The Many Skills of an Orchestra’s Music Director

A recent attendance of a rehearsal of the Minnesota Orchestra highlighted for this amateur music-lover the many skills required of an accomplished music director of  a major symphony orchestra. The Minnesota Orchestra’s Osmo Vanskä is such a music director [1] Below is his photograph while conducting.

First, he or she needs to have a thorough knowledge of the wealth of orchestral works in order to help plan an orchestra’s season.

Second, for a specific concert, the music director needs to be intimately familiar with the works on that concert’s program and retrieve or develop how he or she will interpret and conduct each piece, including facial and body movements.

Third, he or she must be able to communicate verbally (in English, for the Minnesota Orchestra) what he wants from each section of the Orchestra. This should be done with all humility and graciousness. At the rehearsal I attended, Vanskä said,”Thank you,” to the Orchestra at the completion of the rehearsal of one of the pieces for the upcoming concerts.

Fourth, at the performance of the pieces at a concert, he or she must be able to have a “stage presence” and bring all of this together for the audience’s enjoyment. When I have attended this orchestra’s concerts, I always have been amazed at Vanskä’s ability by facial and arm gestures and, I assume, by facial expressions I cannot see from the audience, to lead the orchestra in marvelous performances.

The work I heard for 75 minutes of the rehearsal was Tapiola (19 minutes concert performance time) by Jean Sibelius. This is a tone poem capturing the beauty, mystery and magic of the Scandinavian forest and portraying Tapio, the animating forest spirit mentioned throughout the Kalevala, a Finnish epic poem. In the score Sibelius added this preface: “Widespread they stand, the Northland’s dusky forests, Ancient, mysterious, brooding savage dreams; Within them dwells the forest’s mighty God, And wood-sprites in the gloom weave magic secrets.” [2]

It must be mentioned that Finnish-born Vanskä is“renowned internationally for his compelling interpretations of the standard, contemporary and Nordic repertoires and  has led the Orchestra on five major European tours, as well as an August 2018 visit to London’s BBC Proms, and on historic tours to Cuba in 2015 and South Africa in 2018.  In addition, he has led the Orchestra in its award-winning recordings of the complete Sibelius and Beethoven symphonies and the upcoming completion of the recording of the 10 symphonies of Mahler.

As someone who has been on three church mission trips to Cuba and is a close follower and commentator on the U.S. pursuit of normalizing relations with Cuba under President Obama and the unfortunate retreat from those policies by the Trump Administration, I especially was thrilled by the Orchestra’s trip to the island in 2015. [3]   I similarly was thrilled by the Orchestra’s trip to South Africa in 2018, especially after I had seen and heard Mandela at a special program in London’s Westminster Hall in 2001 and by also having visited Cape Town and Robben Island.[4]

Vanskä started his professional musical career as a clarinetist. I fondly recall his beautiful performance of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto at a benefit concert for displaced Syrians that was organized by some of the Orchestra’s musicians.[5]

In December 2018, the Orchestra announced that Vanskä, now 65 years old,  will leave the Orchestra when his current contract expires in 2022. He said, “I feel at this moment, more than ever in my life, that the Minnesota Orchestra is my own orchestra. And that’s a great feeling. What we have achieved, especially since the lockout, is something very special.”[6]

I join the many Orchestra listeners and patrons in saying he will be sorely missed and difficult to replace.

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[1] Suggestions of other skills of music directors are invited from those who know more about orchestras.

[2] Minn. Orchestra, Program (April 25-27, 2019).

[3] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBAMinnesota Orchestra To Go to Cuba (February 13, 2015); Minnesota Orchestra Goes to Cuba This Week! (May 11, 2015); Minnesota Orchestra’s Trip to Cuba Garners National Recognition (Dec. 17, 2016).

