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African Youth Ensemble with Susan Salm, October 2008

15th October 2008 | Other items by

Twelve wonderful new string instruments were handed over to the African Youth Ensemble at a music event under the auspices of the new Austrian Ambassador, Dr. Otto Ditz and his Deputy Ms. Aloisia Worgetter. The event at the Music Connection in Craighall, Johannesburg was attended by Susan Salm, world renowned cellist, her husband, artist Friederich Danielis, Kolwane Mantu and his wife Mpho Mantu, the founders of the African Youth Ensemble. Susan Salm and Frieder Danielis are visiting South Africa for the second time within a year as guests of the Austrian Embassy. Susan has been working with AYE at their community centre in Deipkloof, Soweto and Frieder Danielis has been working at the David Krut Arts Resource. The Ensemble with Susan will be performing with their new instruments as follows: THURSDAY, October 16 at 7:30 pm at the STATE THEATRE in PRETORIA, and, SUNDAY, Oct 19th at 3:00 pm, in the ROODEPOORT THEATRE, in Roodepoort, just opposite the UNISA (Johannesburg ProMusica Theatre, University of South Africa, Roodepoort Campus) Programme: SUSAN SALM and the AFRICAN YOUTH ENSEMBLE Director: KOLWANE MANTU Playing: Vivaldi Concertos for Cello and String Orchestra These concerts will be the culmination of a two-week workshop which began on 4 October, with Susan Salm. Susan has written for us as follows: “From the first time I heard the African Youth Ensemble (in December 2007) I realized a miracle was taking place in Soweto: the dedication, vision and talents of one extraordinary person were giving youngsters a tangible goal and a new meaning to their lives, and the finest tools and training possible to become serious musicians. Many of the finest string players in South Africa have been trained by Kolwane Mantu, they have gone on to join major orchestras, including the best orchestras in South Africa, and some go on to teach other young students. Their commitment and love for music is so apparent when one sees and hears them – these young people spend every afternoon and weekend learning great music from a wonderful musician, Kolwane, their director and mentor. I had been taken to listen to the AYE and (when I was in SA last year under the auspices of the Austrian Embassy) I had been asked by Kolwane to spend an afternoon with them and give them some guidance and professional “pointers”. I was so amazed at the very high level of musicianship in these young people, who all clearly were thoroughly enjoying every moment of their time with their very inspiring leader. Although the AYE receives no public (or private) funding, this program offers musical training on stringed instruments (violin, viola, cello, double-bass) to children and young people of all ages at no charge to the students. The Ensemble has performed in major venues throughout the country as well as on tours in other countries and have performed (BACH Brandenburg Concerto) with the very prestigious English Chamber Orchestra. In December 2007 my husband, Friedrich Danielis, and I heard the AYE perform – we were very moved, and thrilled and eager to do something to help them. My husband was determined to raise funds to buy much-needed string instruments and music for the ensemble, and proceeded to seek out donors in Austria as soon as he could. In addition to one anonymous donor, the COMMEND Foundation (an austrian computer software company) and the ARNOLD SCHOENBERG CHOIR, conducted and directed by its founder, Erwin Ortner, all together have backed this project and have donated the funds and bought very fine instruments: seven violins, each with bow and case, three violas, with bows and case, two cellos, with bow and case, and 20 violin bows for small children (half and three-quarter size bows for smaller violins). In addition, these donors have bought a large amount of sheet music for the AYE’s continuing program: string quartets of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, as well as violin and cello exercise books. Kolwane Mantu, the director, trains these young people – his wife, Mpho, teaches the Beginners Orchestra, children from the age of 4 years. Kolwane and his assistant Bethuel teach the intermediate group, Kolwane teaches and conducts the senior group of students, the AYE. Under the auspices of the Austrian Embassy I was brought back to SA to work with the AYE. My project with them is to offer the students some instruction on cello as well as coaching them in ensemble playing, and to join them in the joy of making music together by playing with them. We will perform five Vivaldi Concertos rarely heard and rarely performed by other concert cellists. These works offer a unique opportunity and insight into technical and musical issues specific to string playing, valuable for their development and understanding of music. I wish everyone could experience the “high” of these kids playing their hearts out in Bach or Vivaldi, and feel the inspiration and renewed triumph of the human spirit that is the basis and the result of their work and dedication. They do indeed give one a renewed faith in the potential of youth, and in the dedication and musical energy that they have. It is dazzling!” A background of Kolwane Mantu: Kolwane Mantu started teaching violin in Soweto over 20 years ago and continues to the present day. The African Youth Ensemble constitutes young children who have learnt how to play the violin under the tutelage of Mantu, with their small instruments donated by “The Peace Boat”, an international educational and networking NGO from Japan, who visit various ports around the world and organise cultural exchanges with local communities. The oldest of four children of a Soweto factory-worker mother and a father who worked as a clerk in Johannesburg City Hall, Mantu was always musical. His mother, Dora, remembers: “He could sing all Miriam Makeba’s songs,” she says. “But he also liked this classical music, which I couldn’t understand.” Mantu’s father bought his son a recorder and taught him to sight read. Then, at 13, Mantu recalls: “I was fascinated by a young boy who played what I thought was a funny guitar that you played with a stick.” Mantu soon taught himself to play the violin, largely by listening over and over again to a Yehudi Menuhin recording of a Beethoven violin sonata. In 1978 he was practicing in his mother’s three-room house when he heard a knock at the door. It was a group of neighbourhood kids, wondering if Mantu would teach them to play. And so began the first tentative steps towards what would become the African Youth Ensemble, a group of string players whose repertoire ranges from such European composers as Vivaldi, Handel and Grieg to their own arrangements of African music. It is a testimony to the quality of Mantu’s teaching that many of his students have won scholarships abroad. Jabulani Dlamini, 18, has been offered a music scholarship at Roosevelt University in Chicago – as has lead cellist Daliwonga Tshangela, 19. Mantu’s youngest brother, Melale, 24, has just received a British Council scholarship to study in England; other string players are bound for Scotland and Germany. Meanwhile, Mantu will continue to introduce the youth of Soweto to the transcendent beauty of Beethoven and Bach with free lessons — he now has 60 violin, viola and cello students — five times a week. He will continue to gather his ensemble to the old Diepkloof Hall every Saturday. And as tiny children crowd in through the doorway, he will still round off rehearsals with arrangements of township kwela music, a lively blend of American soul and indigenous lament about Soweto hardship. Mantu’s dream is to raise funds for a new building that would eventually become Soweto’s first music school. “Even in this new South Africa, people are having a hard time gaining self-confidence. Music will give people-back their strength as human beings.”

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