By Andrew Stead
Quick question: which world-famous school is situated in the Champagne Valley of the Central Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal?
There can’t be many readers who would not immediately have said: “The Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School (DBCS).”
The school is renowned for nurturing the development of young boys’ innate musical talent, and the discipline of choral training ensures that the boys learn about every musical era and genre.
On the look-out for students
However, this unique national treasure, which has fans across the globe, is like many arts and culture organisations – it is financially fragile and, in a country famous for its sporting prowess, always at risk.
It is in these circumstances that I write this article to Independent Education. We find ourselves in an environment where private schools are competing fiercely for students. The DBCS struggles to gain access to these schools for recruitment purposes, because we are perceived to be “poaching” extraordinarily musically talented students.
We believe we can say with confidence that the process is not the same when it comes to sport. Private schools – and even government schools – are known for sending out scouts to sporting events to identify potential talent and to offer these children bursaries. In many of these instances, the school management is not informed that this is taking place. It is only once the parents tell the school that they are removing their child that the management of the school becomes aware.
A transparent process
At the DBCS, our process of acquiring students to ensure our legacy is transparent. We openly approach schools during our roadshows to identify special voices. Some independent schools have opened their doors to the choir, and for this we are enormously appreciative, but there are still schools that are declining these visits for fear of losing boys. I understand the “numbers game” and would never resort to poaching. We would far rather maintain an open line of communication.
Therefore, we’d like to share some facts to allay fears of children streaming out of your school.
Give great talent a chance
The DBCS is small and can only accommodate 120 pupils in total. It is unusual for the annual intake to be greater than 40 boys across grades 4–8. The impact on larger schools would be minimal, considering the entrance requirements. In 2014, we auditioned 1 500 boys for 40 places; in 2015, we auditioned are looking for 1 680 boys for 30 places; and in 2016 we anticipate a similar statistic.
We believe strongly that an exceptionally musically talented pupil being denied the opportunity to have a world-class choral education, because he is not given the opportunity to audition, is a rather sad turn of events. Our boys’ talents often exceed what a normal school choir can offer, and these are the boys we are looking for. They leave the DBCS at the end of their Grade 9 year with musical knowledge equivalent to a student at the end of their first year at university. Many of our pupils, on completing Grade 9, have and continue to receive scholarships and bursaries from exceptional independent high schools across the country, and even abroad. This inherently shows the value of our boys’ skills across a wide spectrum (leadership, teamwork, etc.) and suggests that they can play numerous key roles in senior school choirs and music departments.
Keep the Drakensberg alive with the sound of music
The school has produced a number of well-known celebrities – including the Bala brothers1 and other talents such as Jean Grobler, Dawid Kimberg and Pieter Coen, who are sadly not household names in South Africa but are successful musicians in Europe, USA and Asia. We have also produced a number of conductors, who are currently working at independent schools and running the choirs of Roedean School (South Africa), Kearsney College, St Peter’s Preparatory School and the like – all thanks to their exceptional grounding at the DBCS.
There happily seem to be many, many boys who want to be part of this musical journey (as apparent by the number of auditions) and, where possible, we would like to give a talented boy the opportunity to experience the DBCS way of life and to develop his innate ability to sing.
All we need now is your assistance.
1. See, for example: http://www.billboard.com/artist/6497623/balabrothers/ biography.