When I first decided to include choir of a particular local university in my study, it was mainly because they are at present undergoing a dramatic change, not only of name, but of character, and constituency, too. The reason for this change is that the former University has this year combined with a local technikon and a correspondence university, to form a new University. The result of this alone could be interesting, because the old university, traditionally, was a conservative, mainly white, largely Afrikaans university, while having made many inroads toward transformation in the past ten years, will inevitably face even greater changes as it combines with a university from a former black township, and previous hotbed of political activism, and a former technical college, now technical university.
The university choir was established in 1974, in what was at the time, an entirely white university. In 1994, South Africa made the transformation to democracy, and at around about that time, the university began admitting black students. It was also around this time, that the university Chorale was established. While the Choir specialized in music of the Western tradition, and some Afrikaans folk music, the Chorale sang almost entirely African music in black African languages. The choir had almost entirely white students. The Chorale had almost entirely black students. the polarity was glaring. This year, as the university is renamed, and the choir and chorale combine, and form a new choir. Students from both the Choir and the Chorale will begin auditioning for the new choir next week, and the choir will perform a mixture of Western and African music.
Yesterday, Friday the 4th of February 2005, I conducted an interview with the Music Director of the old choir, who will also be the director of the new choir. I would like to record some initial impressions I received from the encounter.
This music director, is an experienced and capable musician with an impressive CV. She is enthusiastic about the future of the choir, and about my research of them. I did receive the impression that she is a little apprehensive about teaching and performing African music with the choir, but is willing to invite guest conductors to assist with this task. Her desire to make a success of this change is infectious, and I am sure will contribute to the success of the endeavor.
While listening to a CD recorded by the old choir in 2003, I found myself constantly changing my mind about how to categorize them. They are certainly competent when performing Western music, but have just enough of a South African/Afrikaans inflection in their articulation to remind one of their South African origin. Their performances of music from the black African Choral Tradition sounds, as my supervisor once put it, like it is being performed by a "good, white South African choir." There is a high level of "Authenticity," but the choir does not always have the characteristic sound of many African Choirs, who make wide use of vibrato, and more chest voice than is used in this recording. Part of the reason for this is probably that the use of vibrato is a contested area of technique, generally frowned upon by Western-trained choral directors. Much of the African music recorded on this CD carries the energy one would expect from this music, but I sometimes felt that there was a certain less tangible spontaneity lacking. Something that really interested me was the very Western sound on the Afrikaans music performed.
I hope, when I next have the opportunity to interview the director, to follow up on her categorization of music, technique, and global choral trends.
to the director in question, thank you so much for your time, enthusiasm and invaluable assistance. I am so grateful for your co-operation and openness, and am really looking forward to working with you and your exciting choir.