Music teacher steps down after 40 years

Ronnie Samaai with daughters, Desiré Samaai and Michelle Smith (nee Samaai) and wife Eileen Samaai.

Ronnie Samaai has stepped down from public life after almost 40 years of teaching music.

He was vice-rector of the Bellville College of Education until 1996 when he retired. He then founded the Western Cape Music Education Project in Kuils River in 1997, which was renamed after him in 2016.

Mr Samaai has spent the past 20 years on the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra board as
chair of the Youth Development Committee overseeing the orchestra’s vast development and skills transfer projects.

The CPO board has bestowed the Order of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra on him for his huge impact on the orchestra.

This is only the fourth time it has been presented, says CPO executive officer, Louis Heyneman.

Mr Samaai, who turns 84 on Wednesday July 15, was one of seven brothers. “We had family music making sessions,” he says, “with neighbours popping in to join the singing. We were so lucky to play sport, breathe fresh air, build good strong bodies, and have loving parents. Qualities I’ve passed on throughout my life.”

He attended free orchestra rehearsals at the City Hall on Saturday mornings and dreamed of playing with them, but he was born at the wrong time, he says.

One day he approached orchestra leader Artemisio Paganini who invited him to play a piece he was preparing for an exam.

Afterwards, Mr Paganini told the young violinist he should be playing with the orchestra to which Mr Samaai explained that he couldn’t because of “stupid apartheid laws”.

“Mr Paganini said a bad word, which I won’t repeat”, says Mr Samaai.

He passed the exam and devoted himself to the young so that this would never happen again.

Mr Samaai has been a violin teacher since he was 19. He believes that music is a powerful tool – something he realised when giving lessons in Khayelitsha. Unable to speak Xhosa, he saw that the children understood him through music.

He says watching children progress and bloom to become confident young people has been a highlight of his career.

“If you do this, you build a better society and a quality person,” he says.

Another highlight was taking three students to Norway in 2010. He stayed on to teach master violin classes for six years. And yet another highlight was being awarded a scholarship by Trinity College in 1970. This enabled him to receive advanced lessons in violin.

Mr Heyneman says Mr Samaai was a force behind the youth education and development projects. He has played an indelible role in quality transformation. His commitment to youth stemming from the pre-1990s has made him one of the most honoured and honourable music educators in the country.

CPO board chairperson, Derek Auret, says Mr Samaai has been “a pillar of strength to the organisation and a sterling trooper”.

He adds that Mr Samaai’s work at the CPO “remains as testimony to a job well done and to a great and grand achievement”.

Since making the decision to withdraw from public life, Mr Samaai has kept busy painting the house, gardening and playing violin. As for his favourite violin piece, he unhesitatingly says it is Chaconne Partita No. 2 in D Minor for solo violin because, he says, it is technically and musically challenging.

Mr Samaai is thrilled about receiving the CPO award and says he is confident they will continue the good work.

He studied at the Royal Schools of Music and became a Fellow of Trinity College. Later, he
obtained a degree in musicology from Unisa

He is a recipient of a Kanna Award from the KKNK (Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees) for his contribution to the arts and he received a Fiesta Award for his life contribution to music in South Africa.

Mr Samaai lives in Paarl with wife, Eileen. He has two daughters, Michelle Smith, who lives in Australia and is a violin teacher as is her daughter. His other
daughter, Desiré Samaai, was a principal dancer with Cape
Town City Ballet and is head of the Academy School of the Arts in London.

“You are in the service of the arts. You practice because the art is bigger than you. In other words, you serve the art,” says Mr Samaai.