[4]  See List of Posts to dwcommentaries—Topical—South Africa & Mandela. See also these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minnesota Orchestra Celebrates the Life of Nelson Mandela ((July 24, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra’s “Celebrating Mandela at 100” Concert (July 29, 2018); Inspirations for Minnesota Orchestra’s South African Tour (Aug. 14, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra’s Concert in South Africa (Cape Town), (Aug. 15, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra’s Other Activities in Cape Town, South Africa (Aug. 16, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Durban), (Aug. 18, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Pretoria), (Aug. 20, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Soweto), (Aug. 24, 2018); Minnesota Singer’s Celebration of Minnesota Orchestra’s Concert in Soweto, (Aug. 29, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Johannesburg), (Aug. 25, 2018). See also Celebrating the Rhodes Scholarships’ Centennial, (June 21,, 2003); Nelson Mandela Makes Connection with Cecil Rhodes (May 20, 2018). Minnesota Public Television  (tpt) has produced a television program about the Orchestra’s South African tour: Music for Mandela: Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa.The first showing of this program is May 5, 2019, 10:00 p.m. (CDT) on tpt’s Twin Cities station (Channel 2).

[5] Successful Benefit Concert for Displaced Syrians, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 7, 2016).

[6] Ross, Conductor Osmo Vanskä to exit Minnesota Orchestra when contract expires, StarTribune (Dec. 8, 2018).

 

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).

 

 

 

 

Nelson Mandela’s Connections with Soweto

Nelson Mandela had several connections with Soweto. Before his imprisonment in 1962 he lived there for 16 years and after his release from prison he briefly returned  there. Later he made at least two significant speeches in Soweto. On June 16, 1993—the 17th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising—Nelson Mandela commemorated the event with a statement  at Soweto’s Orlando Stadium. And on November 30, 1997, he spoke at the Regina Mundi Church, the day when as President he marked the date as Regina Mundi Church Day. These connections will now be reviewed before another post about the Minnesota Orchestra’s concert at the Regina Mundi Church on August 17, 2018.

Mandela’s Home in Soweto[1]

From 1945 through 1961, Mandela (age 28 through 44) lived in Soweto, initially with his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, until their divorce in 1957, and then with his second wife, Nomzamo Winifred (Winnie) Madikizele-Mandela. As a  human rights lawyer and member of the African National Congress (ANC) for many of these years, Mandela  regularly  traveled to and from Soweto to work in Johannesburg’s Central Business District.

Immediately after his release from prison in 1990, he said in his autobiography, “That night I returned with Winnie [his wife] to No. 8115 in Orlando West [in Soweto]. It was only then that I knew in my heart I had left prison. For me No. 8115 was the center point of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography.” Yet after 11 days he and Winnie left this home.

Their home was a single-story, red-brick house that had been built in 1945. In 1961 because of his anti-government activities he was forced to leave this house and go underground until his arrest and imprisonment in 1962.

The house itself was identical to many others built on very small plots on dirt roads with tin roof, cement floor, narrow kitchen and bucket toilet and without electricity. Mandela said it “was the opposite of grand, but it was my first true home of my own, and I was mightily proud. A man is not a man until he has a house of his own.” (In 1975 while Mandela was in prison Desmond Tutu bought a house not far from Mandela’s and lived there with his family.)

Below are photographs  of the house, which now is the Nelson Mandela National Museum, and of shanties in Soweto.

 

 

 

Mandela’s Speech at the Orlando Stadium[2]

“Once again, freedom-loving South Africans and democratic mankind the world over commemorate June the 16th, the day on which unarmed student protesters were massacred in Soweto, 17 years ago.”

“The rally this morning is one amongst many gatherings organized through the length and breadth of this country to mark this occasion.”

“Looking back at the events of the last 17 years, we can say without fear of being contradicted by history, that June 16, 1976 heralded the beginning of the end of the centuries old white-rule in this country. The response of our people to the massacre of unarmed students was to rally behind their organizations for liberation.”

“Through its brutal response, the apartheid regime hoped to suppress all resistance to its diabolic schemes. However, the events of June 16th and after injected a new life into the struggle against apartheid rule. Hundreds of thousands of our people committed themselves to the struggle. Thousands took the decision to join the ranks of the liberation movement. The ranks of Umkhonto We Sizwe and the underground presence of the ANC were swelled by the best sons and daughters of our motherland.”

