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ISME Website History Standing Committee IHME Homepage SOUTH AFRICA - Historical Overview   The Introduction of Music to Schools in South Africa during the Nineteenth Century  by Robin Stevens   BACKGROUND—POLITICAL, SOCIAL AND EDUCATIONAL  European settlement at the Cape of Good Hope (or the Cape Colony as it was known) began in 1652 when Cape Town was established as a “refreshment” station on the sea route to the East by the Dutch East India Company.   From 1679 to 1699, the Cape was a Dutch colony.  It was occupied by the British from 1795 until 1803, before becoming part of the short-lived Batavian Republic (1803-6). The Cape Colony was re-occupied by the British in 1806 and in 1820 some five thousand British settlers arrived.  From about this time, groups of Boers, dissatisfied with British rule, migrated north across the Orange River on what became known as “The Great Trek” (Ferguson & Immelman 1961, pp.7-8).  To the north, the Transvaal become an independent Boer Republic (1852-99) and adopted Dutch as its language.  Following the two Anglo-Boer wars, Transvaal finally became a British colony in 1907, and in 1910, the Transvaal and the other self-governing colonies of the Cape, Natal and Orange Free State became provinces of the Union of South Africa.  English and Dutch (replaced later by Afrikaans) become the dual official languages of South Africa.    Education during the early days of Dutch colonisation was based almost solely on the need for literacy in order to read the Bible.  The Dutch Reformed Church established schools where new communities developed and private farm schools were frequently set up to cater for children in rural areas.  With the coming of British rule, Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of Cape Colony from 1814 to 1826, established a system of free and secular education along the lines of the English elementary school system.  Typically, local communities ran their own schools that were subsidised and inspected by education authorities who also prescribed the school curriculum (with English as the language of instruction) as well as certificating teachers.  Many of the teachers were recruited from Scotland.  When the Transvaal came under British rule, the Dutch Reformed Church set up its own system of Christian National Schools in which Dutch as well as English were the languages of instruction.  This set the scene for the bilingual system of education in English and Afrikaans that was adopted at the provincial level after the Union (Dean, Hartmann & Katzen 1983, pp.23-24).  Theoretically, with elementary education being free and secular, schooling was also available to the indigenous people—the few surviving Hottentots in the south and the Xhosa people on the east coast—as well as to former slaves (officially designated as “Free Blacks”).  However, with a colour bar effectively in operation, schools operated by missionary organisations represented the only possibility for elementary education available to most non-white children.  USE OF TONIC SOL-FA BY CHRISTIAN MISSIONS IN RURAL AREAS  The establishment of a system of government subsidies for schools by Lord Somerset in the 1820s resulted in mission schools receiving government funding in addition to their main financial support which came from the foreign mission societies in Britain.  The majority of missions established in South Africa during the nineteenth century were of either Anglican or non-conformist protestant foundations. (Roman Catholic missions in Africa flourished in the French, Italian and Portuguese colonies in east, central and west Africa.) Particularly those missions established by non-conformist protestant denominations—Methodist (Wesleyan), Baptist, Presbyterian and Congregational—adopted the Tonic Sol-fa method and notation as the principal means of promoting congregational singing.  At mission schools of all denominations, music was taught as a means of inculcating moral and religious principles though the singing of hymns and other liturgical music, and was also used to teach “Vocal Music” which was frequently included in the “subjects of instruction” taught in colonial schools throughout the British Empire.  One of the earliest recorded instances of John Curwen’s Tonic Sol-fa method (for details, see the The Curwen Method on the right hand menu of the Homepage) being introduced to mission schools was by an English dentist, Thomas Daines (1829-1880), who lived at King William’s Town (Henning 1979a, p.307).  Before leaving England, Daines had become acquainted with Tonic Sol-fa and, when appointed to Grey’s Hospital in King William’s Town about 1860, he offered classes in sight singing and part-singing presumably to the European community.  Two years later in 1862, Daines became involved in teaching Tonic Sol-fa to indigenous pupils at St Matthew’s Mission School and to Bantu (indigeneous) choirs in King William’s Town.  