Student musicians played at nursing homes in Hiroshima for survivors of the atomic-blast, and, in remote villages of rural China where the School’s Chamber Orchestra truly realized music as a universal language through service-learning projects.
In June 2012 thirty-two members of the Groton School Chamber Orchestra traveled to South Africa to spend a fortnight experiencing homestays, musical performances for and with their peers, the excitement of safari, magnificent scenic beauty, and the profound bonding with fellow orchestra members that becomes possible when you travel together, sharing unique and challenging experiences. Students had the amazing opportunity to live with host families from Durbanville School in Cape Town and from Waterkloof High School in Pretoria. Our Groton students won rave reviews from their host parents and bonded with their host brothers and sisters eagerly. Many are staying in touch and we are hoping to be able to host groups from those schools at Groton.
We all learned a lot when we met Katie Ganner ’06 in Soweto and participated in HIV/AIDS education workshops run by Grassroots Soccer at the Leresche Grammar School. Our Durbanville hosts gave us the delightful gift of learning to play djembe and to do some cool dance steps with Drum Café of Cape Town. The Cape Town Philharmonic let us observe a rehearsal at the beautiful Artscape complex. We were thankful to be able to offer support to workers at Sizanani, a home for the severely disabled, but saddened to see the difficulties that those who are orphaned and/or disabled face.
The Groton Chamber Orchestra had the opportunity to perform six times in our twelve days on the ground in South Africa. In Cape Town the exquisite Hugo Lambrechts Center for Music auditorium was the site of a concert with our orchestra and concert bands from Durbanville High School and the Hugo Lambrechts Center. Through the Amy Biehl Foundation, Groton gained the opportunity to attend an afterschool music program in Gugulethu Township. Here we had a wonderful cultural exchange when our orchestra performed and was then treated to performances by their choir, dance groups, brass and marimba ensembles; and, students from all the groups, including ours danced and improvised music together. Our Durbanville hosts invited us to participate in a festival of ensembles at DF Malan High School. Groton’s was the lone instrumental group in this choral concert but there was another American group, a small chorale from Head-Royce in Oakland, California. Again all the groups joined together for a rousing chorus and dancing to a Zulu song. This finale was not planned or rehearsed. It was simply a moment of spontaneous joy.
Just a couple of hours after arriving in Pretoria, the Groton Chamber Orchestra rehearsed with the Waterkloof Concert Orchestra for a performance the following day at the Pretoria National Botanical Gardens. The two groups are very different and they did not have much time to rehearse but the performance the following day was a big success. When we visited Soweto we went to St. Andrews Anglican Church and had the opportunity for a wonderful cultural exchange with the young people of Melodi Music Trust and their leader, Nimrod Moloto. They played, we played, everyone traded instruments and lively conversation ensued. Our final performance was at a home for elders in Pretoria. The stage was small and a music stand fell into a cellist (thankfully, no lasting damage was done), but the performance was excellent. They treated us to cookies and delicious rooibos tea. We enjoyed bonding with yet another population.
We saw one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Table Mountain, in Cape Town. On Boulders Beach we saw a penguin colony, including baby penguins. We saw baboons, seals, ostrich, and giraffes. We also saw the close juxtaposition of wealth and poverty in the urban areas of Cape Town and Johannesburg. On our game drives in Mabula Game Reserve we saw rhinos, elephants, lions, crocodiles, antelope, springbok, warthogs; and, we saw zebras all over the place.
In March of 2013 the Choir takes its turn in the United Kingdom for master classes with some of the world’s premier choral conductors and composers. Students will have the opportunity to collaborate with a professional choir in Glasgow and experience all that England and Scotland have to offer.