“Through our sacrifices and struggle we have advanced to a point where a non-racial democracy is no longer simply a craving of those who have been victims of apartheid, but a demand of all South Africans. In the struggle for the last 17 years, our youth have made a magnificent contribution, be it in our people’s army Umkhonto We Sizwe, in our underground work or in the mass struggles waged under the banner of the UDF, Coast and many other democratic formations.”

“Many of our youth and students laid down their lives on June 16, 1976. Many thousands more of our people have in the last 17 years, paid that supreme sacrifice in pursuance of democracy and the liberation of our motherland. How many more should still lose their lives before it can dawn on the powers that be that enough is enough. How many more should still lose their lives or face a bleak future without education and work before it is realized that we need democratic rule now in this country.”

“Compatriots, As we meet here today, to mark this occasion, the causes of the Soweto uprisings continue to be with us. The education crisis has in the last 17 years continued to deepen. A few irresistible questions must be put to the government.”

“Firstly, what accounts for the fact that seventeen years after a crisis of the magnitude of the 1976 protests, the quality and conditions of black education have further deteriorated? Why seventeen years later the attitude of government authorities to education grievances and demands is still typical of the behavior which plunged this whole country into a crisis? Why has the government adopted an uncaring attitude as education increasingly became a preserve of those families who could afford to pay? And why is the government refusing to move away from separate development in education while at the same time continuing to claim that apartheid is dead and buried? There is indeed little doubt that if left unattended, the recent demands by teachers and students would have effectively led to a total collapse in what remains of apartheid education. It is not an overstatement to say this problem was fast approaching proportions similar to the 1976 crisis if not worse.”

“While the government has met some of the demands raised by students and teachers, there are still several other important problem areas in education that must be addressed. In this regard, the speedy convening of the proposed national education forum is of critical importance. Once more let us hasten to warn the government that this forum can only succeed in its function if it enjoys sovereignty from the incumbent authorities and is unhindered in its duties. If this forum has to make a meaning full contribution to the resolution of the immense problems plaguing the education system in this country, it must necessarily be vested with powers congruent with this job.”

“Comrades, we wish to see the convening of a representative and empowered forum on education which will bring all stake-holders together so that the task of dismantling the present fragmented education authorities can commence in earnest. A forum that will begin to work towards a centralized education body designed to meet the needs of all. This need can no longer await the resolution of all other problems. The truth is that the longer we take to address this problem, the more we drift towards an abyss of despair and the more is the future of our children undermined . in this regard, the challenge we face as a people is more than the simple restoration of a culture of learning in our nation and to a tradition of valuing academic achievement among our youth.”

“As we move closer to a democratic order in this country, education becomes one of the most important occupations for the millions in whose name we have prosecuted this struggle. It is therefore no longer enough to criticize. The value of our youth should be measured by their level of discipline and commitment to their studies.”

“It is with this in mind that we take this opportunity to call upon the students to approach their studies with all seriousness. Education is very crucial for your future as it will enable you to better serve your communities and our country during the difficult period of reconstruction.”

“Compatriots, One other category of youth whose conditions of life continue to be of great concern to us is the millions of youth who are out of school and out of work. Over the last one and a half decade our country has witnessed the emergence of a generation of young people who have filtered through the cracks that began to emerge from the social fabric of our communities. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities under apartheid, without education and jobs, many of them have been enticed by the short-lived adventures of criminal life. A democratic South Africa has a responsibility of not only giving hope to these young people, but also to offer them real prospects in a new society, where all shall have equal opportunities. This is what the ANC is fighting for. We must therefore devise means of reaching out to these young people, either through skills training, jobs, education, sports, and other meaningful occupations.”

