Minnesota Singer’s Celebration of Minnesota Orchestra’s Soweto Concert

Scott Chamberlain, a member of the Minnesota Chorale, in a MINNPOST article has celebrated the August 17 concert in Soweto’s Regina Mundi Church by a combined choir that included the Chorale accompanied by the Minnesota Orchestra. [1]

Before the concert, Scott’s Minnesota friend, Mariellen Jacobson, met Teresa, “a beautiful, 80-something” [South African] woman.. . . and learned that she was a parishioner of the church. She spoke passionately about the past, and what it was like living through those tumultuous times. In the student uprisings of 1976, some of the young schoolboys fled to the church to escape the police’s bullets and tear gas. The police followed them right into the church and fired live ammunition inside the sanctuary.” [Teresa said you could still see the bullet holes.] ‘Look up at the crucifix. You’ll see that Jesus has three fingers on his right hand and five fingers on his left hand. Yes, one of the bullets had hit the sculpture.’ “And there it was. This brought it home just how real these events were … this wasn’t something for the history book, but part of the life story of real people.”

Scott added that “Soweto was ready. Long before the concert got under way, a substantial crowd had arrived at the church’s gates, with an excited air of anticipation. Many had never been to a live classical concert before and jumped at a chance to hear how one sounded. Perhaps best of all, a large number of young children were on hand, as Minnesotan Jill Chamberlain discovered. Cousins Tebogo (age 11) and Keo (age 10) were brought by their mother/aunt Josephine. They were seated next to Jill, and once settled, they cheerfully drilled her about concert protocol, how the music would sound … and asked such important questions as what kind of restaurants there were in America and how Americans made their porridge.”

“All in all, excited concertgoers overwhelmed the ticket takers at the door, forcing the concert to start 20 minutes late.”

Scott continued, “the singers of the Minnesota Chorale, Gauteng Choristers and [the South African vocal group] 29:11[named after Jeremiah 29:11]  filled the aisles and belted out the South African national anthem. We were loud, but we were almost certainly drowned out by the 1,300 voices of audience who added their voices to ours. It was a moment of welcome, pride and shared exuberance.”

“The middle-aged [South African] woman next to me was wonderfully fun to sing with — she had a voice that would make any singing group proud. And best of all, she lost none of her exuberance when the orchestra followed up with the Star-Spangled Banner. She didn’t know the words, but effortlessly switched to ‘da-da-da,’ sung with an enormous grin. She loved it. I rarely get hugs handshakes from audience members during an actual performance, but this audience member was giving them out aplenty.”

When the South African soprano, Goitsemang Lehobye “boldly strode out to center stage in gorgeous traditional dress, [to sing with the Orchestra the South African composition for this very tour, Harmonia Ubuntu], the audience went absolutely crazy. I was so, so happy about the inclusion of this piece. It was good, and deserves wider performance. But more than that, it proudly demonstrated that this concert — and by extension, this entire tour — wasn’t about simply performing western art music at local audiences, but actually engaging audiences and performers alike in a shared musical exchange. It showed curiosity about other music  and a willingness to learn about it and embrace it. It showed respect.”

“And the audience absolutely loved it.”

At the conclusion of this piece, “Goitsemang and Osmo [Vänskä] were greeted with an ear-splitting roar that went way beyond appreciation … it showed love. And from that moment, the audience and musicians were one. We were in this together.”

The Orchestra and combined choir then performed the last movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (the Choral Symphony). As Chamberlain said, “it is famously one of the most athletic, brutal works to sing in the standard repertoire. But there it was. It was the perfect piece to sing at Regina Mundi — a musical celebration of our shared humanity and universal joy. And the combined voices of the Minnesota Chorale, Gauteng Choristers, and 29:11 made sure that Beethoven’s song of joy shook Heaven itself. . . . If the audience was fired up before, they were absolutely on fire at the end of the Beethoven.”

“And with that, the concert really got going. Next, Vänskä programmed . . . [four] South African songs that cranked up the excitement even further.”

Akhala Amaqhude Amabili is a setting of two Zulu folk songs, linked by a shared motive of a rooster call (Kikilikigi! in Zulu) to rouse up the community and get ready for the day. The audience loved it.”

The next piece by the combined choir [conducted by Xolani Mootane], an a cappella South African song, Bawo Tixo Somandla, “brought the house down. Back in the 1970s, the work was originally written as an anti-apartheid protest song, asking God the insistent question, ‘Father, God omnipotent, what have we done? Why do we kill each other like this?’. . . This was a work incredibly important to me — singing that song, while I could look around the church and literally see bullet holes left behind by paramilitary raids, was powerful beyond words. The audience had already started singing along when Xolani turned on the podium and gestured for the crowd to rise to their feet. They did so with a roar of voices and began dancing with us. It was a musical spectacle that will always, always stay with me, as we together turned that song into a cry for unity and an end to violence.”

