Pupils spread marimba magic

After School Project Band members playing the marimba in their white T-shirts with the assistance of jazz producer, Camillo Lombard.

Children from a Kuils River special-needs school who struggle to read and write coaxed hundreds of Youth Day concert goers from their seats with their magical marimba music.

More than 300 people were on their feet as the Alta du Toit School pupils performed at Band Stand, a mass band extravaganza at the Artscape Theatre.

The pupils are part of the school’s After-School Project Band, one of eight school bands invited to perform at last Saturday’s concert. It was a chance for them to shine and work with music producers Ian Smith and Camillo Lombard.

Alta du Toit caters for pupils with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and severe learning disabilities. Learning how to play the marimba forms part of the cultural activities the school offers and is used as a counting method in numeracy.

In 2016 the After-School Project Band was formed by Ray Mbatsane, an indigenous-music trainer, who wants to keep the pupils involved in performance art even after they have left the school.

“Working with these kids has been a total joy for me, but most important is that I am part of the roleplayers in preparing the kids for their future in performance art,” Mr Mbatsane said.

He had to train himself to work with the children and said it was an experience that had taught him patience.

“I am extremely proud and humbled by what the learners have achieved such as getting to perform at the Artscape. They are committed and have shown growth and self discipline.”

Monalito October, 18, is in his final year at Alta du Toit, and says he enjoys working with the band members and Mr Mbatsane.

Asked if he would like to remain in the band after leaving school this year, he nodded his head in agreement.

The school’s principal Marius Erasmus said he had seen good behavioural changes in the pupils since they had joined the band.

“When they are in class, some of them are pointed out as the naughty ones, but when they perform for their teachers and peers, they are their heroes.”

He said the pupils look for a “sense of belonging” and the marimba classes make them
feel like they are good at something.

“Mentally challenged persons tend to work harder and are committed because they are aware that they are different,” he said.

“I sit in their practice sessions, and it takes a lot of patience to teach them, but they do not take long to learn and they learn new songs every day.”