With a state-of-the-art performing and visual arts centre, The Edge, the girls at St Mary’s have access to superb facilities that allow the development of creativity in all spheres. The 530-seat concert hall or theatre, natural light art studios, music practice rooms and loud practice rooms, dramatic art venues and a superbly fitted dance studio give our girls the facilities required to extend their understanding of their creativity.
Visual Arts, Dramatic Arts and Music are firmly entrenched in the curriculum, and the girls are encouraged to explore their talents in a wide range of cultural activities. These include choir, jazz band, string ensemble, marimbas, debating, public speaking and folk guitar, to name only a few. Private lessons in a wide variety of instruments are available to St Mary’s girls.
The current thinking is that pupils can easily be taught skills, but creative and imaginative ideas are increasingly sought after in the workplace. St Mary’s girls are encouraged to explore their cultural talents and become leaders in critical, lateral thought.
Chess is a fun and challenging game that anyone can play. More and more research on the benefits of chess show that it enhances cognitive function. It improves memory, creativity, problem-solving skills, and develops the ability to focus and maintain concentration.
The On The Edge Dance Project offers a dynamic and varied programme. A team of qualified teachers provides the girls with the basics in a variety of dance styles, such as hip hop, Afro-fusion, jazz, contemporary, solo Latin and ballroom. The girls are exposed to a variety of fitness techniques to aid strength, flexibility and body awareness. All girls, irrespective of skill or training, are welcome to join these dance classes. The St Mary’s Dance Crew provides a platform for choreography.
St Mary’s has a rich culture of debating and has produced a number of excellent debaters. In 2018, the junior teams made an incredible debut at the SACEE Debating League by winning three consecutive debates in the competition. The senior teams all progressed to the championship rounds.
The Edge building is alive in the afternoons, with offerings in sessions of theatre sports, acting for camera and Trinity drama. Theatre sports are high-energy lessons that will get girls thinking on their feet, develop creative stamina and build confidence. Acting for camera requires a distinctly different technique to live performance. With a booming television industry, this skill cannot be overlooked. Trinity College London is an internationally recognised examination board that offers a variety of Drama examinations, such as individual performances, acting in pairs, choral verse, group drama and performance art.
Although there is a natural progression through Trinity’s drama certificates and exams from Initial to Grade 8 and then on to Diplomas, candidates may enter at any level. All successful candidates in the Grade and Certificate examinations receive certificates showing their level of achievement as Pass, Merit or Distinction.
Gaming and robotics
There is little doubt that technology is a critical component for innovation. Competitive gaming and building robots afford the girls opportunities to learn to co-operate with others, thus improving their social interaction skills. The benefits of experiencing the pros and cons of competing include the regulation of one’s emotions, as well as the development of leadership skills.
St Mary’s School has an active co-curricular music programme, with a wide variety of instruments taught by a group of dedicated and professional musicians. Tuition is offered in piano, classical guitar, violin, cello, flute, clarinet, saxophone, recorder, trumpet and voice. If other instruments are requested, teachers can be sourced.
The department subscribes to the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and enters girls in the May and October examination sessions. Programmes are structured to suit the individual and entry into examinations and eisteddfods is carefully considered, taking into account personality and ability.
On various days of the week The Edge resounds with the exquisite sounds of the various choirs on campus. Vocal ensembles in the Senior School include the Senior School choir, chamber choir and traditional choir. No Eucharist, Patronal Festival or Old Girls’ Day would be celebrated quite as successfully without the strong and confident sounds of the choirs.
Contemporary music is alive and well on campus. The girls relate readily to contemporary genres and enjoy performing them. They provide the girls the opportunity to express their creativity through songwriting, improvisation and performance.
The jazz syllabus of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), Rock School and Trinity Rock and Pop syllabi are also offered at the school. St Mary’s is the examination centre for the ABRSM jazz examinations in Gauteng.
The bands and ensembles perform regularly at school and external functions, competitions and festivals. Original music is encouraged, and musicians are often provided with the opportunity to record their work. St Mary’s hosts an annual Battle of the Bands, at which bands from all over Gauteng compete for a range of prizes that are geared towards equipping the bands and their members for the music industry.
The St Mary’s Music department runs a dynamic ensemble programme. Girls playing instruments are encouraged to play in groups to develop their sight-reading skills and ensemble techniques. The Senior School orchestra, marimba bands, jazz band, rock bands, R&B band and keyboard ensembles perform regularly at important school events, external functions, competitions and festivals.
The Edge building is often alive in the afternoons, not only with rehearsals for productions, but also with a range of co-curricular activities. Xdrama and Slam Poetry encourage girls to break down inhibitions, and have confidence in their creativity and ability to express themselves.
Performing arts technology
Behind every great actor is an even better technician, making them look (and sound) good. The tech club takes responsibility for the smooth running of all the events and productions at school. The girls are introduced to all aspects of a conventional theatre, both backstage and behind the technical desk. They learn to rig lights and set up speakers, as well as programme and operate premium, industry-standard lighting and sound equipment. St Mary’s also offers DJ and sound production, where girls learn to make and record their own music.
Philosophy encourages one to think about thinking. The girls are introduced to great philosophical thinkers such as Descartes, Socrates and Plato, who paved the way for strange and wonderful ideas that unleash the imagination, and stretch the ability to solve puzzles and analyse concepts.
St Mary’s has an active, exciting digital photography club where girls are taught the techniques and best practice of creating, editing and retouching photographs. Camera techniques range from smartphones to DSLRs. We do this by activating the lessons and by taking photographs, but also exploring the fun side of picture taking so that the girls can train their eyes.
The girls have many opportunities, throughout the year, to take photographs at school and three competitions are offered to hone their skills. Girls can be awarded colours in both photography, which focuses on skill, and photography service, a sub-category of marketing.
Pottery classes are offered as a co-curricular activity from Grade 1 upwards. Working with clay is a wonderful activity for the girls, as it develops their creativity and stimulates their imaginations.
A child learns at an early age that anything that can be imagined, can be created. Working with clay improves dexterity, and promotes both fine and gross motor co-ordination. They derive a sense of great personal satisfaction from finishing a project.
Throughout the decades, outstanding communication skills have set apart great thinkers and leaders. The advancement of these skills is a critical investment in developing young women of today.
St Mary’s participates across all sections of the annual College of Speech and Drama Public Speaking Festival. These include the Open section for prepared and impromptu public speaking, the Trophy Team event and the Individual Speaker event. Throughout the years, St Mary’s has produced outstanding and confident speakers with a flair for the art of public speaking.
The school holds an annual internal public speaking competition, where each competitor is encouraged to hone her skills, and the standard of speaking is exceptional.
The Writers’ Circle aims to provide girls with the opportunity to experiment with writing styles, develop their skills and have fun. Writing for different purposes and audiences, and correction of structures and techniques, are covered in these sessions. Those who attend the Writers’ Circle demonstrate a marked improvement in their writing and an addiction to the group.