Our trip continued on a much lighter note over the next few days because we had a blitz of concerts and other musical engagements to break up the sightseeing. We began our morning being the guinea pig for our conductor as he ran a conducting workshop at the University of Pretoria. What that means is that we basically rehearsed in-depth two pages of three different songs to demonstrate how he approached teaching us diverse genres of music. I found this workshop enlightening because it showed there really was a method to the madness. For instance, my conductor explained he never conducted over his head because he always wanted us to remember to breathe deep and connect our singing to our core. Most of it was just as heady and theoretical as this example so I won’t bore anyone with all the little details; suffice it to say, the choir geek in me found it stimulating.
Later that night we had an important concert, and I don’t exaggerate when I say it could not have gone much worse. We were the guest group and star attraction at the Mannekoor Festival, which included three other groups. The host group was a world-renowned high school South African choir, and they lived up not only to their fame but to their country’s musical tradition. There were about 60 students all up on stage, both Black and White, and the first thing I noticed was that each singer sported a unique burst of color. The boys wore a loose short-sleeved button-up with slacks and the girls wore V-neck crop tops with a skirt, and each article of clothing exuded vivid combinations of greens, pinks, blues, yellows, and every other color of the rainbow. All had colored beads around their necks and varied, simple face paint designs along with scattered accessories here and there among the singers. I unfortunately didn’t get any pictures of them. They matched their musical with their visual brilliance, and thus they set the bar very high for the evening.
We took the stage after intermission, and from there things went wrong. For starters, from where I was standing on the very end of stage right I could not hear the rest of the choir. I was fortunate in that I was near the piano so I could tune to that, however the situation reversed for the stage left singers as they could hear the choir but not the piano. Furthermore, the pianist couldn’t see the conductor well, so some of our pieces were janky, to say the least. Finally, I was in the depths of a throat illness that scrambled the timbre of my voice and stole my high notes, which I tend to need as an upper Tenor I.
However, the greatest mishap of the evening was when the audience started laughing in the middle of our rendition of the South African national anthem. It’s never a good sign when the locals laugh at your language attempts, and we found out afterwards that while our African dialects were spot-on, the Afrikaans lines were apparently atrocious. It’s the thought that counts, right?
Our next concert was apparently an improvement, as we did a much smaller set so we chose our most comfortable pieces. I say apparently because I was waiting for the bathroom and missed everything but the encore. Again, it’s the thought that counts. This concert was a complete flip from the previous in that we sang for a Black congregation during their church service. The energy was really different from what I’m used to, more alive, more receptive, and more communicative. I swear, the music must make the difference in bringing the community together, because everyone was singing and everyone was involved. It was a fun change of pace from our regular concerts.
Our final concert was with a group called the Imilonji KaNthu Choral Society. We both had two sets and we came together at the end to sing a piece in unison. They, just like the high school group, wore colorful and detailed outfits and sang South African songs, and we invited them to visit Ann Arbor as the good musical ambassadors we are. The audience was excited to see us and us them, even if over ¾ of the stadium was empty.
I attribute the emptiness to our concert being broadcast on the local television station, so everyone must have been watching it from the comfort of their homes. Because everyone watches choral concerts on local television on Sunday evenings.
Regardless of the low turnout or our musical mishaps, we had three more concerts down and five days of sightseeing and bonding in front of us before the next one. This was important, because we take bonding seriously. The Glee Club is built on three pillars: tradition, camaraderie, and musical excellence. Thus, comradeship both on and off the stage is encouraged. Furthermore, because we’re not supposed to drink the night before a concert and we just had three in a row, this also meant that we had five nights of drinking before us. And most of us took advantage of this great opportunity. After all, what kind of self-respecting Glee Club doesn’t drink excessively, especially when a local bottle of wine costs $2.50? I sadly sat out most festivities, as I was still sick, however it let me rest up for our tour of beautiful Cape Town in the coming days.