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[ Thulani Mahloko was one of three students selected for an exchange programme with the Royal College of Music in Stockholm from August 2017 to January 2018. This is Part 1 of his story (lightly edited for clarity and flow). ]

Interesting, fun and funny moments

One of the most interesting experiences was when I first took the metro to the city centre with the other South African exchange students. I sat across from a young lady and tried to be courteous by greeting her, but she just looked away. I could not understand why this was happening, but I let it go. The reason for her behaviour didn’t dawn on me until I was made aware of how reserved the Swedes are.

Thulani Mahloko

Very excited on the first day at KMH!

Another time, during my third month in Stockholm, I walked into the metro and it was full of people, but as silent as a church. Even though I then knew of the reserved nature of the Swedish people, it felt so weird to be on a train so silent, so I started to have conversations with some people. Almost every time people were happy to talk to me and said, “Thank you for the conversation.” I don’t know if it’s because I’m South African or in my nature, but it was really nice to talk to people and make them smile.

One time I met a lady going to a hospital. She told me that she had been worried, but after having a conversation with me she felt calmer and lighter, which made a great impression. I’m happy I left a good image of home to her. Contrary to this, there was a time when we were traveling to Väsby and we heard singing on the train. It was very interesting and refreshing to hear young people singing together on their way to school.

Another interesting moment was when I heard from Nozipho, my South African colleague, that she went to a hospital and they said that they only help people from Europe. As time passed, I kept hearing more about this and it was fascinating. I thought to myself, What would happen if a person from America would go to that hospital in a state of almost death, would they turn them back saying that they don’t treat people not from Europe?

While in Stockholm I lost my uncle. This was a very sad time for me, especially because there was almost nothing I could do to help my mother and my family deal with this. It was even sadder because this was the first death I’d experienced in my life and thus didn’t know how to deal with it, but I found it easier when I talked about it to those around me.

Thulani Mahloko

Chocolate ‘medal’ at the Nobel Museum.

One of the best moments was when I heard that Gustavo Dudamel (the world famous conductor) would be in Stockholm for the Nobel Awards. I was fortunate enough to see and meet him at the Nobel Museum and asked him for a short video clip for the South African National Youth Orchestra. Later one of my friends that studied in Vienna told me that Gustavo would be performing for the event with an orchestra composed of young people from around the world. I was invited to watch them rehearse for the prestige evening. It was fantastic seeing Gustavo in rehearsal. I had never even thought it would be a possibility for me.

I was very happy to be able to play with snow. Although it didn’t snow as much, I enjoyed the little snow we had, only to hear that the day we left was the day Sweden got a snow storm! I have a theory that Sweden was playing a cruel prank on me…


Teacher training programme

Studying in Stockholm has been an amazing experience. The Royal College of Music is an amazing institution with some of the best lecturers I’ve ever met, very kind students, and a place filled with nothing but love and happiness; I never felt out of place. The teacher training programme was the best thing to ever happen to me. There has been a big change in me and in my approach to teaching and learning from those I teach and those I learn from. This programme has helped me widen my approach in teaching and helped change my perception of teaching. Doing my practical task was very fun, but I learnt that it isn’t as easy as I thought it would be to prepare a lesson for children of different ages, mind-sets and perceptions to focus, learn, understand and love what I am teaching. That was when I realised that being a music teacher might be one of the most difficult careers in the world, but it can also be the most rewarding.

Looking back at how all classes reacted and behaved before and after music class is always very interesting. The learners would come to the class excited, and they leave the class with love in their hearts and life within them. This is what I aim to do every day for at least one person — making a positive difference in someone’s life that will stay with them forever. That is where the beauty of music teaching lies, and where the joy comes from.

Learning how children’s minds develop and work has been very interesting and amazing to me. Using children’s imagination, perception and their minds to teach them is a lot of work, but a gift. Making lessons much more fun and interactive and engaging to learners makes a difference to how they perceive and understand their life. By making the children enjoy their lessons and classes they become more involved and learn to love class and school, and also to love what they do, thus making the lesson more of an experience than a duty for the learners.

Thulani Mahloko

The biggest snowball I could lift.

Through the teaching I have also learnt how to teach myself and understand my own music differently and better in many ways. I have also learnt to explore different avenues to learning music and understanding it beyond what it is. Sometimes I learn without even noticing that I am doing so, and when I do I figure out how this can be incorporated in a lesson, not only that I may teach the art or skill, but also to understand it and how it came about.

I had not understood why my voice lecturer always used the physical body to explain abstract thoughts until I learnt the link between music making and learning and the body. The body plays a very great role in one’s learning ability and possibility, that is why when my small toe is in pain I cannot sing as well because of the small yet immense role it plays in my singing and learning of music. Using the body as means of learning seems to be a very efficient way of learning. It stimulates both the body and mind and is usually much fun. I have also learnt and started to venture into other streams of teaching and learning, such as talking less in the lesson, as little as possible.

Everyone, regardless of age, has a little bit of a child in them. This is something I learnt while discovering methods of teaching, and using that little bit of a child in them can make teaching and learning music better and more exciting and fun for everyone, if done correctly. Using colours, shapes, and other objects like ropes and rings always links a person with a bit of a fun time, thus already encouraging positive learning. Using people’s physical abilities and the child in them makes for a great learning and teaching experience, both for the teacher and learners. The understanding of music has been made difficult because of the thinking that music can be taught and learnt, rather than that it can and should be experienced in order to be learnt. That is why music is best taught through movement and experience, rather than sitting down and writing.

[ Continue to Part 2 of Thulani’s story ]

Thulani Mahloko is a final year BA Music & Society student at the NWU School of Music, majoring in voice. He is also a percussion player.