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Changing lives through music

In 2000, what used to be the old St Andrews Hotel in the heart of the Albert Park precinct, became the site of Durban Music School (DMS). Established around the desire to regenerate this previously disadvantaged area and offer a brighter future to its children, this NPO now thrives as proof of what is possible when people who are passionate come together.

At the helm of it all is CEO Kim Matthews, an award-winning goldsmith and jewellery designer, who traded a career in bling for the rewards of a life spent dedicated to changing the lives of the city’s youth.

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According Kim, only a few years ago Albert Park was dubbed the worst crime area in South Africa, with more drug addicts, gangs, prostitutes and murders than any other area including Khayalitsha and Hillbrow. It has since become renowned as a place that impacts positively on and empowers children. Where once it had only a handful of musical talent, DMS is now run by a Board of Directors where Mr Bongani Tembe, CEO of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, serves as Chairman. Annually, the school provides about 700 gifted learners with excellent grounding in music education, more than 600 of whom are on full music bursaries.

Kim’s ambition isn’t to turn out hundreds of perfect musicians every year, but rather to give children hope and focus, grow the future audience and ultimately to provide the music industry with well-educated, capable musicians who can one day pay it forward by bringing music programs to other schools.

When Kim joined the school in 2005, she signed up for a mission she never dreamed would become her life’s work. Years later, her role as an educator, fundraiser and friend; her appointment as CEO of DMS and various other NPOs, community initiatives and organisations; and the growing popularity of the school and its many successful outreach programmes serve as testament to her dedication and determination to help build it up into the fine institution it is today.

A real feather in Kim’s cap is her success as the Chairperson of the KZN Youth Wind Band for the past 13 years. She runs a vibrant development project which has seen this prestigious band tour the globe to participate in international music festivals and competitions and bring home gold. She is also the brains behind the Paw-Paw Foundation, an organization that helps orphans and vulnerable children in Inchanga, Shakaskraal and Hammarsdale. In 2014, the eThekwini Municipality honoured her hard work by making her a Living Legend.

“Essentially, what we do at DMS is give orphaned, disadvantaged, physically disabled or vulnerable children the opportunity to receive a first-class music education.”

“Actually, there is no age discrimination – our oldest student is 93. Through full music bursaries they receive everything they need to learn to play an instrument, and are then equipped with the skills they need to find employment in the industry.”

This means that, along with receiving practical and theory lessons once a week, each child is given an instrument to take home and practise on every day.

“Although most instruments are very expensive, we find that when a child, who has very little materially and in the way of support from adults, is given the responsibility of an expensive instrument along with encouragement from us, their self-esteem skyrockets, they look after their instruments with great care and their desire to learn is much greater.”

All learners are assessed and over time the school identifies those they feel will be successful as musicians later on in life. These learners receive transport money, sheet music, ensemble training and their exams are paid for. They do internationally recognised exams through Trinity or Royal Schools of Music, London so that they can use this accreditation if they want to apply for a job or study further.

“It doesn’t matter how good a musician you are, if you have been trained by an educator on a one-on-one basis in a studio but have never had ensemble training, you won’t be able to get a job in an orchestra, band or ensemble, which is why, as soon as our learners reach Grade 2 musically, they join one of the school’s 12 ensembles. Here they learn to work in a group, have consideration for others and sight-read.”

The school’s ensembles include cello, saxophone, string, guitar and percussion, a jazz band, a junior wind band, a marimba group, two choirs at the Open Air School (an outreach programme Kim started six years ago which specialises in education for learners with physical impairments), a choir, a contemporary band called Kwini Kuza and of course, the most senior ensemble, the KZN Youth Wind Band.

Outreach

In a bid to impact positively on the community as a whole and not just its learners, the DMS also strives to serve as a community centre or safe haven for the children of Albert Park.

“I realised not all children were interested in music or hip hop dancing, so we started a boxing academy focussed on empowering the youth to steer clear of drugs and prostitution, and to attend school and work hard. We also run a crèche (where we provide music education to 90 children), a chess club, recorder and marimba lessons for youngsters in the area who would otherwise have nothing to do in the afternoons but get up to mischief. This has proved to be a huge success.”

By targeting children at a tender age, Kim believes the interest and effects will be lasting within the community and at the school.

“We have a holistic way of teaching – we care for the whole child. We get to know them, their schools and families and try to help wherever we can.”

For years we have also sent our own educators into primary schools to teach music education. We have identified children showing great promise and they have all been offered full music bursaries to DMS. There is almost no limit to how much music can do for us when we let it in, whether we are the ones who are playing or the ones who are listening.”

Festivals and Concerts

For the past eight years, DMS has brought entertainment to the area by hosting street festivals and community concerts. Annually, on special occasions, the street outside the school is closed off and a full day of music and fun unfolds.

People from different walks of life, cultures and races come together to enjoy the day. The school’s bands, choirs, dance groups and ensembles all perform, ensuring there is something for everyone, enhancing social cohesion and in turn egging the audience on to get up and dance in the street.

“I think it’s fair to say that we’ve proved that an institution that has its community at heart and a vision to change lives can, through dedication, commitment and love, do whatever it sets out to do.”

DMS now has about 50 staff, 19 of whom were learners who have come full circle and teach at the school, but the school relies entirely on funding for its day-to-day expenses and bursary costs. They are always looking for help or sponsorship from philanthropists and anyone with a passion for music who will understand what they do.

You can contact Kim on 031304 1001 or 083 626 9739, e-mail [email protected], or visit the school’s website www.durbanmusicschool.org.za

 

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