Thursday, February 24, 2005

Mail & Guardian Online: University lectures resume after protest

Mail & Guardian Online: University lectures resume after protest
An article on the protesting at the University of Johannesburg, with links to earlier articles

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | The elusive rainbow

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | The elusive rainbow
Don't quite know what to make of this. Still, interesting...

UJ - University of Johannesburg

UJ - University of Johannesburg
All info relating to the merging of the universities that led to the merging of the choirs is available here, including government documents


My supervisor mentioned discourse analysis as a possible analytic method for this project, and I was fascinated. I have spent a lot of time ever since reading up on exactly what it is, and how it works. In an article by Helmi Jarvilisoma (1995) I found reference to Harvey Sacks, and conversation analysis. This link is to a paper on conversation analysis which explains a lot about what it is, and some of its problems

Two interviews

I started my day off yesterday with a follow-up interview with the director of the new choir, and an interview with its chairman. they were both fascinating, and really are lovely, interesting, thoughtful people to speak to.

On my way to the first interview, however, I was approached by someone who asked if I was on my way to class. Nothing unusual about that, except that this particular university is the site of a lot of unrest at present, linked to the combining of this university with two other tertiary institutions. Her question immediately made me wonder whether I was about to be harassed. I explained that I wasn't a student there, and was there for a meeting, and she apologised and moved on, but the incident, and my instinctive reaction, stuck with me.

The first interview with the director was interesting mainly in that it gave me some insight into the process of auditioning choristers, and the background to running a choir like this. I gathered a lot of technical info, which I will need to process very carefully in order to understand how it works. One of the oft-mentioned 'issues' with singing, is that so much of it is an inexact science. The director, or vocal coach, or whoever, uses abstract imagery to describe processes that while physical, are often only partly under the control of the singer. Part of this is because we can't see the singing mechanism, and so it is difficult to alter, or manipulate, it in a measurable way. The other is that what constitutes beautiful singing is such a subjective issue that it is impossible to give difinitive instructions for its achievement.

the interview that followed this one was with the young, energetic and enthusiastic chairman of the choir. It was held in a rather noisy restaurant, as he obviously has no office, and while fascinating, I am a little nervous of the quality of the recording. He had a rather different perspective from the last chorister I interviewed, as he is much more enthusiastic about the potential of the combined choir. He likes the idea of a mixed sound, whereas the previous chorister was sceptical about its musical value. He enjoys singing more energetic music, whereas the other chorister prefered the earlier, more tonal/timbral oriented music. It was great to get both perspectives.

Despite the value of this interview to my project, it left me feeling insecure about the whole process of research, as i became very aware of the artificiality of the relationship I was creating. I would really like to build relationships with these people. I am interested in them as more than just 'choristers', or 'research subjects', and I don't know how to bridge that gap.

Some comments on taking field-notes

I am finding field notes much more difficult to write than I anticipated. I have always kept a journal, though not always regularly, but I am finding that the field-notes make me more aware than ever of how judgemental I am. everything has to be checked for bias or oppinion, and I am struggling to write about race, or language group. Anything that is 'other' for me is difficult to put into words without sounding judgemental or patronising. I am also finding it so difficult to keep from becoming 'instrumentalist' (my new word for the week ) when talking to people who I am researching. I really want to form more sincere personal relationships with them, but when one's first interaction with a person is in the role of 'researcher', it is really difficult to break out of that. In an interview yesterday, after I turned the taperecorder off, I tried to hold a casual conversation with the person I had been speaking with, but I found it just so stilted. From both sides. Every question I asked was answered as though it was an interview question, and I was in interview mode when talking about myself. I don't want to force unnatural friendships, but I wish I could find a more direct, honest way of building this relationship. I certainly intend to stick with them after my official research is over, because I am genuinely interested in what happens, but I am beginning to doubt the validity of the notion of 'participant observation'. No matter what I do, I am still in an artificial relationship to them. The fact that I was a member of the Wits choir before I began my research meant that the relationships were already established, and they knew me as human. They knew what i love, and what makes me cry, and that I was there because I loved the music, and the interaction, and them.
Writing that last sentence caused a light bulb to go on for me. I wanted as much out of that encounter as I do out of this. Perhaps more. I want something out of every encounter, and so does everyone else. Perhaps the research relationship is even less exploitative than an average encounter... At least I have layed my cards out on the table before it all starts. I still feel a little uncomfortable about it all, but I guess if I just remain open, honest, and and as aware as I can be of the situaiton, I'll be safe.