By 1867, Daines was conducting a Bantu choir of some 200 to 300 voices in part-songs, hymns and music by Purcell (Henning 1979a, p.307)  Somewhat later, Tonic Sol-fa was, according to a Port Elizabeth correspondent to The Tonic Sol-fa Reporter in 1883, widely used at mission stations in Basutoland, in Kaffraria and around Port Elizabeth to the south (TSf Rep 1883, p.145).  Another Port Elizabeth correspondent reported later that Tonic Sol-fa was taught at “native” day schools by indigenous teachers trained at Lovedale Institution and used for singing at a local Sunday school where he was a teacher (TSf Rep 1887, p.280).  Much was made of the ability of the local indigenous people to assimilate and utilise Tonic Sol-fa notation in their singing, not only of hymns, but also of larger choral works such as the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah  (TSf Rep 1887, p.280).  One of the most prominent missions in educational work in Cape Colony was the Lovedale Missionary Institution at which Tonic Sol-fa was widely promoted. Lovedale Mission was founded in the 1820s by a group of clergymen from the Glasgow Missionary Society near the inland town of Alice, west-north-west of East London in what is now Eastern Cape Province.  Aside from religious activity, the mission's principle objective was the education of the local indigenous community—the Xhosa people.  A school for boys was established as the Lovedale Institution in 1841 which later promoted higher education for young Xhosa men.  The ultimate result of its educational work was that some hundreds of boys from Lovedale passed the Cape University public examinations and hundreds of Xhosa teachers were trained at the Lovedale Institution (Gandhi 1905).  An important means of supporting the education of the local Xhosa people—and indeed of indigenous South Africans generally—was the establishment at Lovedale of a printing press which, from 1823, produced evangelical and educational publications including a Xhosa Bible, hymn books in Tonic Sol-fa notation, school reading books and other Christian literature.  The key figure at the Lovedale Institution during its heyday was the Reverend Dr James Stewart (1831-1905) who joined the staff at Lovedale in 1867 and become its principal in 1870.  Tonic Sol-fa was adopted at Lovedale Institution with considerable success and a fine tradition of choral music was established there.  Almost half of the “African Native Choir” who visited Britain in 1891 came from Lovedale and the band established there employed Tonic Sol-fa notation for reading instrumental music (Mus Her 1892, p.73).  With the publication of music in Tonic Sol-fa notation being promoted by the Lovedale Press, music composed by several indigenous South Africans was printed and widely distributed.  Although Lovedale Training Institution appears to have been a major centre for Tonic Sol-fa teaching, there were many other missions in rural areas where the method was utilised not only in teacher training but also as part of the evangelical outreach to the indigenous community.  However, in urban areas where the influence of the mission “station” was far less apparent, Tonic Sol-fa also assumed an important role in public and other government-supported schools.  TONIC SOL-FA IN PUBLIC AND OTHER GOVERNMENT-SUPPORTED SCHOOLS IN URBAN AREAS  One of the pioneer Tonic Sol-fa teachers in South Africa was Christopher Birkett who came from Newport, Monmouth in England to Cape Colony about 1854.  Birkett trained at the Westminster (Teacher) Training College with another key figure, Henry Nixon, in 1853-54 (Sch Mus Rev 1894, p.74).  Although both men had been trained at Westminster in Hullah's method of teaching singing (which was based on the “fixed doh” principle), they had later learned about the Tonic Sol-fa method informally through private study (Mus Her 1894, p. 263).  Christopher Birkett’s early Tonic Sol-fa teaching was focussed on the indigenous (Xhosa) population, having introduced Tonic Sol-fa teaching into native day schools and to Sunday school choirs in Grahamstown, Cradock and Healdtown on the east coast (Malan 1979b, p.130).  After about ten years in Grahamstown, he took a post as the principal of a “superior” European school at Fort Beaufort and his work at Grahamstown was taken over by John Wedderburn and a Mr Hawkins.  A local Tonic Sol-fa Association was formed, and during the 1870s, Wedderburn trained the “Bantu Total Abstinence Benefit Society Choir”, presumably using Tonic Sol-fa (Malan 1979b, p.130).  At the town of Graaff Reinet (north-west of Grahamstown), George Kidd, who was a teacher in a government school there, was reportedly teaching a children’s singing class using Tonic Sol-fa in 1861.  He later established an adult choral singing class, again utilising the Tonic Sol-fa method and notation (Henning 1979b, p.104).  Another pioneer was James H. Ashley (1824-1898) who introduced Tonic Sol-fa to Cape Town on the west coast during the 1860s (Mus Her 1894, p. 263).  