“Naturally, as we commemorate this day, what immediately seizes the minds of all persons of conscience is the need to bring an end to this inhuman system. Last year we marked June 16 against the background of a raised tempo of conflict. This scenario was epitomized by the deadlock at Codesa 2, the Boipatong massacre, our subsequent programme of mass action and the Bisho massacre. Twelve months later we mark June 16 within the context of resumed negotiations, wherein the cardinal point of the transitionary process as proposed by the ANC and its patriotic front allies can no longer be denied. Of no less importance is the joining of multi-party negotiations by more political parties including those who initially scoffed them as a waste of time. These developments serve to underscore the fact that despite the numerous hiccups, south Africa has only one route to go, the path of popular non-racial democracy. In this regard the tentative agreement on the elections date is a step in the right direction. And there is no turning back. No one shall be allowed to delay this process and prolong the agony under which our people live.”

“As we commemorate the massacres of 1976, we wish to take this opportunity to address the role played by those young people who are in uniform as members of the government security forces. The thousands of lives lost since 1976 can in no small measure be attributed to the hostile attitude of many of these young people towards our communities. Even as we stand at the threshold of a new era in our country, there are still many elements within the army and the police who continue to conduct themselves and do things in the old way. To those responsible for the killings in Katlehong, Protea, Bisho and everywhere else, to all the youth in the police And the army, especially.”

“The black youth, we say the time is now for you to realize that your careers and professions are not equal to apartheid. Indeed, as with all other professional civil servants, whether as teachers or traffic officers, your professionalism and the looming new order demands a commitment that transcends the trappings of apartheid.”

“Compatriots, as we commemorate the sacrifice of the June 16, 1976 martyrs, let me invoke the legend of the trailblazers of the heroic youth and student movement of our country, in the name of our beloved Oliver Tambo, Anton Lembede, Peter Mda and many others in calling upon our youth at this rally to prepare our people for the accomplishment of one of the hardest task to face our people – the elections for the final decolonization of South Africa. Once more the capacity of our movement to take us forward will be determined by the commissions and omissions of our young people. They are better placed not only to provide the millions of our communities with voter education but above all to ensure that those who are in need feel our love, understanding and compassion. As you go out to mobilize our people for the final battle through the ballot-box they must feel that you are their equals, and not their tutors and masters. As the honorary life president of the ANC Youth League, comrade OR Tambo said, ‘we can be wise in knowledge and humble in approach.'”

“Comrades, as we enter the last mile to our promised land let us always remember that without discipline there can be no organization, and without organization there will be no struggle. Our ability to function as a cohesive force and combative movement depends on the discipline we are all able to master as individuals and as an organization in our daily work. Today the African National Congress is eighty-one years old – eighty one years of struggle and sacrifice. Many noble sons and daughters of our land have laid down their lives for the goal of freedom and today history has chosen us to be the midwife of their dreams. As for me, nothing will give me fulfilment than the knowledge that as a people we have sacrificed our all to put our youth in the position where they can decide the future of our country on the basis of equal opportunities.”

“Long live the spirit of June 16.”

Mandela’s Speech at Regina Mundi Church[3]

The “reopening a week ago of the Anglican Church of Christ the King in Sophiatown, as well as the recent testimony of religious leaders at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC]. . . .  serve to remind us of the role the religious community played in either opposing or supporting our oppression. Regina Mundi served the greater Soweto community in times of need. It opened its doors to anti-apartheid activities when all other avenues were closed to the majority of the oppressed.”

“Testimony at the TRC pointed to collaboration by some religious institutions with injustice – whether by commission or omission. Today we celebrate the role of one of the religious bodies which made the difficult but correct choice on the side of truth and justice; a church that refused to allow God’s name to be used to justify discrimination and repression.”

“It was this stance that earned Regina Mundi a reputation as one of [the province of] Gauteng’s greatest protest centers, a literal battlefield between forces of democracy and those who did not hesitate to violate a place of religion with tear-gas, dogs and guns. Regina Mundi became a world-wide symbol of the determination of our people to free themselves.”