The next song, Ruri (Truly) by Michael Mosoeu Moerane, was gentler, “but no less celebratory song . . .  celebrating God’s creation, where all things—even ferocious crocodiles — are part of a harmonious whole. It is a much-loved, South African favorite.”

“The roof was then blown off yet again with . . .[the final programmed South African song] Usilethela Uxolo, a festive song honoring Nelson Mandela based on a work by South African jazz legend Stompie Mavi. This time the audience needed no invitation — as soon as the chorus came in and started dancing on stage, the audience followed suit. It was wonderful, crazy, musical bedlam, with everyone onstage and offstage joining in the celebration. My God what a party! Seriously… World Cup soccer crowds are more reserved. The roar that filled that church when we were done about shook Regina Mundi off its foundation.”

For an encore, the Orchestra “launched into Shosholoza, a beloved standard that functions as a second national anthem for South Africa. The orchestra players set aside their instruments and belted out the first verse through their voices alone, to the rousing support of the audience. When the chorus came in, bedlam broke out all over again. Dancing! Singing! Bigger dancing, and bigger singing! When it was over we got the biggest roar of them all — and that’s saying something.”

When Chamberlain and the other Minnesota singers thought the concert had ended, some of the male singers in the Gauteng Choristers “started to belt out a song of their own. Soon, all the South African singers caught the tune, and in voices again geared to shake the earth and rattle the heavens, began singing and dancing us off the stage in a completely unscripted kind of exit music, to the continued cheers of the audience. It was remarkable. The orchestra members, in the process of putting their instruments away, stopped with wide-eyed amazement and dived for their cellphones to snap pictures.”

“We in the Chorale had no idea about what the words were, but hey … when we find ourselves in a midst of a musical after-party, we learn fast and join right in. Soon we were singing as well, slowly working our way off stage. But the singing didn’t stop. To our astonishment, our South African peers enveloped us and began marching with us outside the building, and around the church in a musical parade that lasted about 15 minutes. People on the outside rushed forward and joined in the song, reaching in through the fence to give us high fives as we danced across the grounds.”

Scott concluded, “I have never felt so much joy, so much pure, unadulterated joy. Music did that. Music brought us together, wiped out any petty distinctions among us, and for a moment made us one, wonderful family. The universal joy envisioned in Beethoven’s Ode to Joy became real — right there in Soweto.”

Thank you, Scott Chamberlain, for this enthralling and inspiring report.

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[1] Chamberlain, The Minnesota Orchestra’s Extraordinary Experience in Soweto, MINNPOST (Aug. 24, 2018). There also are great photographs of this concert in Ross, Embracing the soul of Soweto,as Minnesota Orchestra finds music is universal language, StarTribune (Aug. 24, 2018). A recording of the concert is available at MPRClassical FM radio. See also these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Nelson Mandela’s Connections with Soweto (Aug. 22, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Soweto) (Aug. 24, 2018).

 

Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Johannesburg)

On August 18 the Minnesota Orchestra played its fifth and last concert in South Africa before a capacity audience of 1,000 that included Dr. Makaziwe “Maki” Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s eldest daughter.

Here is an account of the concert and Orchestra members’ intersections with local musicians.[1]

The Concert

The concert opened with the playing of the South African and U.S. national anthems.  The Orchestra then played the following works:

  • Overture to the operetta Candide by Leonard Bernstein, who shares this year with Nelson Mandela as the centennial of their births.
  • Harmonia Ubuntu, by South African composer Ndodana-Breen with lyrics taken from Mandela’s writings and speeches and with South African soprano, Goitsemang Lehobye, as soloist.
  • Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (The Choral Symphony) with the combined Minnesota Chorale and South Africa’s Gauteng Choristers and soloists (Goitsemang Lehobye, soprano; Minette Du Toit-Pearce, mezzo-soprano; Siyabonga Maqungo, tenor; and Njabulo Madlala, bass-baritone).

Osmo Vänskä returned to the stage after a standing ovation, conducting the orchestra and choir in “Usilethela Uxolo.” He then turned the podium over to Xolani Mootane, who brought down the house with “Bawo Thixo Somandla.” Vänskä again returned to lead the ensemble in a final vocal performance of the unofficial national anthem, “Shosholoza.”

The concert was held in the Johannesburg City Hall, he home of many historical and political events throughout its more than 100-year history. Here are photograph of the Hall and of the Orchestra, both by Travis Anderson.

 

 

 

 

Minnesota-Local Interactions

At a post-concert farewell dinner, the Orchestra’s President and CEO, Kevin Smith, said this tour is, “by all accounts, the biggest project the orchestra has ever done. it’s hard to know where it goes from here, but I think the orchestra will continue to be more adventurous and extensive in how it works and with whom it works and where it goes.”

