The Academy


Principal: Michael Bullivant, M.A. (Cantab)
Director of Music: Rose Green, L.T.C.L.
Administrator: Bruce McDonald

Council: Michael Bullivant, Jeanette Delport, John Fielder, Jean Garrett, Rose Green, Ken Jerrard (Chairman),  John Kaufman, Bruce McDonald, Deon Marcus, Les Ross, Rita Stewart

Finance Committee: Michael Bullivant, John Fielder, Ken Jerrard (Chairman),  Bruce McDonald, Deon Marcus, Les Ross  

Trustees: David Coltart, Eugene Gordon

Address: P.O.Box FM 640, Famona, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Tel: [263 9] 60684 or 67195

The Academy is a non-profit making trust and a registered welfare organisation recognised by the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture.  It offers individual tuition in various instruments plus voice – the enrolment is 170 with an age range of 6 to 80. Currently it teaches piano, guitar, violin, flute, clarinet, bassoon, recorder and voice but hopes to include most orchestral instruments by the end of 2012. There are also weekly theory classes for all grades, a percussion band, recorder groups and a small choir, the Academy Singers. From the beginning of 2012, there will be a junior instrumental group and a senior orchestra.

Within the Academy there is a School of Rock which teaches guitar, drumming, voice, etc. and runs a pop band.

Individual and group lessons in marimba and mbira are also available.

Students are entered for international examinations, either ABRSM or Trinity and Guildhall. Internal assessments are offered for the lower grade practical examinations but for Grade 6 and above candidates travel to either South Africa or Botswana.  Attempts are currently under way to bring external examiners back to Zimbabwe.

The Academy operates on a programme of three twelve-week terms that coincide with the school terms and all registered students receive a weekly lesson in the term of either 30, 40 or 60 minutes duration. However, the Academy remains open throughout the year and lessons can continue during school holidays by arrangement.

The Academy has a formal link with Girls’ College in Bulawayo and also acts as an adjunct to that school’s music department.


For more than 60 years, the Zimbabwe Academy of Music (ZAM) has stood for ambition, inspiration and optimism. Thousands of children and adults have studied music and taken international exams at its Bulawayo campus. In recent years it has been the driving force behind the Bulawayo Music Festival, which has continued bringing celebrated international artists to Zimbabwe throughout the darkest of times. Its main performing venue, the renowned Robert Sibson Hall, is one of the finest in sub-Saharan Africa, and is a centre point for the cultural life of Zimbabwe’s second city. Since its foundation as a national not-for-profit organisation in 1949, the Academy has welcomed students of all races and ages, and actively seeks to encourage black Zimbabweans to study musical instruments and voice.



Sir John Barbirolli spent a month in Bulawayo in June and July 1953. He came with the Hallé Orchestra as part of perhaps the most ambitious festival ever mounted in southern Africa, if not in number of events then certainly in the numbers of performers from Britain, more than three hundred of them. Not only was the Hallé Orchestra here but also soloists, chorus and orchestra from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Sadler’s Wells Theatre (now Royal) Ballet and a theatrical troupe led by Sir John Gielgud who directed and starred in Shakespeare’s Richard II. It was all in honour of the imminent proclamation of the Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland and, more especially, the centenary of the birth of Cecil John Rhodes on 5 July 1853. As such, it is as potent an example as any of the change in perceptions and values that has taken place in the last half century.

There were nearly a hundred players in the Hallé and their departure was seen on television. One interested viewer was the Queen Mother who was to follow with Princess Margaret a couple of weeks later, and she apparently commented on how happy everyone looked. Once arrived there was plenty of hard work since in just two weeks from Monday 22 June to Saturday 4 July there were no fewer than fourteen orchestral concerts with five completely different programmes, all culminating in a gala concert on the eve of Rhodes’ centenary. Sunday was still a day of rest then but there were matinées on the Wednesdays to make up. In addition a substantial part of the orchestra then became the Hallé Theatre Orchestra for the ballet performances, some of them conducted by Barbirolli himself including a memorable presentation of Act II of Swan Lake when water from the Matsheumhlope river seeped into the pit so that most of the orchestra played barefoot with their trousers rolled to the knees.  And, when the orchestra had left, he stayed on to conduct both Aïda and La Bohème with the Covent Garden forces.

The orchestral programmes embraced many of Sir John’s favourite works, the symphonies including Haydn No.88, Beethoven No.7, Berlioz Fantastique, Brahms No.2 and Sibelius No.2 and concertos Beethoven No.4 (Denis Matthews), and two by Mozart, Violin No.5 (Beryl Kimber) and Oboe (Evelyn Rothwell – Lady Barbirolli).  Other works included the Enigma Variations, Till Eulenspiegel, La Mer, the Second Suite from Daphnis and Chloë and a variety of overtures – The Mastersingers, The Thieving Magpie, Le Carnaval Romain, Don Pasquale and Der Freischütz.  There was a novelty too, some of the earliest performances of Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antarctica, premièred in England only a few months earlier and heard no fewer than three times: Barbirolli and Vaughan Williams had become close friends by this time and the 80-year-old composer was to dedicate his next symphony to ‘Glorious John’.

All these concerts (and the opera and ballet) took place in The Theatre Royal, in fact a camouflaged aircraft hangar made largely of corrugated iron and situated on the site of the current Centenary Park Amphitheatre. (It was subsequently removed to Harare and still stands at the airport there.) It seated three thousand and the acoustic was generally held to be good – though (like Bulawayo’s subsequent concert halls) it was not proof against intrusive noise: a railway line with an ungated level crossing ran close by in those days and at seven minutes part nine each evening a train halted and sounded its whistle for a minute, as required by the regulations. At one concert it was heard all too clearly in the Enigma Variations at the point where the clarinet has a pianissimo quotation from Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage Overture. An orchestra humorist afterwards suggested to Barbirolli, ‘It must have been the boat train, sir’.