First rehearsal of a new choir

On Monday, I witnessed history! at least, that's how it felt. A new, racially integrated choir, formed from the remains of two segregated choirs, had its first meeting, and I was there to record the whole thing.

I arrived quite early in the hopes of setting up my camera and tape recorder, but there was a concert going on in the next room, and so I couldn't go in. This did, however, give me the opportunity to introduce myself to a few choristers. And to my delight, I recognised, and was recognised by, several people from the Youth Choir I sang with for years in Highschool. I also noticed, as I have in the past with other choirs, that choristers who have sung together for a while form a tight-knit group, and are quite unwilling to to deal with newbies. I generally had to make the effort to introduce myself, and even then, people wouldn't want to stay and talk. I understand that people may prefer to spend the time with friends that they often haven't seen for several months, but I was interested in the impact this would have on the formation of the new choir. I noted that the members of the previous 'chorale' stood in a group on the one side, and the 'choir' members stood on the other. One, obviously new, white chorister stood between the groups, and spoke to no one. One chorister, who had previously sung in both the choir and the chorale formed a point of connection between groups, but there was little, if any, direct interaction.

When the conductor arrived, the choir committee gathered everyone together on the grass a little distance away from the still ongoing concert, and the choir sat in roughly the same groups in which they had been standing. The director introduced the choir, and her plan for the year, followed by the chairman, who is a delightfully enthusiastic and energetic young man, and really eager for the combined choir to be a success.

The choristers then collected files, and we moved into the rehearsal room. As I was setting up my camera, I was immediately struck by the arrangement of the choir. New seating arrangements will be made at the choir camp this weekend, but in the interim, choristers sat in their voice groups, but in any order they chose. As could be expected, they sat in similar groups to which they had hitherto gathered. little intermingling.

The warm-ups were an education for me both as an aspirant conductor, and as a researcher. Some exercises, like those involving semi-tones, were not immediately correct, but were corrected rapidly, and the blend, and overall tone of the choir, sounded similar to that of the old choir's 2003 recording in a fairly short amount of time. I listened carefully to try to detect differences, but think I will have to compare recordings to be able to really hear anything significant. I did notice a more vibrato-laden soprano sound than I had previously heard, and, being aware of a common distrust of vibrato among a particular school of South African choral conductors, was interested to see how it would be approached, but no direct comment was made, and I will have to compare this recording to previous ones in order to describe the difference better.

The chairman had mentioned when we were outside, that the choir would be using the well-known South African carol[anthem?] Come Colours Rise as its theme song for the year, and so I noted that the first song they began working on also had a colour theme. It was an arrangement of Sting's Fields of Gold. This juncture in the performance brought about a significant change, in that when choristers who had hitherto read mostly tonic solfa were faced with staff notation, they suddenly found themselves in need of assistance, and the choir seating was rearranged in order to place strong sight singers between weaker ones, where they could offer assistance. The result was that the choir sight-read through the entire piece of music, and then performed it.

