Jen Hoyer is making a big difference in the lives of students at the Keiskamma Music Academy. Photo: Jen Hoyer
Last year, Jen Hoyer, an Edmonton librarian, was wondering what to do next after her research contract with a local social justice think tank expired.
Hoyer, a parishioner at Edmonton’s Holy Trinity Anglican Church, is also a pianist and an expert musician in the recorder. “There aren’t many opportunities for professional recorder players, so when the chance to teach recorder in South Africa came up, I decided to do it,” she told the Anglican Journal on a recent visit to Church House in Toronto.
What seemed at the time like an interesting professional opportunity turned into a chance to live the Marks of Mission. Since August 2011, Hoyer has been music director at the Keiskamma Music Academy in Hamburg, a small coastal town of 3,000 people on the Eastern Cape, about 1,100 kilometres from Johannesburg .
Each week, Hoyer gives recorder lessons to about 35 students, equal numbers of girls and boys, ages 10 to 15, in after-school and weekend classes. But far beyond teaching the proper breathing, fingering, scales and note reading that go into mastering this wind instrument, she is empowering and validating rural children who typically experience little quality time with adults. Apart from a few well-to-do residents occupying vacation homes on the unspoiled beaches, Hamburg’s principal inhabitants belong to the Xhosa people, most of whom are engaged in subsistence herding, fishing and agriculture.
“Many students come from farming families and they’re expected to get up early and do chores before walking a long way to the academy,” Hoyer says. There are no parents dropping off kids and picking them up, notes Hoyer.
“Teaching music in rural Africa is an amazing opportunity to invest half an hour in a child who may not have a lot of one-on-one time with an adult who’s interested in their progress,” she says. And the encounter gives shy children with limited English a safe place to speak up and improve their English. “Kids who take music classes speak far better English than those who only get English in regular school.”
Hoyer says that telling an introverted student that he or she played a piece really well and has really improved over last time can do wonders for self-esteem and coax a smile from the most sullen of teens. She’s teaching music, and she‘s teaching hope.