Roderick Cox, the Orchestra’s Associate Conductor, stayed the next day (Sunday) to conduct the African National Young Orchestra in in Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 after they had rehearsed the work the prior week with Orchestra musicians. According to Cox, his job is to “ take all this vibrant, passionate sound they’re giving and try to contain it and shape it for the music we’re doing, like Sibelius.” An aspiring local conductor, Chad Hendricks, age 27, commented  that seeing Cox, who is black, on the platform, “inspired a lot of kids.” For South Africans growing up in black and mixed-race communities, there aren’t a lot of opportunities, and there isn’t a lot of exposure to this kind of thing. A lot of the underprivileged kids that were here … they’re seeing someone they can relate to.”[2]

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[1] Minn. Orch., Minnesota Orchestra in Johannesburg (Aug. 18, 2018); Minn. Orch., Johannesburg/Aug 18.

[2] Ross, A young South African symphony takes its cue from the Minnesota  Orchestra, StarTribune (Aug. 23, 2018); Chamberlain, “Tour’ is inadequate to explain what’s happening between the Minnesota Orchestra and South African musicians, MinnPost (Aug. 17, 2018).

Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Soweto)

The centerpiece of the Minnesota Orchestra’s tour of South Africa was its August 17 concert in Soweto’s Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church. As shown in prior posts,the township and church played central roles in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, and Soweto was the home for Nelson Mandela before his imprisonment and the site for at least two of his speeches to the nation. [1]

The importance of this concert was emphasized by Bongani Ndodana-Breen, the South African composer of the piece for orchestra and soprano that was performed at all of the South African concerts. He said, “We have a history where culture was used by the apartheid regime to prove its cultural superiority over Africans. So one of the most enlightened things about this tour is that the orchestra is doing a concert in Soweto, the heartland of the resistance against apartheid. For them to go there is huge. It’s going to be very emotional.”

The Concert

Now we look at the concert itself, the highlights being the choral music provided by 50 members of the Minnesota Chorale and 50 members of Johannesburg’s Gauteng Choristers, the latter a group of talented youth from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. Below are photographs of the church and of the choirs that night.

 

 

 

 

The Orchestra opened with the South African national anthem, which was sung with full-throated enthusiasm by the audience of more than 1,000 people, most of whom were black and many lifelong Soweto residents and also included members of the South African Youth Orchestra who had rehearsed with the Minnesota Orchestra earlier in the week. The smaller number of U.S. attendees tried their best to match that joy with the U.S. national anthem.

First, the Orchestra played pieces from previous concerts on this tour—Sibelius’ En Saga and Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide.

Especially significant for the largely black South African audience was the performance of  Ndodana-Breen’s Harmonia Ubuntu with lyrics from the writings of Nelson Mandela and the singing by South African soprano, Goitsemang Lehobye.

Then the Orchestra and the combined choirs of Gauteng Choristers and the Minnesota Chorale performed the Final Movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (The Choral Symphony). All of the soloists were South African: –Goitsemang Lehobye, soprano; Minette Du Toit-Pearce, mezzo soprano; Siyabonga Maqungo,tenor; and Njabulo Madiala, bass-baritone.

Afterwards. David Mennicke, a tenor section leader for the Minnesota Chorale, said this performance of the Ninth Symphony was especially moving. “To sing it in this context with brothers and sisters from halfway across the world—that feeling, that sentiment, that idea of all humanity becoming brothers and sisters—we are actually . . . becoming that.”

The concert ended with the following three South African pieces for chorus and orchestra:

  • Akhala Amaqhude Amabili by J.S. Mzilikazi Khumalo (orchestrated by Peter Louis Van Dijk) is a combination of two Zulu folk “wake-up” songs in which the Zulu cock-crow call (Kikilikigi) admonishes the people to get up and start the day, an important signal for people who had no time-pieces.
  • Ruri (Truly) by Michael Mosoeu Moerane (arranged by Sue Cook) celebrates nature as evidence of divine benevolence.
  • Usilethela uxolo (Nelson Mandela) by Stompi Mavi (arranged by Gobingca George Mxadana and orchestrated by Jaakko Kuusisto). The text celebrates Mandela’s release from prison, and this song remained a popular tribute to Mandela throughout his life.

The last of these brought the audience to its feet, singing, stepping, clapping and shouting “U-Mandela.”

Interjected in these three songs was one for chorus alone: Bavo Thixo Somandla by Arnold Mxolisi Matyila (arranged by J. S. Mzilikazi Khumalo). In the 1980s this song was adopted by protesters against apartheid. Eventually it became one of South Africa’s most popular and familiar protest songs.[2] It too had the audience singing, clapping and dancing.

After encores, including “Shosholosa,” the unofficial South African national anthem, Orchestra members left the stage while many of the singers cried and hugged one another and the bass singers in the two groups started stepping and singing. Violinist Susie Park with tears streaming on her cheeks said the experience reminded her of music’s pure power. “It’s bigger than ourselves and our perspectives. We have to share it with the world. And that’s what we did here.”