The rehearsal ended with everyone introducing themselves (and this included me), and with party packs and cake being handed out before some choristers went out together for drinks.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


I have begun going back over some of my early posts, and visiting some of the links. I have begun posting comments where I feel they are relevant. will continue to do so regularly.

an interview with a chorister

On friday, a travelled to a smart new shopping and office complex to meet a chorister from the new University choir for an interview. The first thing that struck me was how close this very smart venue is to the venue where the alexandra Youth choir meets, and yet how different it is. Admittedly, the university choir does not rehearse here, and the choir students do not necessarily all stay in areas like this, but the divide between the two choirs is huge. The young man I was meeting is an upwardly mobile, young businessman, with a confident manner, and a career. He exudes an air of confidence and sophistication.
In conversation, I was interested to note that he appears to spend little or no energy on imagining South Africa through the medium of choral singing/music. He commented that the "African Music" which the choir had sung up to this point was "fun", but that he was unsure of its musical value. He mentioned that it was enjoyed by overseas audiences. He also explained that in his opinion, Afrikaans, as a germanic language, with a musical tradition with germanic roots, was not part of this category of "African Music." He commented that he enjoys singing earlier music particularly, and mentioned chant specifically. I got the impression that choral singing for him is a spiritual and emotional experience, and has a lot to do with immersing himself in an aesthetically pleasing art form, rather than being a social interaction. I doubt he would describe it as spiritual, though he used what I interpreted as religious terms to describe the experience of choral singing. He expressed a deep loyalty to the choir conductor, and, as I have observed before, has a lot of respect for her musically and personally, and therefore continues to sing with the choir despite the changes that are about to happen. I am really eager to continue interviewing his fellow choristers, as I hope to identify some sort of pattern in the way they discuss the musical experience, and what they anticipate for the choir's future.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

some thoughts on a recent interview with a choir conductor

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.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Discourse analysis online

Discourse analysis online This is such a great journal. I love that people are finally taking the on-line research idea seriously. Now if we can only get the musicological community to follow suit.... still, my lecturer for Ethnomusicology for this year suggested earlier that we use e-mail for between lecture discussions, so perhaps we're getting there

An even scarier story

Well, if the first one wasn't scary enough, when I went to the police to report that little incident, they wouldn't even take a report. After explaining the story to the officer in charge, he asked me "what crime was actually comitted?" I explained that I considered it harassment, and attempted hijacking, and he said that unless a real crime was committed, there is nothing they can do. In other words, when I land up dead, then they'll take a statement. No wonder so many South Africans carry guns, when the police aren't interested in preventing crimes, but only mopping up afterwards.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

OERL : PD Modules : Administering Questionnaires : Key Topics

OERL : PD Modules : Administering Questionnaires : Key TopicsIt's amazing what you can find when you look for it. As you might have guessed, I'm searching for research methodology, and related info. Specifically, right now, questionnaires

Questionnaire Design

Questionnaire Design Just what I was looking for. How useful is this!?!

scary stories. (LOL)

I think, for the first time ever, I understand why so many people live in so much fear all the time. Last night, I was returning home from a choir practice, when some idiot in a souped up red car started following me. I didn't even notice, at first. He just seemed to keep pace with me, and I was watching the road, so I didn't even think to look at the person in the car next to me. It was when I tried to change lanes to turn off toward my house that I realised something wasn't right. No matter how fast or slow I went, this car kept pace with me, and wouldn't let me get into the turning lane. I missed the first turn, but the road narrowed further, ending the lane that he was in, and so at last I was in the lane I wanted to be in. I was just approaching the turn, when he pulled in front of me again, and this time, slowed right up, and put on his hazard lights. I pulled around him again, and just as I got alongside him, he once more sped up. Once more, he pulled in front of me, and slowed up, putting his hazards on, but his time, I just kept going slowly, and ducked into a shopping centre parking lot. He reversed in the middle of the road, and followed me into the lot, and out the other end, and then, once around the block. By this time, I was so afraid, I was shaking. I called my parents on my cellphone, and headed for the nearest police station. I think he realised where I was headed, or maybe he saw me talking and assumed I was on the phone to the police. either was, he finally left me be, and I rode home. Needless to say, I locked myself in very carefully once I arrived home, left lights on all over the house, and took a different rout to varsity this morning. I hate feeling so afraid. I think I need to take some more self-defence classes. I've already put all relevant emergency numbers on voice and speed dial on my cell-phone, and my stun gun sits on my lap as I drive.
And now, I just feel numb.