Reflections on the South Africa Chamber Orchestra Trip

By: Evan Haas ’15 and Peter Nam ’15

Groton Orchestra and Waterkloof High School (D. Smith)

At the start of Summer Break, the Groton School Chamber Orchestra embarked on a two week long trip to South Africa. Although we had racked up a great collection of pieces over the school year, we were both very nervous as co-principal cellists about the upcoming concerts. Our first destination was one of the three capitals of South Africa, Cape Town, where we were greeted by our hosts – members of Durbanville High School Orchestra.

Staying at host families’ residences was a great way to form closer relationships with not only the students but also their families. We were forced to interact with those whose culture is unlike ours, and to share our experiences with them.  This, for us, made the trip unlike any other.  It allowed us to develop close relationships that could not have been achieved through sharing meals, conversations, and a house for a week. We watched movies, chatted, and laughed about the odd cultural differences—for example we were offered red paste on my hot dog, which they call ketchup.  This was a great bonding experience, and we are both still in contact with our host family. This was true both in Pretoria as well, but not as much so.  There the people were certainly much wealthier, and while this might seem nice, it had a negative effect on us.  For example, instead of staying in the room right next to our host or even in the same room, for the first night we both stayed together with Jonathan Terry `13, Alaric Krapf `15, and Taich Kobayashi `15 in a separate “guest house” down the street, which distanced us from our hosts.  Although we moved into their residence the night after, it was short and we were left feeling separated.

Dania Josua du Preez, our South African tour guide, contributed much to the success of our trip. Not only did he speak well over a dozen languages, but he also was very knowledgeable in the native culture and South African history; furthermore, he coordinated our concerts and tours without any conflicts.

During the day, the orchestra spent most of its time touring the cities and visiting other schools, where we performed for the students and the local residents. Although the tours were quite enjoyable, the trip would have been more meaningful had there been a bigger focus on community service and performance. A tour in South Africa, though an expensive and unique experience, can be done on our own, but a performance by the orchestra, needless to say, can only be done when the entire orchestra is present. Also, the Groton School Chamber Orchestra barely ever played with the orchestras of the high schools we visited. We performed once with an orchestra in Pretoria, and frankly, the performance was poorly put together. We could have allocated more time to practicing with the South African orchestras instead of visiting another landmark. Had we performed more with other orchestras, we could have bonded much deeper with our South African peers.

We learned and experienced much on this trip. The beautiful landscape, exotic culture and animals, and rich musical history were very much worth the cost of the trip. However, to make the trip more rewarding, there should have been more time assigned to musical service and performance rather than visiting one more tourist attraction.

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