Overlooking the concert was the church’s             stained-glass image of Nelson Mandela.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minnesota and South African Musicians’ Interactions

On the Friday morning of the concert four of the Orchestra’s musicians gave solo and chamber music performances for students at Missourilaan Secondary School. The Minnesotans then attended a special event for their home-based nonprofit Books For Africa, which is donating 40,000 books to this community, some 12,000 of which for this school. Judge LaJune Lange, Minnesota’s Honorary South African Consul, said, “We want to partner with Missourilaan and make it a place of excellence,”

At Regina Mundi, immediately before the concert, Minnesota Orchestra musicians, dressed in their concert black, wandered through the crowd. They chatted with the early arrivals, showing and explaining their instruments to young members of the audience, as their adult companions listened in too.

The principal interactions were those of the Minnesota Chorale and the Gauteng Choristers. After all they had to sing together in languages that were unfamiliar to both groups (German in Beethoven’s symphony for the South Africans and African languages for the Minnesotans). That is why they started rehearsals on Monday for the Friday concert although the Minnesotans had sung the South African pieces at home in a July concert, Maya Tester, a Minnesota soprano, said that in South Africa their movements got looser, the dynamics bigger and the pronunciations more precise. There also was a generational difference: the South African singers were in their 20s and 30s while the Minnesotans were 20 to 30 years older.

Conclusion

This concert truly was an awe-inspiring highpoint of the Orchestra’s South African tour. I wish I had been there.

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[1] Minn. Orch., Minnesota Orchestra in Soweto (Aug. 17, 2018); Minn. Orch., Soweto/Aug 17; South African composer celebrates ‘Mandela’s message, StarTribune (July 20, 2018); Ross, Minnesota Singers join voices with South African choir: ‘It’s Magic All the Way,’ StarTribune (Aug 17, 2018); Kerr, Soweto crowd rapturously responds to Minnesota Orchestra, MPRnews (Aug. 17, 2018); Singers from two nations didn’t want it to end, StarTribune (Aug. 19, 2018); Ross, Soweto concert is an ode to joy in many languages, StarTribune (Aug. 20, 2018); Ross, Embracing the soul of Soweto as Minnesota Orchestra finds music is a universal language, StarTribune (Aug. 24, 2018).

[2] All of these four South African songs were performed by the Minnesota Orchestra in its July 20 concert at Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall.  (Minnesota Orchestra’s “Celebrating Mandela at 100” Concert, dwkcommentaries.com (July 29, 2018).

 

 

 

 

Soweto South Africa’s Historical Significance

The Minnesota Orchestra held its fourth South African concert in the Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church in Soweto, a township with its name an English syllabic abbreviation of South Western Townships. Before we review the concert and related events, here is a brief summary of Soweto and Regina Mundi’s history followed by a separate post about Nelson Mandela’s connections with Soweto. [1]

Soweto’s Early History, 1886-1947

In 1886 an outcrop of gold was found in this area  In response 100,000 people of all races and nationalities flocked to the area. In 1887, the government decided that the large quantities of clay in the area were suitable for brickmaking, and many landless Dutch-speaking citizens settled there, built shacks for homes and started making bricks. Thus, the area became known as Brickfields. Soon other working poor, Coloureds (mixed race) and Africans joined them.

In the early 20th century it was lawful for people of color to own fixed property in the townships of Sophiatown, Alexandra and Gauteng (now parts of Soweto). As a result, there were many blacks who became landowners in these areas. In 1923 the parliament adopted the Natives (Urban Areas) Act to provide for improved conditions of residence for natives (Africans or blacks) in urban areas and to control their ingress into such areas. Pursuant to this legislation, the Johannesburg town council in 1927 formed a Native Affairs Department, which built over 10,000 houses and over 4,000 temporary single-room shelters or shacks for these people.

After World War II there was a huge housing shortage for blacks in Johannesburg. In response there were many squatters camps illegally established  and the government was forced to build emergency camps.  These became the worst slums of Johannesburg.

The Early Apartheid Era, 1948-1976

In 1948 the National Party won the general election and its government sought to establish apartheid to separate the country’s racial groups, but the Johannesburg City Council did not support the National Party and apartheid.

In the early 1950s  Parliament passed the Bantu Building Workers Act for blacks to be trained as building trade artisans and the Bantu Services Levy Act imposing a levy on employers of black workers to finance basic services in Black townships. Under this scheme the Johannesburg City Council built over 6,500 houses, the best of which were 5o feet by 100 feet on 30-year leases.

In 1963 the City Council decided to name all the townships south-west of the city center “Soweto.”

These developments did not please the National Party-controlled national government. In 1971 it adopted the Black Affairs Administration Act that created a central body to take over the powers and obligations of the Johannesburg City Council with respect to Soweto and appointed Manie Mulder to be in charge even though he had no experience with such matters. In May 1976, he said, “The broad masses of Soweto are perfectly content, perfectly happy. Black-White relationships are as healthy as can be. There is no danger whatsoever of a blow-up in Soweto.”

