Newsletter (May 2011)

May 2011
Hi Everyone!

With the first term successfully behind us we would like to thank everyone for their patience and understanding at the beginning of this busy but exciting year. Steve has had the challenging task of timetabling 45 hours of music lessons a week and we are thrilled that it has worked out so well. Our heartfelt thanks must go to Mark Stenhouse of St Anne’s College and Brett Udal and Lynn Bell from Hilton College for continuing to take up the cause of music on all our behalf’s. And thank you all for working with Steve and I to get a busy term on track. It is great to have so many new students and to see the return of familiar faces.

The St Anne’s Soiree was great fun for all those who took part and we have another scheduled for next term. These live performances are of huge value to all who take part and we love the opportunity to showcase what we do. Congratulations Olivia Jonnson, Gemma Adey, Julia Church, Julia Armstrong, Georgi Borros, Abi Nelson and Tanna Blumberg who represented contemporary vocals with such self-assurance and enthusiasm.

Congratulations to other members of Songworks who shone last term! Nikki Mayne and Meg Kelly were both cast in lead roles in the Epworth production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Sian Gunkel has become a regular and sought-after soloist at her church functions, Shannon Harvey who performed in The Howick High major production last term, Lizaan Pelser who is starting to make waves at Voortrekker for her acoustic guitar and vocal talents, and Michelle Smith and Ashleigh Reitz who both won solo spots in the Maritzburg College/Wykeham Collegiate collaboration of My African Dream – A Tribute to South African Music.

Havana Nights
The Songworks Music School members of Who’s That Girl, Lady Rock, Girlz Aloud – and myself – performed our show Havana Nights at Lindsay’s Coffee Shop on Friday 20th May at 7.00pm and it was a resounding success! Special thanks to everyone at Lindsay’s for a great venue and food, to Mark Stenhouse for being there to support all our performers, and to everyone who came along to support this event. I have to say that the quality of the performances was fantastic all round and the “buzz” was simply wonderful! Members of the company were: Gemma Adey, Sian Gunkel, Lizaan Pelser, Ashleigh Reitz, Georgi Borros, Nikki Mayne, Shannon Harvey, Kez Black, Charlene Vos, Tanna Blumberg and myself with Steve Stark as technical director. Brilliant everyone!

SAVE THE DATE and GET READY FOR: The Winter Music Festival 2011!
I am delighted to report that preparations for the Winter Music Festival are now in full swing and the excitement is building. For those of you who live far away and need to plan, the festival is going to be on Sunday 24th July and you won’t want to miss this. We have a bumper day planned and we would like it to be a festival where you can come and go as you please and see as many of the live acts that are on offer as you and your family can manage. The festival schedule is attached and you will see that the programme is very full. We believe that every person in the school deserves a chance to get up on to the stage and perform at least twice a year – our second concert is scheduled for Sunday December 4th. This means at least 45 people get to perform and each person does a solo of their choice. The senior performers sing two songs some of them collaborating to perform duets. It’s just not possible to cut down the programme without people being left out and our students work so hard to get their acts just right. One song just doesn’t seem fair after 6 months preparation! So pack a picnic, bring your family and friends, a few blankets and some comfortable chairs and we’ll keep you entertained. Please just settle back, relax and while away a few hours. Yellowwood has a full bar available so you won’t go thirsty!

We will be flying Gershon down from Johannesburg and if you missed his performance last time, be warned, don’t miss him again! He and I will close the festival as usual and we have some fantastic surprises and lots of new material we’re excited to perform.

Financing the Festival
In order to dispel any perception that this is in any way a money-making venture for Steve and I we thought it would be useful to make everyone aware of what the “behind the scenes” expenses consist of. It costs (more than) a small fortune to stage our shows/festivals. Leaving aside the huge number of man hours and the cost of technical equipment, the additional expenses we incur include venue hire and extra seating for 300 people. We also pay for additional personnel – our roadies and car-guards. We print all the full-colour posters, programmes, tickets and so on at home and there is considerable cost incurred in terms of print cartridges, lamination and high quality paper that we like to use to create a professional and attractive product. In addition there is an R850 microphone which we traditionally provide for the lucky draw prize which is won by one of the performers.

