Music has played a significant role in South Africa’s struggle for freedom, with many politicians, historians and academics noting the importance of song for mobilising communities, inspiring hope and creating awareness. The power of music transcends the boundaries of nationality, race, ethnicity, class, gender and age.
With this in mind and underpinned by their motto of “Excellence Through Diversity”, the Wits Choir (of the University of the Witwatersrand), under the expert leadership of conductor Dalene Hoogenhout, reach out to several youth, church and community choirs in the Gauteng region to explore musical concepts, vocal technique and making music together in order to bridge both skills and cultural boundaries.
The Wits Choir’s Youth and Community Choir Festival 2015 (YCCF) culminates with a gala concert on Sunday 27 September. The participating choirs will have the opportunity to perform with the renowned Wits Choir after their successful tour of Namibia on the stage of the University’s prestigious Great Hall.
In the run-up to the concert, the Wits Choir conducted a series of workshops with the choirs to expound on the basics of good singing technique, the significance of movement in communicating the stories told through music, as well as teaching two traditional South African songs and a song by English composer John Rutter called Look at the World. These will be performed as massed choir pieces at the gala concert on 27 September by the 250 choristers, ranging in age from sixteen to sixty.
The participating choirs are Nkosi’s Haven Choir, Parktown High School for Girls’ Choir, The Liberty Choir, The African Leadership Academy Choir, Bishop Bavin College Choir and YWC
Dalene Hoogenhout explained the significance of her choice of songs: “Some people think that our South African traditional songs are simplistic and thus require less rehearsal time and less attention to detail than other genres of choral music. We want to show that this is not the case, that South African traditional music is not only fun to sing, but that it can be as complex, in its own right, as other choral pieces. Through the YCCF one of the aims of Wits Choir is to instil respect and appreciation for our choral heritage.”
Dalene also said that she has been impressed by the participating choirs’ level of commitment and enthusiasm at the workshops. Her hope for the upcoming concert is that the momentum built up during the workshops will be carried forward and that the music on the day serves as an inspiration not only for those taking part, but also for those in the audience.
Over the 53 years of its existence, Wits Choir has had an extensive outreach programme for the advancement of choral music and conducting. With their tour to Namibia and the Northern Cape during the beginning of September this year they held workshops with over 10 choirs imparting to these choirs their enthusiasm for South African music and set an example of good choral practice. The Choir has worked with many choirs and conductors for the furthering of music education and meaningful partnerships.
The Choir, whose diverse membership is drawn from a multitude of cultures, nationalities, occupations and ages, understands the value of hard work and discipline. The choir is indisputably dedicated to the advancement of reconciliation and transformation in South Africa. Through the example they set, choir members serve as ambassadors of Wits University and South Africa both when at home and abroad.