 The Soweto Uprising, 1976 and the Aftermath

On June 16, 1976, mass protests erupted in Soweto over the government’s policy of enforcing educations for blacks in Afrikaans, rather than their native languages. A march of 10,000 students from a high school to nearby Orlando Stadium was met with armed attacks by police, killing an estimated 700 students.

In 1983 the central government converted Soweto to an independent municipality with elected black councilors, but they were not provided the necessary funds to address housing and infrastructure problems, and the black counselors were seen as corrupt collaborators.

Resistance to the central government also was strengthened by the exclusion of blacks from the revised national legislature. There were educational and economic boycotts. Street committees were formed as alternatives to the state-imposed structures. In 1985 the African National Congress (ANC) issued a call to make South Africa ungovernable, and many activists left the country to train for guerilla resistance.

The Soweto Uprising and the aftermath had an enormous impact on the country and the world. It led to economic and cultural sanctions from abroad.

On June 19, 1976, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 392 that:

  • “strongly condemns” the Smith African Government for its use of “massive violence” and “killings against black Africans, including “school children and students and others opposing racial discrimination;”
  • “reaffirms that the policy of apartheid is a crime against the conscience and dignity of mankind and seriously disturbs international peace and security;”
  • “recognizes the legitimacy of the struggle of the South African people for the elimination of apartheid and racial discrimination;” and
  • “calls upon the South African government urgently to end violence against the African people, and take urgent steps to eliminate apartheid and racial discrimination.”

However, the resolution, in an obvious effort to secure backing from the U.S. and other Western delegations and achieve unanimity, did not call for punitive measures, and the U.S. delegate at the session while condemning apartheid said the resolution should not be understood as indicating the U.S. was prepared to support punitive measures.

The Role of Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church

Regina Mundi is the largest Roman Catholic church in South Africa. Set in Soweto, its current building was opened in 1962; its A-shaped roof covers a large interior that can hold as many as 2,000 people as shown in the photograph below.

During the Soweto Uprising, many students fled to this church. The police followed them inside and fired live ammunition. No one was killed although many were injured and the church itself was damaged, and today both the interior and exterior walls still have bullet holes.

After the state forbade public gatherings in Soweto, churches, and especially Regina Mundi, became places for political gatherings, and it became known as “the people’s church” or “the people’s cathedral.”

After the end of apartheid, from 1995 to 1998, several meetings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, were held at this church, and in 1997 President Mandela established November 30 as “Regina Mundi Day” to honor the church.

The church now features the following significant works of art:

  • “The Madonna and Child of Soweto” (a/k/a “The Black Madonna”), as shown below, depicts a black Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus (also black) that was created in 1973 as part of a campaign to raise funds for the education of black South Africans.
  • A stained-glass window with an image of Nelson Mandela, as shown below and on the cover of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Sommerfest Program just before its South African tour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soweto Today

The population today is estimated as roughly 1.3 million, who overwhelmingly are black and who speak all 11 of the country’s official languages.

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[1]  Soweto, Wikipedia; Soweto Uprising, Wikipedia; United Nations Security Council Resolution 392, Wikipedia;Telysch, Pretoria Regime Assailed at U.N., N.Y. Times (June 20, 1976); Regina Mundi Catholic Church (Soweto), Wikipedia); Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church.

Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Pretoria) 

On August 16  the Minnesota Orchestra presented the third concert of its South African tour, this in the  Aula Theatre at the University of Pretoria.[1] Below is a photograph of the Orchestra at this concert.

The program was the same as presented in Cape Town on August 10, which was the subject of a prior post. Here we will examine, the Orchestra members’ interactions with local musicians and facts about Pretoria. A subsequent post will examine  Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech as South  Africa’s President in 1994 at the Government’s Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Minnesota and African Musicians interactions[2]

 On the afternoon of August 15, the Orchestra had a side-by-side rehearsal with the South African National Youth Orchestra (SANYO), which is now in its 54th year, which  has become one of the country’s most successful nurturers of its finest young musicians and which Osmo Vänskä in 2014 had guest conducted.

During the rehearsal one of the Minnesota violinists, Michael Sutton, loaned his bow to South African violinist Casey Jacobs, who said his bow was much better than hers. Sutton retorted, “We can Swap violins, too!” After she played Sutton’s old and very expensive violin, she said, “”I am so in awe, I literally have no words to describe this feeling. It is really cool, so I am really happy I am here.” Sutton’s wife, Beatrice Blanc, who also is a violinist, watched from the audience with tears in her eyes. She pointed out that Michael was sitting inside of Jacobs and turning pages for her. “That shows respect.”

Sophia Weiz, the managing director for SANYO, said, “This type of experience is a real confidence builder for . . . [our musicians]. Side-by-side rehearsals are like a booster shot. While this might be a small amount of time together, it’s extremely intense and it makes a lasting impression with these students.”

