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Flute in South Africa

Helen Spielman | October 2009
     South Africa is a country of amazing contrasts, from the tall, grand peaks of the Drakensburg Mountains to crystalline beaches where whales and dolphins swim within easy view of the shore. Johannesburg has malls as upscale and contemporary as any in America, while not far away squatters live on miles of dirt fields filled with four-foot high shacks, built from random pieces of aluminum siding, with no water, electricity, or plumbing.
    In the city of Durban, men’s business suits contrast with the colorful saris of Indian women and the beaded traditional clothes of Zulu ladies. The varied sounds of Africa include the drums beating aecross th Valley of the Thousand Hills, now for music and ceremony, but in the olden days an important method of communication, the clicks of the native Xhosa language, and the call of the magnificent animals in Kruger, Hluhluwe, Scotia and other game parks. This is the South Africa I’ve come to love.

    The first time I visited there in 1996, I was acquainted with only one flutist, Mikki Steyn, who I had met through the internet. South Africans had such difficulty sending money out of the country, even via credit cards, that she asked me to bring her a copy of Trevor Wye’s editions of the Mozart G and D Flute Concerti, which were not available in South Africa for purchase. She drove the hour from her home in Pretoria to where I was staying in Johannesburg to pick them up from me. It wasn’t until my third visit to this country this past March that I began to get a sense of the flute community of South Africa. 

The Educational System
    Children attend school from age six to 18. Grades 1­­–7 are called primary or junior school, and grades 8–12 are called high or senior school. Education in South Africa varies widely in different regions. State schools in poor areas have huge classes, limited facilities and resources, and lack music departments and teachers. Children in these areas can attend good community music projects after school, but there are not enough of them. Wonderful church and community choirs also keep music alive in poorer communities.
    Private schools usually have their own music departments with good facilities and teachers. Schools in middle class and affluent areas, which were previously state schools but are now semi-private (receiving funding from the state and fees), usually have music programs, although the quality varies. Not all these schools offer every orchestral instrument, but most have piano and choir, and perhaps some brass and basic woodwinds. Some of the semi-private schools have a strong brass, woodwind, and percussion program, as well as concert and jazz bands.
    Flute is a popular instrument around the country. The Education Department runs Music Centres that any school child can apply to for music lessons after school. Theory, band, and other ensembles are also offered. Cape Town has three well-attended Music Centres, that often have a waiting list, especially for flute players.

    The most common introduction to music for young children in primary school is when they learn to play the recorder. Flute is most frequently begun at age 10 or 11, although some start earlier, and many begin in high school at age 13 or 14. These young flutists play in their school or Music Centre bands or orchestras, and some audition for the National Youth Orchestra Course, which is held annually. Most of the major cities have a local youth orchestra and other opportunities for music students. 
    Many South African universities have music departments, such as the the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town that  offers degrees in performance, education, opera, jazz, ethnomusicology, and composition.

    In addition to western music education, South Africa has an abundance of ethnic African music, which includes African flutes, jazz, folk, and indigenous music. Besides English and Africaans (derived from the Dutch settlers), this amazing country has nine other official languages, such as Zulu, Xhosa, and Ndbele, and the sounds on the city streets and the countrysides are endlessly fascinating and beautiful.

Flutists in South Africa   
Bridget Rennie-Salonen is the Flute-Lecturer at the University of Cape Town, South African College of Music, and a freelance performer and soloist. She is the former solo principal of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. Regarded as one of South Africas’s finest flutists, she has performed as soloist with the Cape Philharmonic, Cape Town Symphony, and Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestras, the Camerata Tinta Barocca, the Stellenbosch Camerata, Cape Town Baroque Ensemble, and the Eastern Cape Philharmonic. She leads the Cavatina Quartet (flute and strings) and performs regularly in Zomari, a duo with guitarist James Grace. She performs extensively as a chamber musician and orchestral principal flutist as well as a soloist, and is frequently invited to adjudicate examinations.

     Jason King is an Englishman who married a South African woman and moved to Cape Town in 2005. With a background in business, he saw how difficult it was for South African flutists to obtain advanced flute music, and established the only flute specialist shop in the country. The Flute Specialists ( stocks many major brands of flutes. King has also become a major influence in pulling together and stimulating the flute community with events and clinics. “I see the potential here,” he says. “I want to build a stronger network among the flutists, and get more people interested in the flute.” He has sponsored events with flutists Tessa Brinkman, Bridget Rennie-Salonen, Eva Tammasy, Raffaele Trevisani, and Helen Spielman, and is planning one with Swedish flutist Anders Ljungar-Chapelon in 2009.

    Helen Vosloo is the principal of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra and a freelance performer. She is the recipient of several of South Africa’s top music awards. South African composer Hendrik Hofmeyr dedicated his flute concerto to her. She performs with the Wessel van Tensburg Jazz Piano Trio and Trio Hemanay, with whom she has toured the U.S. and Europe. William Bennett and Peter Lukas Graf are among her teachers.

    Gabriele von Durckheim is principal of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. Her teachers include Bridget Rennie-Salonen and Trevor Wye. She was a member of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.

    Liezl Stolz is a flute lecturer at the University of Cape Town South African College of Music and a freelance performer. She studied with Shigenori Kudo and Peter Lukas Graf, as well as taking masterclasses with Jean-Pierre Rampal, Jean Ferrandis, Maxence Larrieux, Trevor Wye, Pierre-Yves Artaud, and William Bennett. She has won prizes in several international competitions and performs extensively as a soloist, with a classical guitar duo, and as a member of Trio du Cap (flute, cello, piano).

    Corvin Matei is a conductor, flutist, and flute lecturer at  Stellen­bosch Uni­ver­sity. Born in Romania, he served as principal flute of the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra for 12 years. He is music director of the Cape Sinfonia, and maintains a busy conducting career in South Africa and internationally.

Flute Resources
    The Flute Federation of South Africa (F.L.U.F.S.A.) is chaired by John Hinch, who is also the Flute Lecturer and head of music at Pretoria University. Through regular monthly updates, it provides the latest news about happenings in the South Africa flute world.
    South Africa boasts two outstanding flute technicians, Petri Salonen, who is based in Cape Town and Michael Botha in Johannesburg. Both are qualified Straubinger padders and offer exceptional support and services to South Africa’s leading players and professionals.

Changes in South Africa
    In the 12-year span of my visits to South Africa, I witnessed a noticeable and significant improvement including the integration of cultures and increasing educational and vocational opportunites. It follows that changes in the South African flute community are opening and flourishing as well. I hope, if I am lucky enough to visit again, that I will learn even more about this lovely country and its fascinating flutists.