After some effort, Ashley and Henry Nixon (who was also located in Cape Town) were successful in having Tonic Sol-fa adopted in government schools.  About 1882, the then Superintendent General of Education, Dr (later Sir) Langham Dale, introduced music into the syllabus of subjects for the Public School Teacher's Certificate and Nixon was appointed as Inspector of Music in Training Colleges and Schools for the Cape Colony (Sch Mus Rev 1894, p.74; Mus Her 1894, p. 263).  Dale was apparently so impressed by Nixon's advocacy of Tonic Sol-fa that the system was put on an equal footing with staff notation for use in public schools (Mus Her 1894, p. 263).    Dale's successor as Superintendent General of Education in 1891 was Dr Thomas Muir—reportedly “himself a lover of music” (Sch Mus Rev 1894, p.74).  Muir commissioned Nixon as inspector of music to report on the state of music in Cape schools and, as a result, two instructors—Arthur Lee and James Rodger—were appointed to teach Tonic Sol-fa at the male and female teacher training colleges in Cape Town (Mus Her 1894, p.263).  All teacher trainees was required to pass a sight singing test which was examined by Nixon.  For over twenty years, Nixon as the inspector of school music appears to have propagated Tonic Sol-fa at every opportunity, including a period which he devoted to teaching singing to the Hottentot people (Mus Her 1894, p.263).  Nixon's promotion of Tonic Sol-fa was recognised by his election as an honorary member of the Tonic Sol-fa College in 1894 (Mus Her 1894, p.36).  By 1895, Arthur Lee, who was also an ardent Tonic Sol-fa-ist, had established a choir of 600 children from government schools in the Cape Town area.  Examinations of the Tonic Sol-fa College appear to have been widely promoted in Cape Town schools as completion of the Junior Certificate examination was a prerequisite for choir membership (Sch Mus Rev 1895, p.116).  The following year, the choir numbers had increased to 700 and, at its annual concert in Cape Town, the choir was accompanied by an orchestra (Sch Mus Rev 1896, p.137).  The concert included an un-rehearsed program of hand-sign singing and sight-reading introduced by Thomas Muir (Superintendent General of Education) who openly encouraged the adoption of Tonic Sol-fa in schools.  However, in other parts of the Cape Colony—for example Uitenhage near Port Elizabeth on the east coast—where Tonic sol-fa had been introduced to the indigenous population, the method was apparently not as popular among the white community because of its association with the indigenous people and because of “other prejudices” (Mus Her 1896, pp.55-56).  It may be assumed that the Cape Town Schools Choir consisted largely if not entirely of children from the white community as it is unlikely that children of Hottentot or other indigenous groups would have attended government schools in Cape Town at this time.   By 1897 (some time after Nixon’s retirement), Cape Colony had, for the purposes for school music at least, been divided into two “circuits” which were inspected respectively by Frederick Farrington (Eastern Districts) and Arthur Lee (Western Districts).  Both men were strong advocates of Tonic Sol-fa.  Frederick Farrington (1869-1931) emigrated from North Staffordshire to South Africa in 1893 and the following year was appointed as Inspector of Music for the Cape Colony.  With the division of the music inspectorate into two “circuits”, Farrington was based in the Port Elizabeth-Uitenhage area and, within a year of his arrival, over 3,500 children were being taught singing by Tonic Sol-fa.  Also in 1898, the first examinations of the Tonic Sol-fa College were held in Port Elizabeth (Henning 1979c, p.56).  Farrington also introduced school choir competitions which survived in Port Elizabeth until 1912-13 (Malan 1979c, p.98).  Farrington was also interested in promoting choral music among the indigenous community and, with Colonel E. Smedley-Williams, organised a Native Musical Association in East London and instituted choral singing competitions (Henning 1979c, p.57). Farrington qualified as an Associate of the Tonic Sol-fa College probably during the late 1920s.  Arthur Lee came from Birstall near Leeds, was trained as a teacher at Westminster Training College, and briefly taught in London before emigrating to South Africa (Mus Her 1898, p.269).  He was employed as a teacher in a government school in Cape Town before being appointed as one of two instructors for the teacher training colleges in Cape Town and later as Inspector of Singing for the Western Province. After three years of working in the Cape Town area, Lee extended his promotion of singing by Tonic Sol-fa to the whole province, undertaking extensive tours to inspect rural farm schools and native mission schools as well as schools in more populous centres.  Like Farrington, Lee actively promoted the certificate examinations of the Tonic Sol-fa College, particularly the School Teacher’s Music Certificate (Mus Her 1914, p.206).  