After both groups had dinner together in a nearby restaurant, the SANYO musicians attended the Minnesotans rehearsal with the combined choir of the Minnesota Chorale and the Gauteng Choristers.

The next day, the students spent the day working one-on-one with musicians in master classes and chamber music sessions.

In addition, Vänskä led  a conducting workshop at the University of Pretoria. Responding to a student question about the importance of Vänskä’s Finnish background in interpreting Sibelius, Vänskä said, “It doesn’t hurt to be Finnish But there are many non-Finnish conductors who do it very well too. If we hear something again and again, that makes us think it is our music. When you repeat something, you can become a specialist.”

Other questions concerned stage fright, baton technique, rehearsal preparation and communication with musicians. Vänskä offered a general rule with good humor: “The more you speak, the more the players hate you. It is always better to go with body language. The composer is the highest order. We are performers and we must follow the composer.”

Later Vänskä and a small group of the Orchestra attended a reception at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence. Afterwards the U.S. Charge d’Affaire, Finland, went with the musicians to the Aula center for the concert.

At the start of the concert, Lappen praised the Orchestra and the audience for being part of the celebration around Mandela’s 100th. “All of you being here reaffirms our belief in arts and cultural affairs as a way to sustain relationships. The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are citizen diplomats and represent the very best of the U.S.”  Lapenn concluded her remarks, describing how music brings unity from diversity and that orchestras are the perfect example of this: a group of individuals with tremendous abilities who work together toward a common goal. For an orchestra, that shared goal is to bring beauty and empathy to our shared humanity. “That’s the spirit of Nelson Mandela that we need to move his legacy forward.”

Pretoria

With a population of 742,000, Pretoria is in the northeastern part of the country only 34 miles north-northeast of Johannesburg. It is the seat of the administrative branch of the national government with Cape Town having the legislative branch and Bloemfontein the judicial branch. Pretoria also is known as an academic center with three universities, the Council for Scientific and Cultural Research and the South African Bureau of Standards.

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[1]  Minn. Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra in Pretoria (Aug. 16, 2018) .

[2] Minn. Orch., Pretoria/Aug 15; Minn. Orch., Pretoria/Aug. 16; Kerr, Small moments have big impact on orchestra’s South African trip, MPRnews (Aug. 16, 2018).

 

 

Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Durban)

On Sunday afternoon, August 12, the Minnesota Orchestra headed to Durban City Hall for a quick touch-up rehearsal and early evening concert, its second on its South African tour.[1]  Here are photographs of the Orchestra in the auditorium and of the exterior of the City Hall.

 

 

The following discusses that concert, the Orchestra’s interactions with local music students and a 1999 speech in Durban by Nelson Mandela.

The Durban Concert

The announced program for the concert was the same as in Cape Town two days before as covered in a prior post.

The concert, however, began with a three-song set from the Clermont Choir, which was founded in 1992 and specializes in many different genres of music with a focus on choral, classical and African indigenous music and which was conducted by Brian Msizi Mnyandu. Based in Durban, the group has 60 members, most of whom reside in the metropolitan area. The choir had the audience clapping and cheering while Orchestra members looked on, standing at the back and sides of the house. Below is a photograph of the Choir.

 

During the intermission, an Orchestra staffer spoke with a group of 24 students from Inanda Seminary, one of South Africa’s oldest schools for girls. Founded in 1853, the school is based in Inanda, a township about 15 miles northwest of Durban. Students Philasande and Zamakhosi shared their excitement about the event—the first orchestra concert they and their classmates had ever attended. Zamakhosi said the singing by soprano Goitsemang Lehoybe’s of Harmonia Ubuntu by South African composer Bongoni Ndodana-Breen was beautiful. “Hearing that kind of singing was new to me—I’ve never heard someone sing like that!”

For the encore, the Orchestra once again performed “Shosholoza,” a South African miners’ song that has become the unofficial national anthem. As was the case in Cape Town, the crowd didn’t recognize it at first. But once the Minnesota musicians started singing, the crowd, including the students from Inanda Seminary, went crazy, singing along and dancing in the aisles.

After the concert as the Orchestra members were getting ready to leave, the Inanda girls sang their own version of “Shosholoza” at the front of the stage.

Minnesota and South African Musicians’ Interactions

While in Durban, some of the Orchestra’s wind players attended a rehearsal of the provincial KwaZulu-Natal Youth Wind Band.  Its Conductor Russell Scott led the band in the “Jupiter” movement from Holst’s The Planets, as well as an African piece called Patta, Patta (“Touch, Touch”) that he arranged for wind ensemble. Following a performance by a Minnesota wind ensemble, the Minnesotans and  students broke into small sections to get to the nitty-gritty of their instruments and parts.

In a separate practice room, tuba player Jason Tanksley met with six young tuba and euphonium players to play some of Holst’s The Planets. “You don’t have to play it too loudly,” he said. “Try it pianissimo.

