed to music. So, at that stage I was able to pursue formal music education. When I was playing at church always realised that this was a dire need for many musicians to have access to formal education because in my first lesson, I learned everything that I had learnt on my own in five or ten years, so I saw the value of improving your skills, but also improving composition and using music as an outlet, especially when you live in a township. There’s not a lot of extracurricular activities you can be involved in. So, the church formed a central community figure and a lot of activities were centralised at the church. That’s where my passion comes from. 

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