Be open to the unexpected.
At a time when space travel has become so commonplace that we seldom notice, when objects we have created are venturing past the edges of our solar system or peering into the outer reaches of the known universe, when we can imagine a “long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” a voyage of a mere 10,000 miles seems insignificant. For the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra, it is the things dreams are made of.On Sunday evening, January 22, the GSO and its companion tour of friends and family, arrived at Cape Town International Airport after a journey that started some 29 hours earlier. Our adventure started at the spot where Gustie musicians have begun concert tours for more than 40 years as we loaded the bus on the street just west of Schaefer Fine Arts Center. From St. Peter to Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Cape Town — 10,000 miles and 29 hours. This first step of our journey ends just blocks from the spot where Dutch explorers found a safe harbor at the southern tip of Africa in 1652. The Cape of Good Hope. Our safe harbor.
On Monday morning, after a much-needed rest and wonderful breakfast, the ensemble ventured into the city of Cape Town. The clouds enveloping Table Mountain changed our morning’s itinerary and we drove instead to visit Monkeybiz, a non-profit business created to provide sustainable employment for hundreds of women artists in Cape Town. Through the sale of its bead, metal and ceramic work, Monkeybiz not only provides employment for the artists and their families, but also shares its profits with the community through its soup kitchens, health and pension resources.
From the center of the city, we moved on to the area known as District 6 to learn more about the painful history of South Africa. In 1966 under the Group Areas Act, the apartheid government forcibly removed the 60,000 inhabitants of District 6 and leveled all the buildings to make space for new housing for white inhabitants of the city. Only a few churches and mosques survive from that once thriving community.The District 6 Museum is a living document of this sad time in the history of this beautiful city. Among its many photos, documents and exhibits, is a large hand-decorated rug or quilt that covers most of the main floor. One section includes the Langston Hughes quote, “Hold fast to your dreams, for if your dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” For the people of Cape Town and a new South Africa, even in the darkest days of apartheid, that dream never died.
After our visit to the District 6 Museum, we visited a shelter for girls and young women, many from the street, many of whom had been in some trouble with the law. The shelter provides protection, opportunities for education and the learning of life skills for the girls. During our visit, the shelter was full with 20 young girls, one 6-year-old boy (the brother of one of the girls who had no other place to go) and one of the girl’s baby. We are told there are other such shelters in Cape Town and the need is very great. For this visit, members of the symphony and the companion tour bought clothes and bedding for the shelter. In thanking us, the director said, “Your gifts will be well-used.”We end our introduction to Cape Town with a drive through the historic Malay Quarter and a visit to the South African Museum and its world-famous Bushman exhibits. While the ensemble visited the museum and the magnificent botanical gardens surrounding it, Conductor Lin and I made our way to The Artscape Center and the studios of Fine Music Radio, 101.3 FM, for a live interview broadcast to promote the Symphony’s concert at Cape Town City Hall on January 27 as part of the City’s International Musical Festival.
Our day ends with free time to explore the coast and the area surrounding the hotel. Our journey has begun and we have found a safe harbor here in Cape Town. As we adjust to our surroundings and get more acquainted with South Africa and its culture, we begin to prepare for the opportunities we have to share our music with this beautiful country.
Tomorrow our adventure continues with our first concert at Worcester Institute for the Blind.