Bridging social divisions with Music Theatre
Listening to South African Music Educators
From its inception in 2010, Umculo aimed to build an educational programme that was based listening to South Africa’s music educators, rather than upon importing an international concept.
Venezuela’s El Sistema, built up over three and a half decades, provides an international blueprint for music as a source for social change. In Venezuela, more than 400,000 children, most of them from communities that live below the poverty line, have had the opportunity to learn an orchestral instrument, participate in collective music-making, and, in many instances, reach an international level of musical excellence. Far-reaching studies have shown that the work of El Sistema has a huge positive impact on the welfare of the communities in which it is active.
But South Africa is not Venezuela, and South Africa’s complex and dedicated music education community is justifiably wary of any wholescale attempt to re-configure its work on the basis of a South American model. By bringing together international music educators, Venezuelan representatives, and South African music educators, Umculo has been able to base its work on a realistic understanding of what is present, what is lacking, and what is desired in the existing South African music education landscape.
Umculo’s work builds on the extraordinary wealth of choral singing in South Africa, and the national passion for opera. In a community where hundreds of thousands of teenagers dream of a career in opera but few have ever attended a live opera performance, Umculo draws together local and international resources to offer talented young South Africans a level of access to, and participation in, an art-form that they have already chosen as their own.
Working in partnership with local grass-roots, regional and national organizations, Umculo offers participants experiences of a quality and standard to which they would not otherwise have access.
Music theater as a means of socially relevant communication
Umculo’s work is based on a concept of music theatre as a means of socially relevant communication. Each production uses the words and music of opera to address current public issues. “Noye’s Fludde” (2010) and “King Arthur” (2011) brought together communities traditionally in conflict with one another for work on mutual understanding, cultural exchange and reconciliation. “The Fairy Queen” (2012 and 2013) addressed issues of gender and identity on a context where gender-based violence, “corrective rape” and murder are everyday occurrences.
Creative workshops for young choral singers who will form the bulk of the audience for Umculo’s performances are a fundamental aspect of each project. Umculo’s creative team travels daily to Township communities to run half-day workshops which introduce participants to opera as an art-form, to their own creative potential, and to the themes and substance of the opera they will subsequently attend.
In this way, Umculo’s opera stagings and educational workshops are profoundly connected. Audience members experience an abridged version of the creativeprocess in which the performers engaged, allowing them to perceive an opera performance by their peers from a participatory perspective.