A Brief History of the South African Society of Music Teachers

Achievements and Activities

The South African Society of Music Teachers grew out of a small association of music teachers formed on the Rand in 1919.

The first “Annual General Council Meeting”, as it was called, was held in October, 1922. Prime mover in the formation of the Society was Harry Garvin, a prominent teacher and all-round musician in Johannesburg. Mr Garvin had previously been one of the founders of “The South African Union of Musicians” and was president of that body during its lifetime from 1894 to 1907. He was also president of the South African Society of Music Teachers from its inception till the end of 1931.

On November 26th, 1932, a licence was granted for “The South African Society of Music Teachers” to be constituted an Incorporated Society in terms of the Companies Act of 1926. The broad outlines of the Constitution as it now exists were decided at the Conference held one month later. Since then, the Constitution has been twice reviewed or amended in its entirety, the first time during 1948-1949, and the second time during 1964-66. Articles for the establishing   and   running   of   Sub-Centres   were   approved   and   came   into operation in 1963. Articles for the establishing and regulation of institutional Centres came into operation in 1973, and all university music departments except UNISA had joined by 1975. The UNISA Department of Musicology became an Institutional Centre in mid-1980. Institutional Centres of other kinds   (e.g.   Technikons,   Conservatoires,   Colleges   of Education,   Music Centres) were admitted by the Council of the Society from 1983 onwards.

In 1931 there were seven local branches of the Society, called “Centres” and the General Council consisted of the President, four Vice-Presidents, and the Honorary General Secretary and Treasurer. There were 169 members all told. By 1946, when the Society celebrated its Silver Jubilee, there were 15 Centres and the membership had more than doubled. By 1958 the membership had doubled again; and by 1986 it had passed the 900 mark.

One of the important aims of the Society was realised in October 1931 with the publication of the first issue of The South African Music Teacher, which has continued publication twice annually without a break, serving both as the Official journal of the Society for the publication of proceedings at Conference and other information and as a means of keeping South African musicians and music teachers well informed and in touch with each other’s activities. It is distributed free to all members and interested persons, and now has a world- wide circulation, to libraries, universities and other institutions, or individual persons in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Brazil and Iran. It has an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) and is listed in various international periodical directories.

A Group Endowment Fund, with reduced premiums for members of the Society and underwritten by the Colonial Mutual Assurance Society, was established in 1933 along with a Welfare Fund (but is no longer operative). A Benevolent Fund was instituted in 1948, and a number of members have been Assisted by grants from it (loans are also available). Investigation of the possibility, advantages and disadvantages of State Registration of music teachers engaged the energies of various officers of the Society from 1937 onwards. Two draft Bills and a comprehensive report were prepared, and the second Bill was approved by Conference in 1949. By 1954, however, it had become generally recognised that the best and only practicable form of registration was that provided by membership of the S.A. Society of Music Teachers and the nation-wide publication, twice annually in The South African Music Teacher, of a Directory of the names and qualifications of teachers accepted as worthy of professional recognition.

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Following on the institution in 1948 of the Bothner Prize for Musical Composition, administered by our Society, a policy of sponsoring prizes, scholarships and other awards was adopted and resulted in much help being given to members and young musicians especially during 1960-64. The Student-Artist Scheme, actively pursued 1954-60, was an enormous undertaking by which large numbers of young performers were enabled to gain valuable experience in concerts and tours in various parts of the Republic.

The Society undertook the administration of the David Reunert Bursary in 1972, and of the Ellie Marx Scholarship in 1980. Many promising young musicians have been assisted by these awards.

A nation-wide plan for regular orchestral Camps for young musicians was adopted in 1962, and the first Camp, a highly successful one, was held at Hartebeestpoort Dam in April 1964. Following the rapidly increasing success of this project, its title was changed to the SASMT Orchestral Course. The popularity of the Orchestral Course grew greatly, and Courses were held in most of the major cities in South Africa.

By 1978 the organisation, needs and administration of the Orchestral Course had become so complex and expensive that it became impossible for the SASMT to continue handling it. In 1979, therefore, the South African National Youth Orchestra Foundation was formed and the running of the Orchestral Course passed out of the hands of the SASMT although the Society has maintained its interest through its representation at all levels of the Foundation.

Four valuable scholarships have been made available each year to gifted young performers of orchestral instruments, chosen by the S.A. Society of Music Teachers. Two of the scholarships are for string instrumentalists to attend the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan, USA, for eight weeks June-August.   The   other   two   are   for   wind   instrumentalists   or percussionists to attend the International Music Camp at Bottineau, North Dakota, USA, for two weeks June-July. The scholarships cover the cost of tuition and accommodation but not travel expenses. The first Interlochen scholarships were awarded in 1987, and Bottineau Scholarships in 1991.

For the further benefit of members Regional Conventions have been held in most Provinces since 1956. These give opportunities for members from different Centres to gather socially, hear informative talks on musical topics or developments in music education in this and other countries, and generally to profit mutually by personal contacts. Symposia have been arranged from time to time at the Annual General Meetings (national Conferences) of the Society, and two volumes of addresses, delivered at Symposia in 1952-57, have been published.

The activities of individual Centres have been many and various, including, for example, instrumental and choral Festivals, Students’ Concerts, Workshops and social gatherings, the majority of these being held regularly in most Centres.

A notable achievement in 1942, initiated in Cape Town, was in inducing the Executive Committee of the Cape Province to reinstitute a policy of creating new music posts in schools when needed, after that policy had been officially dropped. This was effected through an approach made on behalf of the Society to the Superintendent General of Education in the Province. The creation of new posts in the following decades was a great benefit both to the teachers appointed and to music education in the Province.

Especially noteworthy in more recent years has been the institution, in September 1984, of the SANLAM Music Competition for Primary School pupils presented by the Tygerberg Centre of the SASMT, and, in October the same year, of the National Youth Music Competition for High School pupils by the Port Elizabeth Centre of the SASMT in collaboration with the University of Port Elizabeth. When SANLAM stopped its sponsorship of the SANLAM Music Competition for Primary School pupils, SAMRO was approached for sponsorship and the competition was renamed the SAMRO Hubert van der Spuy National Competition.

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Relations between the South African Society of Music Teachers and educational and examining bodies have always been cordial, and the Society has been given representation on a number of official committees concerned with music education. Today all teaching members of university music departments are members of the Society; so also are leading music teachers in schools and many teachers in Music Centres, while the bulk of the membership of the Ordinary Centres of the Society consists of free-lance teachers covering all subjects of music in individual or group teaching up to and including tertiary levels. The status of the Society as validly representing the whole music teaching profession is therefore indisputable; and every member thus benefits.