By 1898, there were several types of schools receiving government support—public schools (first and second class schools), church schools (third class schools), mission schools, poor schools and farm schools—in both the Eastern and Western Provinces.  Farrington reported that “the powers of the natives are astonishing” and also remarked on “the quickness of the native children” in mission schools where “it is not uncommon to find all the available blackboard space covered with hymns and anthems” (Sch Mus Rev 1898, pp.23-23).  Both music inspectors reported on the continuing success of examinations for Tonic Sol-fa College certificates, with 498 being awarded in the Eastern Districts and 1,244 awarded in the Western Districts by 1898 (Sch Mus Rev 1898, pp.23-23, 33).  The following year (1899), the number of Tonic Sol-fa College certificates awarded in the Eastern Districts increased to 736 and the number in Western Districts almost doubled to 2,179 (Sch Mus Rev 1899, pp.63-64, 102).  Thus, by the close of the nineteenth century, Tonic Sol-fa had had a major impact not only on music in public school education but also in mission schools, teacher training institutions and local communities.  It had enabled a high degree of musical literacy among indigenous people and, although it could be claimed that Tonic Sol-fa was one of the “instruments of cultural colonization”, it nevertheless contributed to the enrichment of people’s lives during the nineteenth century and indeed laid a strong foundation for the later development of a fine African choral music tradition.  REFERENCES  Curwen, J.S. & Graham, J. (n.d. [1891]), The Tonic Sol-fa Jubilee: A Popular Record and Handbook.  London: J. Curwen and  Sons. Dean, E., Hartman, P. & Katzen, M. (1983), History in Black and White: An Analysis of South Africa Schools History Textbooks.  Paris: UNESCO. Ferguson, W.T. & Immelman, R.F.M. (1961), Sir John Herschel and Education at the Cape, 1843-1840.  Cape Town: Oxford University Press. Gandhi, M.K. (1905), “Education among the Kaffirs”, Indian Opinion (30 December 1905), in Complete Work of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 5, <> (accessed 13 April 2001). Henning, C.G. (1979a) “Daines, Thomas”, in J.P. Malan (ed.), South African Music Encyclopedia, vol. I.  Cape Town: Oxford University Press. Henning, C.G. (1979b), “Graaff Reinet”, in J.P. Malan (ed.), South African Music Encyclopedia, vol. II.  Cape Town: Oxford University Press Henning, C.G. (1979c), “Farrington, Frederick”, in J.P. Malan (ed.), South African Music Encyclopedia, vol. II.  Cape Town: Oxford University Press Khumalo, M. (1998), “Choirs”, 1998 Guide to South African Arts, Culture and Heritage, <> (accessed 2 May 2001). Kirby, P.R. (1979) “Sontonga, Enoch”, in J.P. Malan (ed.), South African Music Encyclopedia, vol. IV. Cape Town: Oxford University Press. Malan, J.P. (1979a), “Bokwe, John Knox”, in J.P. Malan (ed.), South African Music Encyclopedia, vol. I.  Cape Town: Oxford University Press. Malan, J.P. (1979b) “Grahamstown”, in J.P. Malan (ed.), South African Music Encyclopedia, vol. II.  Cape Town: Oxford University Press  Malan, J.P. (1979c) “Port Elizabeth, Music in (1820-1920)”, in J.P. Malan (ed.), South African Music Encyclopedia, vol. IV.  Cape Town: Oxford University Press. Mngoma, K. (1990), “The Teaching of Music in South Africa”, South African Journal of Musicology, no. 10, pp.121-126. Nettel, R. (1944), Music in the Five Towns 1840-1914: A Study of the Social Influence of Music in an Industrial District. London: Oxford University Press. Rainbow, B. (1980), John Curwen: A Short Critical Biography.  Sevenoaks, Kent: Novello and Company, Limited. Republic of South Africa (1997), Government Gazette, no. 18341 (10 October 1997). Stevens, R.S. (1978), Music in State Supported-Education in New South Wales and Victoria, 1848-1920, Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms International. Stevens, R.S. (1981), “Music: A Humanising and Civilising Influence in Education”, in G. Featherstone (ed.) The Colonial Child, Royal Historical Society of Victoria, Melbourne.  Stevens, R.S. (2001), 'The Case for a Revival of Tonic Sol-fa in the Twenty-First Century', paper presented at the XXIIIrd Annual Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Music Education, Newcastle (NSW), September 21-24, 2001. Shepherd, R.H.W. (1941), Lovedale, South Africa: The Story of a Century, 1841-1941. Lovedale, Cape Province, South Africa: The Lovedale Press. The Tonic Sol-fa Reporter (1883-1891). London: John Curwen and Sons (TSf Rep). The Musical Herald (1892-1914). London: John Curwen and Sons (Mus Her). The School Music Review (1892-1899).  London: Novello and Company, Limited (Sch Mus Rev). Van Wyk, C. (1998), “Choral Singing in South Africa”, South African Music Teacher Magazine, no. 132. Bibliographic Resources Overview ISME Website History Standing Committee IHME Homepage Copyright © 2014 History Standing Committee, International Society for Music Education (ISME) Overview