Our audience for the 2010 Summer Concert held in December was about 300 people and the total ticket sales amounted to approximately R12 500 rand which nowhere near covered the costs. However we believe that our festivals are valuable both to the school as a showcase of what we do and to the community to maintain a strong music culture in an area where live music needs to be keep alive. Steve and I are fortunate to be in a position where we have the means to invest in the future of our Songworks Music School and Recording Studios long term – both by building up a stock of the highest quality equipment we can afford and constantly upgrading our studios. However, If any individual or organisation would like get involved at a personal or financial level we would always welcome your contribution.

To that end Charlene Vos has already offered to provide the labour (her own) to build the remaining 3 sections needed for our portable stage. Yellowwood Café are very generous in letting us hire their venue at a reduced cost and we are grateful to the Mums and Dads who help transport equipment to and from the venue. Shannon Rushworth works tirelessly to galvanise support for all our projects and I cannot thank her enough for all her efforts on our behalf. We are very grateful to be able to call on the services of Andrew Ness who is a very talented live sound Engineer. We also extend our grateful thanks to Ian Rushworth an award winning photographer who has provided a stunning photographic record of our 2010 events.

We are keeping the ticket prices for the festival as low as we realistically can, given the costs of staging the event. Adults will pay R75, Scholars R50 and Pre-School Children R25. We hope you will agree that that this is excellent value for 7 hours of live entertainment.

Live Sound and Studio Equipment
In addition to the equipment we already have (which is substantial) in 2010 we spent roughly R40 000 on new equipment so that we can provide the best quality sound, indoors and outdoors, to an audience of up to 1000 people. Our sound system is top class and we’ve been very fortunate to have been able to draw upon the expertise of lots of our colleagues working in the music industry.

This year we have identified a few key items we need to purchase between now and July and estimate the cost to be around R25 000.

We have already purchased a larger recording desk as our 8 channel module was too small to comfortably accommodate all the instruments we use for the festival. We’ve also purchased the finest microphones for female vocalists available on the market – the Electro Voice EV N/D767s and also a unisex top of the range EV N/D767a. Microphones do not come any better than these and the students (and I) are loving them! A new amp is on order as the smaller stage amp we using for the monitors has been giving problems and needs to be replaced.

It is always a good thing for a vocalist to have her or her own microphone which they can bring with them to class and get used to. Apart from reasons of hygiene – my studio equipment is cleaned very regularly but lots of students come in harbouring lingering colds and infections – a microphone is a personal thing. It is an extension of the voice, an essential part of the instrument if you like. My recommendation for anyone wishing to purchase a microphone for their daughter or son is to think very carefully about the purchase and take as much care and consideration as with any other musical instrument. There are plenty of affordable microphones on the market but in my opinion if your daughter or son is serious about singing it is better to wait if necessary and spend extra money by investing in an Electro Voice EV microphone. Alternatively, male “rock” voices would do well with the Shure SM58. A good-quality microphone is a privilege and anyone lucky enough to be gifted with one should value and appreciate what they have. If you are thinking of giving a microphone to your son or daughter we can get you the best prices through the contacts we have made so please talk to Steve or myself before you buy, whether it’s regarding price or recommendation for your specific vocal requirements.

Trinity Exams
The applications for Trinity Rock School exams have been submitted and as soon as the exam dates and appointment times have been received I shall let everyone know. I will be compiling an exam pack for each student who is taking an exam – the pack consists of all the required sheet music and an exam CD with each candidate’s repertoire. We have to make sure that each candidate has their own licensed copy of any additional sheet music outside of the Trinity Rock School syllabus and that a copy is provided for the examiner. I source and download these from the internet and they have to be transposed into the correct key. Trinity also reserves the right to see receipts for sheet music and additional backing tracks purchased. as they frown upon copyright piracy. There will be an additional cost for the exam packs of R60 which I will add to your monthly account. The examiner was very happy that we provided these last year as it made her day a lot smoother and it made our candidates appear very professional, ethical and organised.

Working Round and About
As you all know I am a working musician and need to perform in order to keep fresh and current and maintain my industry contacts. I apologise for the inconvenience of missing classes when I need to be away and thank you for your understanding with regard to this. This term I am booked to play Art in the Park (please call in if you can!) I will always try to make these classes up or you will receive a refund.

