As the years of my career seem to fly by – each one quicker than the one before – I realise the importance of a spontaneous or pre-determined series of coincidences resulting in a theme for that year. 2017 will definitely be known as the year of the choirs.
For some bizarre reason the number of collaborations and concerts with choirs have been far more this year than any other year: adults, children, students, professionals, amateurs and working both locally in South Africa and in Europe has so far proven to be a welcome change of scenery from the vast amount of instrumental music I usually play.
The truth is choral singing and the wonderful music in this Western tradition was my first love. Born into a unmusical family the only means of creative expression was creating my own “shows” at home with whatever means possible or imaginative. This involved some dancing, singing, “playing piano”, reading as well as copious amounts of lights and curtains being changed, opened, closed. If it were not for the seeming unlimited patience and enthusiasm from my parents the encouragement to perform would never have had the effect that it has. Once IO went to primary school I discovered the choir and when I joined the Bloemfontein Children’s Choir in 1988 as one of its first members I knew I had found my place. The social and musical interaction was so powerful for me and for the next 10 years choirs and vocal ensembles was my everything. Piano was very much in the background at this stage.
The influence of the conductors I worked with have been everlasting, and of them all the effects of Huibrie Verster have been the most powerful. She started the Bloemfontein Children’s Choir in 1988 and still conducts them to this day. Her dedication, emphasis on discipline, working as a group and having the professional demeanor of an adult had a life changing and very positive contribution to my later career. I have thanked her on many occasions and I continue to admire her and the wonderful work she does.
20 years later I can clearly see the results of hours of rehearsal and the musical and social skills gained in the process. Every day I benefit from what I learned then and I am grateful to be able to apply those skills with great joy in my everyday life. I returned from a tour with the University of Pretoria’s Camerata to Latvia and Spain last week and was happy to spend time on and off stage with this talented group and their fearless leader Michael Barrett. Working and performing with choirs is like a trip down memory lane, where I get to see the enthusiasm, hopes and dreams of friends and mates who have one common goal: making music. For this reason it makes me happy and more often than not leaves me with a small lump at the back of my throat.