Associate Principal Percussionist Kevin Watkins met with student percussionists to discuss the art of timpani playing. “It’s good to practice singing the notes to learn the pitches,” he said. “If you get your ear really close to the timpani, you can hear the pitch perfectly.”

In another session, Andrew Chappell, the Orchestra’s Bass Trombone player, coached breathing to fellow trombonists from the KwaZulu Natal Youth Wind Band. “Try to hear and feel how the breath relates to the sound,” he advised. “The better the breath, the better the sound. And eventually, forget about the breathing and just think ‘I am taking in my sound and letting out my sound.’” With more playing, the students improved, and Chappell said, “You should feel that you made your statement.”

Some of the Orchestra members also engaged with music students at the Durban Music School. An 18-year-old trumpet player, Palesa Ndlela, asked Manny Laureano, the Orchestra’s Principal Trumpet, how she could improve her embouchure (the way trumpet players position their lips on the mouthpiece). Then Manny and fellow trumpeter Robert Dorer closed their eyes and listened to Palesa play an arpeggio.  She then was told to play louder. She did, and the new instruction from Manny was to “sit up from your chair like you are standing.” After doing this and playing the arpeggio again, the next command was to take a much deeper breath. She did. This time the tone was brighter, fuller and fine. She and the other students burst into happy laughter. Manny concluded this little session with this comment: “We just fixed your embouchure.”

Then Lauriano demonstrated his rich, full tone in a haunting solo, which he said was “a basic way” of playing. He then played the tune again in the manner of a French trumpeter and asked the students what was different the second way. One of them, Thabo Sikhakhane, a 19-year-old, said the French-way had vibrato. Manny added, “There are many, many different languages that we speak when we play. And depending on who the conductor is, [he or she] might want a different language. Music is language, and trumpet is our tongue.”

City of Durban

Durban is a city in a metropolitan area of 3.4 million (approximately the same population of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area). Durban sits  on the country’s southeast coast on the Indian Ocean with the country’s busiest port. Because of its beaches and warm, subtropical climate it is a major tourist site.  Its City Hall, the site of the concert, is a  quintessential example of Edwardian Neo-baroque architecture that was completed in 1910 and was considered very bold in its design at the time.

Mandela’s Speech

On April 16, 1999, the City of Durban gave Mandela its “Freedom “award. Here are excerpts from his acceptance speech.[2]

“It is . . .[the whole South African nation] who overcame the divisions of centuries, by reaching out to one another. In so doing they have made our country a symbol to the world of renewed hope, of the possibility of the peaceful resolution of even the most intractable conflicts. It is they who mandated our representatives to write a constitution which embodied the noble ideals of unity in diversity, and tolerance and respect for all our cultures and religions.”

“Today, this busiest port of Africa, this haven for investors and holiday makers alike, is home to part of the souls of many nations and cultures, precious threads in the rich diversity of our African nation.”

“As much as Durban is associated with hospitality and diversity, it is also remembered as a place of immense suffering, war and sadness.”

“For was it not here that the indigenous peoples fought bravely against military invasion by colonizing forces? And here where the first concerted attempt at group-area segregation emerged during the 1870’s, long before apartheid? And here that some of the cruelest acts of savagery were enacted, like the Durban by-laws requiring Africans to be dipped with their belongings in a disinfectant tank on entering the city?”

“And yet out of this ferment great leaders emerged who helped shape the world’s understanding of human development. Those who revere freedom and human dignity around the world know of this city and region because of Mahatma Gandhi and Chief Albert Luthuli.”

“Many organizations which laid the foundation stones of South Africa’s vibrant democracy, including my own organization, the African National Congress, have drawn sustenance from the soil of KwaZulu-Natal.”

When we visited KwaZulu-Natal in 1990, as the opening of the prison doors and the unbanning of organizations signaled the beginning of our transition to democracy, this province was gripped in bloody violence. There were many who believed that the call to throw weapons into the sea would never be answered.”

“But since then immense progress has been made, thanks to the efforts of people from across the political spectrum. Although many of us take it for granted, the way in which political violence subsided and communal co-operation increased will be remembered as one of the success stories of our democracy.”

“We should pay tribute to all those who have worked so hard at achieving peace. But even though there has been much progress, the task will only be complete when every citizen can feel safe in bed at night; in exercising the right to vote; and in being able to express opinions freely.”

“As we approach South Africa’s second democratic election, we should all be concerned to eradicate the remaining pockets of violence. And we should give no space to those who would like to see the province plunged back into political violence, in order to hold back progress. All people of influence – political leaders from every party; traditional leaders; religious and community leaders – all of us have an obligation to ensure a climate of tolerance. We must emerge from this election, whatever our differences, more united as a nation and therefore strengthened in our capacity to bring about even more change than we have already achieved.”