It was a glorious June by day, one of the coldest on record by night, and the Theatre Royal was unheated. As the season progressed, many of the audience came with rugs and hot water bottles whilst the players wore pyjamas under their dress suits and for at least one concert Sir John wore his greatcoat to conduct. Peter Rollason, now Academy bookkeeper, was very involved backstage and on more than one occasion Sir John implored him to rub his frozen hands during the interval!  (By contrast, imperturbable as ever, the Queen Mother sat through the Gala in an off-the-shoulder evening dress.) When the festival was over, Barbirolli claimed that on average every member of the white population of Bulawayo had attended one concert and that others had travelled thousands of miles to hear ‘my great orchestra’. Even so, the organisers had over-anticipated demand (some programmes were given three hearings, the rest two) and figures suggest that the concerts as a whole played to around two-thirds capacity.

Not so the Gala. It was crammed and room found for an extra two hundred seats: ‘An enormous audience’, Sir John exulted, ‘not another soul could have got a toe into the theatre. And everybody, please note, in evening dress’.  In his account for HALLÉ (the orchestra’s magazine), he wrote that the royal box blazed with orders and flowers and altogether the scene suggested ‘not a relatively new-born city but an occasion of State in some great and ancient capital’. There was a further pleasing touch in that he conducted the concert with the baton which he had used for the very first concert of the reconstituted orchestra ten years earlier to the exact day. He had not known the baton was still around but the devoted librarian, ‘Tommy’ Cheetham, had put it by for a suitable anniversary occasion and thought there could be none better than this. Sir John mentioned the anniversary when, during the interval, he was presented to the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, both of whom he found ‘extremely sensitive, knowledgeable and enthusiastic listeners’, and the Queen Mother wished him another happy ten years with his orchestra.

Despite his heavy schedule, Sir John revelled in everything that happened to him: he umpired a cricket match and stayed on for the braai that followed – ‘succulent meats cooked in deep embers, probably the most primitive form of cooking – and still the best, I would say’; he was driven to the Matopos and Rhodes’ Grave in a convoy of private cars by members of the Bulawayo Municipal Orchestra (it only became the Bulawayo Philharmonic Orchestra twenty years later when Derek Hudson arrived and sadly disbanded in the early years of the new millennium); he played first cello in an impromptu performance of Schubert’s Quintet at a Bulawayo home at one in the morning; he laid the foundation stone of what was then the Rhodesian Academy of Music; after concerts he cooked for his guests in his hotel suite where he had a small fridge and cooker installed since, he claimed, it was almost impossible to get a meal served in Bulawayo after eight.  And he was delighted by the list of howlers committed (or invented) by those who could not get his name right: Sir John Bradman, Sir John Broccoli, Sir John Bismarck, Sir John Barrymore and, he thought, best of all, Sir Barber Olly.

Sir John laid the foundation stone of the Academy of Music on Tuesday 30 June when the first phase of the building, the present south wing, was already complete.  The foundation stone is a very substantial piece of granite with a beautifully polished face and it was positioned to the left of what was then the main entrance. As plans progressed, a second wing was added, then the two wings were joined by the central block and so front became back with the result that for more than thirty years the stone languished on what is now a rear wall, seen by very few. It was moved to a site just to the left of the main entrance in 2006 and re-dedicated immediately before the opening concert of that year’s festival by Ania Safonova, associate leader of the Hallé, when she used the selfsame trowel that Sir John was given 53 years ago.

The first part of the story of how the trowel came to return to Bulawayo can best be told by The Chiel, writing in The Chronicle on 8 January 1976:
There’s a souvenir of Bulawayo history for sale in England – and I wonder if there’s a chance of it returning home?
The souvenir is a solid silver, hallmarked trowel which was presented to Sir John Barbirolli after he laid the foundation stone of the Rhodesian Academy of Music in Bulawayo in 1953….  A collector has approached the Barbirolli Society, offering the trowel for sale, and he claims the value of the silver and craftsmanship must be over £100. The trowel, which has a bone or ivory handle, is still in its black presentation case.
It seems that Sir John gave the trowel to a charity auction some years ago [not so – as was subsequently made clear, it was only after his death in 1970 that it was auctioned], and it is now in the possession of Mr.Peter Rowland of Cheshire.  Mr.Rowland is asking for bids in writing before January 31, and says he will offer the trowel for sale at Sotheby’s, or a similar saleroom, if no suitable bid is received.
A spokesman for the Academy in Bulawayo told me yesterday that the Academy does not have money to buy the souvenir and will not be making any bids.  I wonder if there is some public-spirited Bulawayan with money to spare (preferably in England) who might like to buy back the trowel for the Academy?  It would look rather nice in a display case in the entrance hall.

The rest is simply told. A considerable number of ‘public-spirited Bulawayans’ came forward, and there were several from around the country too, 108 in all, so that not only was the trowel purchased but there was a substantial donation to the Academy Students’ Bursary Fund. The trowel was officially received back by Robert Sibson at a ceremony on 25 November 1976 when the Academy Orchestra played Sir John’s Elizabethan Suite, a work which had featured in that Royal Gala 23 years earlier.  Since then the trowel has indeed been on display in the Academy foyer where in 2006 it was joined by a photograph of Sir John, a permanent reminder of the building’s proud link with one of the very greatest of all conductors.

[The first part of this article is heavily indebted to Michael Kennedy’s biography of Sir John Barbirolli]