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LET THE MUSIC PLAY (article first published : 2004-06-14)

Over the past six years, the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra has joined forces with FNB Corporate to entertain thousands at its annual Starlight Pop Opera concerts. On the evidence of the massive crowd it pulled at the last concert on June 6, the popularity of this annual event shows no sign of abating and substantiates claims of its cornerstone calendar status with a public that likes its entertainment clearly labeled ‘tried and tested'.

This year's concert touched on SA's Decade of Democracy celebrations, and featured among its stellar line-up a choir of ten-year-olds from Durban primary schools whose innocent decibels sent shivers down the spines of listeners as they joined the orchestra for Be Still My Soul from Sibelius's Finlandia, followed by Thula! Thula!

Audience thrills aside, an extraordinary happening such as the Starlight Pop Opera concerts highlights the powerful role that music plays in our lives. It also says something about the dreadful void we suffer from the lack of music-making in our day-to-day existence, due to the low priority recognition it receives from government (two per cent of government funding goes to the arts), or from the corporate sector.

Music plays a core-building function in our lives. One does not have to be a music therapist to grasp the beneficent effect it has on the human psyche, from unborn infants to those of in their twilight years. Or the sense of discipline it imparts to someone learning to sing or play an instrument.

As a balm, a source of exhilaration or release, through its sheer ability to communicate on levels beyond speech, music works on many levels as a positive force. This is multiplied the more of us it reaches. Which is why it is such a crying shame that governments the world over and so many of our schools buy into the sad misconception that music (along with drama and dance) is relatively unimportant and is thus starkly absent from curricula.

A body of 70 professional musicians that constitutes a symphony orchestra such as the KZN Philharmonic is an essential resource on several fronts, cultural, social and economic. It provides an ideal grounding for cultural fusion (witness the spontaneous response from a largely white, affluent audience to last Sunday's concert appearance of our famous Click Song).

Offstage, an orchestra forms a substantial core of professionals whose teaching skills are applied in schools and at tertiary level and in performances before communities far beyond the municipal reaches of Durban itself.

An event such as Sunday's concert furthermore offers grassroots support for an adopted charity such as Sunday's St. Clement's Home-based Care Project in Clermont. And, most importantly perhaps, when managed with marketing panache as has been seen in the promotion of the Starlight Pop Opera series, it offers an ideal partnership platform that unites the arts and the corporate sector to the mutual advantage of both. What more effective a showcase for FNB Corporate than Starlight Pop Opera?

Hopefully, rumours will prove true that government is presently reviewing its stance on arts funding, which as things stand fails to reward the corporate sector significantly for support of the arts by offering tax incentives commensurate to those enjoyed in many other countries.

If things change for the better in this regard, more corporate giants will be happy to share their resources with arts administrators and artists in the process of making music - and indeed its sister art forms - not only onstage, but in our schools where it all begins, where tomorrow's audience are. - William Charlton-Perkins




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