Class Fees and Non-Arrivals – Only New Parents Need Read This Section!
Most of you know the protocol regarding payment and non-arrivals but for those new to the studio I wish to point out the following:
Fees payment is not calculated on attendance but on a commitment to a weekly timeslot which is set aside for you or your child. A few students who have pre-arranged to pay on a weekly basis may continue to do so. For everyone else fees must be paid in full a month in advance. I need to stress that classes that are missed will be charged for. If you or your child do not attend class due to illness, school events that suddenly spring up, family holidays etc. during term time the full monthly/term fee is payable as the weekly place in the studio has been allocated to you. My teaching colleagues in Pietermaritzburg and other towns tell me that charging for missed appointments is common practice as it certainly is in many other professions. I appreciate the support and co-operation I have received from those parents that Steve and I have discussed this with.

I feel very uncomfortable about charging for non-attendance but there were many days last year when 8 hours of lessons dwindled to just 1 or 2 and it is very frustrating just sitting around waiting for students who do not turn up. Also the roll-over effect of having a 40% attendance on some days meant that on other days rescheduling the timetable resulted in a very long and very crammed day with more than 10 hours teaching. Students were shuttled in and out of here and I felt that the quality of my teaching suffered and certain students were compromised through no fault of their own. The School is fully booked Monday to Friday between the most popular times of 1.30pm and 8.30pm and Saturday 8.15am – 2.45pm and there is a waiting list for these ‘prized’ slots so I need to keep my timetable consistent and manageable. Thank you for your understanding.

In addition I must mention that if you are late for class your lesson will have to be cut short. A lot of people are on a very tight schedule and the knock on effect of late classes means other people later in the day may be inconvenienced. It is for this reason that I need to run to time!

Students who want to attend classes on a once-off or ad hoc basis are more than welcome but can only be scheduled for weekday mornings and Saturday afternoons subject to availability.

School Administration
The administration of the school has been handed over to Steve Stark, my music producer, partner, husband and lead guitarist. I’m sure most of you know him quite well by now! He administers and runs the other half of our music business – the Songworks Recording Studios – and he has taken over my accounts and bookings schedule. Those who require them will be getting weekly SMS reminders for classes and other helpful information to help the school run more smoothly.
Steve’s phone number is 072 576 2794 and as you will not be able to contact me on my cell phone during teaching times please feel free to contact him.

Coming and Going
I try not to leave anyone stranded at the gate but sometimes when you ring the bell someone may be mid-song and I can only get to you in a couple of minutes. Please be patient if that happens. (If it’s raining I promise I’ll let you in quickly!)
For their safety students are also not allowed out of the gate until you, or the school transport provided, arrive to collect them.

Songworks CDs
Gershon’s debut CD is making a huge impact and is quite literally having a stunning effect on people. He and I have collaborated on a number of tracks. If you missed our finale at the Summer Sunset Concert or Live at St Anne’s this is your chance to hear it and I am going to be very bold here: we are fantastic! Steve has done a brilliant production job and we’ve already sold a number of advance copies (one to the Hartman’s who bought it on the spot after hearing Gershon’s performance of the Stevie Wonder classic Lately). We are selling copies of Gershon’s CD at the usual price of R120 and I ask all of you to support his incredible talent. There are currently 10 tracks on the CD but we will be adding more over the next couple of months and anyone who buys one now will get an automatic upgrade for no additional cost! (And yes, he does receive a percentage of the sales!) Tracks include:

  • Like A Star
  • Prayer For The Dying
  • Make You Feel My Love
  • Feel
  • Lately
  • Separate Lives
  • One Day I’ll Fly Away
  • Something Stupid
  • Fix You
  • (Bonus Christmas Track)

A number of other students have also embarked on CD projects (some demo and others using a more sophisticated production process) and when they are completed they will also be available from the school. I’m sure many of you would like to support your friends’ music and so I will let you know who’s got what on offer so that you can purchase copies. I would urge everyone in the school to resist ripping and distributing CDs as they are expensive to produce and if we can’t rely on our friends to buy our music it’s a very sad world indeed!

I’m happy to report that my own CDs The Collection (R120), Reflections (R120) and Live at Brookfield (R140) continue to sell well. Extracts of all of them can be heard on my website and the full CDs ordered online or purchased from the studio. Thanks to all of you who’ve already bought copies.

We do have something special in the pipeline (another surprise!) and I am very excited that this will be on offer at the Festival!

Best wishes for the term ahead.

Dr Tracy Stark

Songworks Music School

Email Tracy at

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