Rus Nerwich has created a module within the music industry that is accessible, affordable and approachable. The time for inclusivity is now.
Rus Nerwich couldn’t play his instrument of choice when he enrolled in music at university. Knowingly in touch that talent wasn’t a natural asset he was gifted with, he willed music into his life because of the pivotal contribution it would make to understanding himself, and in the future, the lives of others, through the vulnerable and exploratory processes of songwriting.
Stumped by his acceptance, he got in purely by an administrative error. In his entry interview with the Dean of the music faculty at UCT, he was candid immediately and explained that he couldn’t play the saxophone, but his needs to ascertain a relationship with this instrument was part of fulfilling his truth. Missing a matric exemption and the hollow knowledge of music in any foundation, Rus applied for a student loan, and with the fortunes of his future backing him up, the loan got approved, and by default, was accepted into music at a tertiary level.
It goes without saying that the first day of his music degree was unlike those of his peers. He arrived on his first day surrounded by heavy duty players, sat outside the lecturer’s door and commanded the attention of his teacher to be, saying he was ready to start learning so he could start the beginnings of his purpose.
And today, spanning a 15-year career as a professional musician, Rus has used music to create personal narratives to broaden the spectrum of sound in elements drawn in by the philosophy, evolution, healing and conceptual values. It seems natural that the next step was to pass on his learnings in the form of a music school and recording studio.
The Woodstock Academy of Music’s (WAM) origin only came into thought three months before it opened. Apprehensive about the colder season arriving and the knowledge that fewer gigs were on the horizon, an unplanned discussion with piano player Nick Williams would plant the seed for what WAM is today. Rus didn’t want his livelihood to be in the hands of a few restaurateurs. Nick said he was thinking about teaching. The idea was born.
“I realised I didn’t have to get up everyday and just think about myself, my gigs and my albums. I am driven by the idea of being of service to other people. I feel like it’s the only way you can make a contribution to the world. Purpose is a very central philosophy in my mind with regards to how you live a content life, so I started imagining what we could teach and what we had to offer.”
The school was built on a kind of cut and base scenario. He met the owner of the building that WAM currently operates from, then was introduced to the space, which had been street artist Faith47’s studio (a good omen to begin) and started turning the area into a foundation for emerging musicians to welcome into. The programme started with a few students whereby Rus tried to track and monitor the admin of it all. After four months of doing it solo, he realised he needed assistance in guiding the school to where he wanted it to move and brought on Dean Berger (of Bateleur and Birthday Girl) to help shape its direction.
Today, WAM exists as an interesting organism. What they envisioned lin 2016 is starting to take shape. The school has gone from no students to 600 hours a month. In addition to the lessons offered on the premises, they also share lessons at schools that connect to the pool of thoughts within Rus’s philosophy. WAM is developing a unique curriculum that will be implemented in a few schools which is completely different from what is being taught. The aim is to make South African music accessible to children from a young age.
All the theory is going to be drawn from what they are learning to play. Joining the process and team contribution is a music therapist who advises on the elements of what they’re doing in exercises and processes and how to harness that energy.
The hardest part of drawing a picture on a piece of paper is your ability to see clearly the image in your mind. The hardest thing about composition is to pre-hear the melody in your head. Pictures are easier because you can visualise finite visuals over sound. Their goal is to implement simple exercises of matching notes to rhythms and then playing it out loud to see if children like it or change the melody. Their approach is simple: teach children to read music, become accustomed to the pitch, and after a few months, start to identify their own musical language of how they want to write.
‘I am deeply rooted in the belief that music is one of the most potent and powerful ways of reaching people and connecting to them [children].”
WAM’s whole system is setup to facilitate you going further. Rus started with a booking agency eight years ago and then built a record label. He wants to support individuals with talent and assist them in nurturing their skills by giving them a platform to release and promote their work. Fame is not what we’re going for. They are making the reality of music clear, about what environments you’ll be going into within the music industry and levelling their expectations.
In echoing the sentiment that practise makes perfect, WAM has created a module that is accessible, affordable and approachable to new students and musicians who want to record, but don’t have the backing of a mega label or the budget to do so. The space is open for rehearsing and crafting your music rather than smashing out a track with your buddies. For as little as R50 per hour for a solo rehearsal session or R80 for a band, the industry becomes a little more accommodating in that sense when there’s people around that allow it to exist this way.
In terms of classes and the teachers that form part of the WAM team, Rus runs the school in an open and sincere way. The teachers let them know what they’d like to earn. Some teachers have never taught before, but Rus won’t turn people away, because what he is creating is an all-inclusive space that allows for communication, learning and channeling skills to one’s best potential.
“I am constantly looking to move the interaction and experience. I strive for positivity.”
Visit the Woodstock Academy of Music online for more information on what music lessons they offer.