by Lungile Mathupha
This year Wits Choir is undertaking the task of demonstrating the power of music through shared experiences. With the slogan: “Touching hearts” we embark on various outreach workshops both locally and outside our borders. We will keep you posted on the happenings of these trips through the website and also at our gala concerts towards the end of the year – we will make sure that nobody misses out on these awesome initiatives.
The first of these outreach trips took place this past weekend. We jumped on our little bus on Friday 19 April, with Ta’ John at the wheel headed for the Maitisong Cultural Festival in Gaborone, Botswana.
Touchdown The feeling of leaving our borders made everyone super-excited and it arrived even before we crossed the border! They say rain is a sign of blessings to come and this was definitely the case – in the midst of the rain and wind, we all huddled together at the border gate laughing, grateful for the privilege and ready to finally be in Botswana to show what Wits Choir is all about.
Like on most of our trips, we get the itinerary and realise that we must be ‘prepared’ to be very busy. With three workshops ahead on the Saturday, we had to get our game on and fast. We kicked off on a high note with a most responsive group, the boys and girls of the Boabab Primary School Choir and their conductor Mr Dumezwa Sibindi. They loved learning and playing U kana kameme! Then it was the turn of the PPC National Youth Choir Conductor and their conductor, Lynn Glendinning. After an hour with them, we gave an impromptu performance! The third group comprised members of the community choir, Gaborone Philharmonic Voices with conductor Tebogo Dire and they sang KwaMashu along with us.
“The workshops are a great idea. I chose to work with the youth group and it was rather tricky, but near the end they loosened up and started to enjoy themselves. That’s what these are about- sharing the love of music. We get to show our music and let people share in the fun of learning it.” – Sharney Nel, Soprano
Temple Action While on a break between the workshops we had the opportunity to explore the Hare Krishna temple opposite the Baobab School. The external beauty is not even half of what lies inside. We slipped off our shoes and made our way up a stunning staircase.
We were greeted by the most intricate patterns and designs and statues, one of which looked so life-like that many of us had to blink a few times to make sure that it was only a statue. And right in the centre, surrounded by flowers and incense was Krishna with his elder brother Balarama. The calm that settled over us was beyond what words can describe
“The walls were in all these pretty pastel colours; like confectionery. Pure indulgence of the senses” – Tamzyn Botha, Photographer
It’s humbling to be well received by strangers, the worshippers we found at the church generously allowed us a peek into their world; we asked questions and were able to take part in the blessing. The hospitality of the people in the temple and their open-heartedness is something we will always remember.
The hour arrives After the workshops we freshened up and were ready for the main reason for our trip – the closing concert of the Maitisong Festival – we are bright-eyed and bushy- tailed! In our vibrant colours and with jittery expressions on our faces we sat listening to The No.1 Ladies Opera Team with US opera singers Nandani Maria Sinha and Lindsey Feldmeth at the helm. They showcased the local musical talents of aspiring opera singers who had participated in the opera programme.
Then it was our turn! The audience was not predominately Setswana, as we had imagined it would be; making it all the more rewarding to feel the energy from their reception of the music. I think we touched their hearts!
“The audience started getting involved and the choir really communicated the song well because everyone knew what we were saying.” – Refilwe Makoloi, Soprano
“The energy at the performance was amazing!” – Christine van Hees, Soprano
“I enjoyed the whole programme, but Ek Slaan My Oë just soared. I felt like I was soaring-it was unreal.” – Ella Kotze, Alto
“I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to Dalene and Wits Choir for the splendid performance at Maitisong and at the St Bernadette Catholic Church on Sunday. The town is buzzing and those who missed your performance on Saturday feel like kicking themselves. There shall definitely be the return of the great Wits Choir to the Maitisong stage. The workshop participants are raving about the workshops.You guys were great! Thank you.” – Gao Lemmenyane, Director of Maitisong
There is richness in the cultures of all our people and to be able to capture a laugh, a tear and upliftment in a piece of music is both a privilege and joy. These three days flew past, but the certainty that the memories will far outlast these is as sure as our passion to bring our art to all who embrace us with open hearts.
Beyond just sharing our music through singing, we were able to share the love we have for music, for each other and for the people of Africa.
Our trip back to Johannesburg ended with a picnic stop at a little farm just outside Swartruggens and with the breeze playing across the water we took the last of the photos depicting our no. 1 Botswana adventure!
By Sharney Nel
‘Why is everything so intense and serious?’ ‘Are we not just here to sing?’
Since the very first auditions for Wits Choir these have been questions new Wits Choir members were asking. After call-back auditions we were very pleased to have been selected as members of the Choir, but the questions remained unanswered, until Wits Choir’s 50th Birthday Celebration Concert. Most of the preparations had gone unnoticed by new members: the Choir had been preparing their repertoire for the event since the beginning of the year and the new members were just going through the motions of rehearsals, sitting in during small performances and familiarising ourselves with various songs and general schedules and procedures. The build-up to the event however opened our eyes to the work and dedication that is required to be a member of such a prestigious choral group. We were introduced to the various tasks required of us within our voice groups as well as in the different committees and our questions were gradually being answered, but we were still oblivious to what exactly we were becoming a part of.
The night of the 50th Birthday Celebration Concert finally arrived and as each of us got into our performance uniforms we started to experience the genuine emotions of something greater, something that we had, up until that point, been unaware of. The answer to the first question was becoming apparent as we set about doing the tasks that would ultimately add to ensuring a successful event. It is indeed intensity, focus and commitment that make events and performances like that of the 50th Birthday Celebration possible. The reality of the discipline and focus required in an organisation like this finally hit home. We were astounded at the amount of work that goes into choir concerts and events and we have developed a new-found respect for the veteran members of Wits Choir.
During the event we were intrigued by the stories of the Choir’s alumni members and as each of them came up to the stage with some of them relaying their experiences, our pride in Wits Choir grew stronger. We listened to the various choir members from the 60s through to the 2010s and we realized that one day, many years from now, we could be standing on the Great Hall stage sharing experiences that we are yet to encounter, beginning with this very night. The camaraderie shared within Wits Choir was evident throughout every decade of choir members and for those of us taking pictures of them backstage it was a phenomenal experience. Their reunion proved very moving as old friends shared triggered memories and hugged each other whilst being introduced to spouses, partners and families.
Then it was the chance all the novice members were waiting for – being on stage for the first time with the Wits Choir! This was a very special moment for all of us. The highlight of the evening and the moment that cemented our comprehension of why we want to be a part of this great group of musicians was when the Choir took to the stage in their amazing silk uniforms and performed their repertoire. Our second question was answered, we are here to sing, but through our singing we are in service to the music, our audience and our fellow choir members and this is a great and fulfilling task! The Choir performed absolutely beautifully, leaving many of us with tears in our eyes as we listened to the moving harmonies and watched the entertaining dance moves. This performance also served to reinforce our respect and admiration for our Choir’s conductor and the backbone of the Choir for many years, Dalene Hoogenhout. She is a truly inspirational woman and an awesome conductor.
Wits Choir’s 50th Birthday Celebration Concert, according to various new members, was a humbling experience which opened our eyes to the passion, dedication and commitment required by choir members of Wits Choir. We realise that it is a privilege and honour to be part of such a great group of people and that we are indeed a family not only enjoying being with each other on stage but also during the get-together after the concert!
The value of being a part of Wits Choir is definitely something that I am very grateful for and I am looking forward to sharing my memories with new Wits Choir members, fifty years from now!