Orchestra Performs in South Africa; Sightseeing Includes Zebras in the Wild

In June 2012, 32 members of the Groton School Chamber Orchestra spent a fortnight performing and immersing themselves in South Africa’s diverse and rich culture, led by Director of Instrumental Music MaryAnn Lanier, Conductor Timothy Terranella, and assisted by South African guide and linguist DJ DuPreez.

Students lived with host families from Durbanville School in Cape Town and Waterkloof High School in Pretoria; the families treated Groton students to the distinctive foods of South Africa and included them in lively parties that featured music, dancing, and lessons on the traditional African djembe drum.

Through six performances, the orchestra shared its musical gifts with a wide range of South Africans, from grammar school children to elderly residents of a retirement home. But the trip also allowed them time to visit with Katie Gannett ’06, who is living and working in Sowetowith Grassroots Soccer. Katie invited her fellow Grotonians to take part in an HIV/AIDS workshop at the Leresche Grammar School. Groton students also took a photographic safari on the South African veldt. In addition to baboons, rhinos, elephants, warthogs, and a cast of hundreds of veldt dwellers, the Groton Zebras came face to face with their African mascots.

The opportunity to play music with a wide variety of South African musicians, before enthusiastic audiences, made the most lasting impact on Groton’s musicians. The trip began in Cape Town, where Groton played at the exquisite Hugo Lambrechts Center with the orchestra and concert bands from the Lambrechts Center and from Durbanville High School. Next, Groton students attended a rehearsal of the Cape Town Philharmonic at its beautiful Artscape complex.

Through the Amy Biehl Foundation, Groton performed for an after-school music program in Gugulethu Township. The musicians from the foundation’s program then treated Groton’s orchestra to a performance of their choir and their dance, brass, and marimba ensembles. The highlight of this stop was when all the musicians—Grotonians and South Africans—danced and improvised together. In addition, Groton participated in a festival of ensembles at DF Malan High School, the lone instrumental group in this primarily choral concert; the finale was a spontaneous joyful celebration of music with all the groups singing and dancing to a Zulu song.

In Pretoria, the Groton Chamber Orchestra performed with the Waterkloof Concert Band at the Pretoria National Botanical Gardens; the repertoire included musical collaborations between Groton’s Orchestra and the Waterkloof Concert Band in a Michael Jackson medley and the national anthems of the U.S. and the Republic of South Africa. Packing their instruments once again, the next stop was Soweto and a visit to St. Andrews Anglican Church, where they met high school- and college-aged members of the Melodi Music Trust. The two musical groups mingled and played for each other. The final performance in South Africa was at a retirement home in Pretoria. Though the stage was small and could barely contain the orchestra, the residents were appreciative and treated the group to rooibos tea, a specialty of the Western Cape provinces, and cookies.

The success of the trip cannot be measured in the number of songs performed, zebras spotted, or photographs taken; instead it must be read through less tangible calculations—the joy that the performances brought to audiences and performers alike, the sharing of musical culture, the laughter that bound the orchestra closer, and the opportunity for Groton students to see firsthand the juxtaposition of great wealth and great poverty that exists beyond the borders of the United States.

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