“Today’s event and the opening of the Church of Christ the King in Sophiatown which was forcibly closed in 1963, represent small but significant achievements in the battle to rebuild our country and to acknowledge a history that was relegated to the periphery. They symbolize the role of religion in nation-building and development.”

“Today we pride ourselves as a nation, in the outstanding leaders in politics, in the economy, in government and in many other sectors, who cut their teeth right here. Graduates of Regina Mundi are making important contributions to the reconstruction and development of our country. Such was the role of this church in the lives of many of us; such was the esteem with which it was held, that it popularly became known as the people’s cathedral.”

“This role took its toll on the church building. It was ravaged and devastated. But today it is undergoing a proud rebirth.”

“We are honored to have this unique opportunity to acknowledge and thank those who have contributed to this noble undertaking. In particular we thank the children who dedicated their time over the last two years, raising funds for this purpose. We also appreciate the contributions of business and diplomatic missions in the project to restore Regina Mundi.”

“The freedom which we won with the active participation of the religious community, indeed the majority of South Africans, has given us a constitution which guarantees to all South Africans their religious freedom. With this and other fundamental rights secured, the churches and other religious organizations, like society at large, are faced with what is in reality, an even greater challenge: to bring about social transformation through the reconstruction and development of our country.”

“We need religious institutions to continue to be the conscience of society, a moral custodian and a fearless champion of the interests of the weak and down-trodden. We need religious organizations to be part of a civil society mobilized to campaign for justice and the protection of basic human rights.”[4]

“Religious institutions have a critical role to play in uniting and reconciling our people, as we journey together away from the heresy that was apartheid.”

That “journey from our inhuman past, difficult as it may be, is one that we can and must make. Most South Africans have set out on it, from every sector of our society, and many have travelled a long way.”

“Many Afrikaners, who once acted with great cruelty and insensitivity towards the majority in our country, to an extent you have to go to jail to understand, have changed completely and become loyal South Africans in whom one can trust.”

“Such changes, in different ways, we must all make if we are to truly heal our nation by working together to address the legacy of our past, especially the poverty that afflicts so many.”

“We also count on our spiritual leaders to make a special contribution in the rebuilding of the morality of our nation undermined by the perversions of apartheid. Success in our battle against crime, poverty, disease and ignorance depends on your active involvement.”

“We are encouraged to see churches that benefited from apartheid returning land to communities which were removed by force. This is an important gesture and a practical contribution to healing the past, a past that will continue to haunt us if we do not co-operate in exorcising it.”

“As long as we see the problems and challenges that face us as our own, and not those for someone else – as long as we work together to make South Africa the land of our dreams – so long shall we be guaranteed of success.”

“God bless you.”

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[1]  Mandela House, Wikipedia; Mandela House; Monnakgotia, Celebrating Mandela  Where It All Began; Soweto, (July 9, 2018) Forbes Africa; Scott, Soweto, Mandela House, Apartheid Museum: Johannesburg’s most infamous urban township, Traveler (Mar. 11, 2016); Tutu House, Wikipedia.

[2] Nelson Mandela Foundation, Statement of the President of the African National Congress, Nelson R. Mandela, on the 17th Anniversary of the 1976 student uprising (June 18, 1993).

[3] Nelson Mandela Foundation, Speech by President Nelson Mandela on the occasion of Regina Mundi Day (Nov. 30, 1997).

[4] This blogger notes that in 1986 South Africa’s Dutch Reformed Mission Church–the church for colored or mixed-race people that had been established by the Dutch-Reformed Church for white people–adopted the Confession of Belhar. That Confession rejected any doctrine or ideology which “absolutizes  natural diversity or the sinful separation of people; explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church; sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race or color; and would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.” Thirty years later, in 2016, the Confession of  Belhar was adopted by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)  as an addition to its Book of Confessions that “declare to the church’s members and the world who and what [the church] is, what it believes and what it resolves to do.”  (The Confession of Belhar Is Adopted by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), dwkcommentaries.com (July 21, 2016).)

 

 

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).