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 (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 Concert in South Africa (Cape Town)

On August 10, the Minnesota Orchestra played the first concert on its South African tour in Cape Town’s City Hall. Below are photographs of the City Hall’s auditorium where the concert was played and of its exterior (with Table Mountain in the background).[1]

 

 

 

 

The concert opened with the Orchestra playing the South African and U.S. national anthems and then Jean Sibelius’ “En Saga, ” an 1882 tone poem which the composer said was “ the expression of a state of mind. I had undergone a number of painful experiences at the time and in no other work have I revealed myself so completely. It is for this reason that I find all literary explanations quite alien.” (Sibelius and the Orchestra’s Music Director, Osmo Vänskä, are both Finnish natives.)

South African soprano, Goitsemang Lehobye, then joined the Orchestra to sing  “Harmonia Ubuntu,”  which was commissioned for this  tour and which had its world premiere at the Orchestra’s home in Minneapolis on July 21, 2018.  A review of the world premier of this work said it had a “bublingly eventful score that effectively referenced African rhythms and melodies, and peppered the orchestral textures with a Wasembe rattle and a djembe” African goblet-shaped drum.  [2]

The work’s  South African composer, Ndodana-Breen, who was in the audience for both of these concerts, said this work was inspired by Mandela’s exemplifying the African values of ubuntu—the knowledge that one’s humanity is tied in harmony to the humanity of others. The lyrics, which were drawn from Mandela’s speeches and writings, are the following (in English translation):

  • “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
  • “For to be free is not to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that enhances the freedom of others.”
  • “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with them. Then he becomes your partner.”
  • “In the end, reconciliation is a spiritual process. It requires more than just words. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of people.”
  • “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
  • “We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well. That none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people for reconciliation, the birth of a new world.”
  • “Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.”
  • “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways you yourself have changed.”
  • “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
  • “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fail.”
  • “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

The concert concluded with Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, an operetta first performed on Broadway in 1956, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, which had its premiere in Vienna in 1808.

After a few standing ovations, Vänskä, for the first encore, turned again to Sibelius. But for the second encore, the director returned to the podium with a surprise.

After single drum beats were joined by marimba and horns, the Orchestra musicians started singing  “Shosholoza,” a song originally sung (in call and response style) by all-male African workers working in diamond and gold mines and later sung by the prisoners on Robben Island. Mandela described it as “a song that compares the apartheid struggle to the motion of an oncoming train” and went on to explain that “the singing made the work lighter.” Here is one English translation of the lyrics: “Go forward. Go forward, from those mountains, on this train from South Africa. Go forward. Go forward. You are running away. You are running away, from those mountains, on this train from South Africa.”  It is so popular in South African culture that it often is referred to as the country’s unofficial national anthem.

As soon as the Orchestra started singing this song, the crowd erupted. They laughed, they clapped, they pulled out their cellphones. Then many of them sang along.

Before leaving this account of the Cape Town concert, it also should be mentioned that this city played an important part in the life of Nelson Mandela. Roughly 4 miles west of Cape Town across Table Bay lies Robben Island, where Mandela spent the first 18 years of his imprisonment. And on February 11, 1990, after over 26 years of imprisonment, he was released from Victor Verster Prison, roughly 40 miles east of Cape Town and immediately went to the front steps of its City Hall for his first speech as a free man for a crowd of 50,000 people and a worldwide television audience; this speech will be covered in a later post.

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[1] Minn. Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra in Cape Town, Blain, Beethoven, with South African flavor, StarTribune (July 23, 2018); Ross, Packing instruments and loads of goodwill, StarTribune (Aug. 5, 2018).

[2] Minn. Orchestra, Sommerfest Program;Blain, South African composer celebrates Mandela’s Message, StarTribune (July 20, 2018); Ross, Ode to Minnesota and South African Joy, StarTribune (July 22, 2018); Blain, Beethoven, with South African flavor, StarTribune (July 23, 2018); Ross, Packing instruments and loads of goodwill, StarTribune (Aug. 5, 2018); Ross, In a historic moment for Minnesota Orchestra, music echoes the words of Nelson Mandela, StarTribune (Aug. 10, 2018)(the digital version of this article has beautiful photographs of the concert).

[3] Burns, SOUTH AFRICA’s NEW ERA; on Mandela’s Walk, Hope and Violence, N.Y. Times (Feb. 12, 1990).