“Many people have been skeptical of our capacity to realize the ideal of a rainbow nation. It is true that South Africa was often brought to the brink of destruction because of differences. But let us re-affirm this one thing here today; it is not our diversity which divides us; it is not our ethnicity, or religion or culture that divides us. Since we have achieved our freedom, there can only be one division amongst us; between those who cherish democracy and those who do not!”

“As freedom loving people, we want to see our country prosper and provide basic services to all. For our freedom can never be complete or our democracy stable unless the basic needs of our people are met. We have seen the stability that development brings. And in turn we know that peace is the most powerful weapon that any community or nation can have for development.”

“As we rebuild our country, we should remain vigilant against the enemies of development and democracy, even if they come from within our own ranks. Violence will not bring us closer to our objectives”.

“All of us should ask ourselves the question; have I done everything in my power to bring about lasting peace and prosperity in my city and my country?”

“And when we are satisfied with our answer, we should ask that question of our constituencies. Let us enjoin them to work together with the police in freeing our society of criminals and mischief makers. Let us ask them to behave in an exemplary fashion, that would make Gandhiji and Chief Luthuli proud.”

“Let us live up to the expectations which the world has of us, as a nation which has rekindled hope for reconciliation and peaceful resolution of differences.”

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[1] Minn. Orchestra, Concert in Durban South Africa (Aug.12, 2018); Minn. Orchestra, Durban/Aug 12.  See generally MPRnews, Minnesota Orchestra; Startribune.com/orchestra.

[2] Nelson Mandela Foundation, Speech by President Mandela on receiving the Freedom of Durban (April 16, 1999).

Minnesota Orchestra’s Other Activities in Cape Town, South Africa

Before the August 10 concert in Cape Town’s City Hall, the Orchestra’s Music Director Osmo Vänskä and some of the musicians took the 45-minute boat ride from the city across Table Bay to Robben Island to visit the prison where Mandela and other opponents of apartheid had been imprisoned.[1]

Their guide, Derrick Basson, 51, who had been a political prisoner there for five years, said that he and every other prisoner were “greeted” upon arrival with these words: “This is no Johannesburg or Pretoria. This is Robben Island. And over here, you’re certainly going to die.” Even the diet was discriminatory. “Bantus” (blacks) got no bread and less fat and sugar than “Coloureds” (mixed-race and Asians). They saw Mandela’s cell, which was barely 6 feet wide.

The morning after their concert, a brass quintet from the Orchestra spent some time at the Cape Town Music Institute, a school tucked behind the bleachers of Athlone Stadium in Cape Flats, a low-lying, flat area southeast of the central business district of Cape Town. Trombonist Doug Wright was impressed by the local brass musicians, who really  appreciated the visit by the Minnesota players.

Later that same morning, the Minnesota brass quintet and others from the Orchestra visited the Eurocon Primary School in Elsie’s River—just outside the city. They were greeted by a rousing song in the courtyard by the school choir. Then inside the Minnesota musicians in small groups with grade-schoolers and their families explained how their instruments worked and played in a string quartet, a woodwind quintet and a brass quintet. The kids rang with laughter when musician Steven Campbell, demonstrating how low his tuba could go, pretended to collapse under the effort.  Everyone then returned to the courtyard for dances by local women and performances by local singers, including the 29:11 group, which had performed in Minnesota last month.[2]

The school choir, led by a 12-year-old soloist sang—in English, Swahili and Afrikaans—“I Am a Small Part of the World.” It brought tears to the eyes of Minnesota cellist Marcia Peck, who said, “I just could see my daughter at Hopkins grammar school singing the same song.” Below is a photograph of the school choir.

Others from the Orchestra and Vänskä that day went to the Artscape Theatre Centre in downtown Cape Town  to rehearse and coach student members of the Cape Town Youth Orchestra. One of the pieces they played was Sibelius’ Finlandia. This prompted Vänskä to say they needed to know the story of this piece of music and its importance in Finland’s quest for independence from Russia.”When you play, you need to say something,” he said.

Cape Town, by the way, is the site of the country’s Legislature and is approximately 31 miles northwest of the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula, which is the penultimate southern tip of the African Continent.

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[1] Ross, In South Africa, Minnesota orchestra makes grim visit to Mandela’s former prison cell, StarTribune (Aug. 13, 2018); Kerr, ‘A very sacred space’: Minn. Orchestra musicians visit Mandela’s Robben Island cell, MPR News (Aug. 9, 2018).

[2] Kerr, Music brings together Minnesota Orchestra musicians, South African students, MPRnews (Aug. 11, 2018); Minn. Orchestra, Cape Town/Aug 10-11; Ross, In teaching young South African talents, Minn. Orchestra musicians find their own inspiration, StarTribune (Aug. 15, 2018). These and other articles plus photographs are available online: http://www.startribune.com/follow-minnesota-orchestra-s-first-of-its-kind-tour-to-south-africa/488534621.