14 years and counting at the NCF finals!
09 December 2015
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Brad Brown: Welcome back onto Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. We’re joined by another one of the conductors, although Monty, you’ve been around this competition for a long, long time. You’re no stranger to the NCF, welcome back.
Monty Manamela: Yes, how are you doing?
MM: I’m good, thank you, yes, I mean NCF, it’s my home, this is where we grew up and we’re still growing. I started conducting NCF in 2002, nonstop, to date.
BB: It’s incredible to me, I’ve chatted to all of the conductors and there are conductors here who are conducting choirs that weren’t even formed in 2002, you’ve been around the block a few times. This competition is incredible, isn’t it?
MM: It’s breath-taking actually, you see development, it’s on best. The type of music that we are doing, it forces one to really dig deeper, try to find more information, so it is what it is.
Are Gauteng ruling the roost?
BB: You’re from Gauteng, the powerhouse in choral music in South Africa at the moment, it seems to be where everything is really happening. What makes this year different, do you think, to previous years?
MM: Look, it’s for the first time, I think, in the Gauteng province, we are bringing three hailed choirs, you know, in the past we used to bring three choirs, but this time we’re bringing three hailed choirs. The line up in the large category, I’m sorry, I’m going to talk about the large category because that’s where my interest lies. It’s quite interesting, you’ve got all best choirs in the whole country and the repertoire that we are doing for this year, it’s actually interesting as well.
BB: Monty, talk to me about the introduction of the league system, that’s brought a new dynamic to this competition and really made things interesting and made things tougher. I mean now you can’t just, if you are the best choir in your province you’ve got an automatic guarantee to the final, it’s no longer the case, you’ve got to be comparable to the best choirs in the country.
MM: Yes, I agree. I mean firstly I really want to commend the people who came up with the idea of the league, it’s really breath-taking, like I would say. The only thing is that It needs to be watertight. There are some loose ends around it, but I think because we’re working together, the conductors, they called us, and the adjudicators and the main core. We are working together to make sure that it becomes what it’s supposed to be.
We are going nowhere
BB: This competition has been around for a long, long time, it’s an institution in South Africa, I think 38 years this year, the National Choir Festival has been going, it’s special, to be able to perform on this stage, it’s something, it’s difficult to put into words, but it is special.
MM: Look, I’m going to share something with you, some of us, we will not go anywhere, because the first time when I stood in front of the orchestra, it was from this project, and today we’re becoming better. We’re conducting orchestra, through this project. That’s why we always speak our mind in this project, we’d rather fight in this project and get things right in this project so that this project can be a better project for all of us.
BB: I like that, it’s easy to be involved in something and moan about it behind the scenes, but you guys don’t.
MM: We don’t.
BB: If there’s an issue, you bring it up. You deal with it.
MM: It’s the way it is.
BB: That’s the way it should be.
MM: Of course and it’s not about being radical, you know, it’s about saying the things that needs to be change. Change is never easy to anybody else, even if you have to change your chair and sit here and go vice versa, it’s going to make you a little bit uncomfortable, so change is difficult, but we need to face it.
BB: I like, there’s a saying that says a rising tide lifts all ships, that if you do something for the better, everyone benefits and I get that feeling around the NCF that something, you talk about standing in front of an orchestra for the first time, that is, it’s not cheap to put an orchestra together.
It takes resources and something like this gives the average, ordinary South African choir the opportunity, to not just stand in front, but to perform with some of the best orchestras, and not just in South Africa, but in the world. Our orchestras are magnificent.
MM: I agree with you fully. Remember, being a conductor, it’s not only about directing the crossheads or whatever, but it’s a confirmation of, you being a leader and it’s for that reason where we see things which are not going right. We should stand up and say, as leaders, within our own rights, we think we’d rather shift to the left or to the right. So orchestra in the NCF, I must say, it took us to greater heights and we’ll keep on keeping on.
Raising the bar year after year
BB: That’s the difficult thing, is to keep on improving because when you get to a point where you think this is great, you don’t want to stay there, you don’t want to stagnate. You want to keep on improving and raising that bar and NCF does that, I don’t know how they do it every year, but they do that.
MM: It’s an amazing project in the country, I mean well, there are new babies on the block, but we know that NCF is the mother of all.
BB: Let’s talk about your choir and what you’re going to bring to the finals, tell us a little bit about the choir.
MM: Tears, people are going to cry, that much I know. You know that one is working with the soul in hand, but we’re working very hard and you know, when people are working hard, they don’t need luck. They just need to be wished, nevertheless, what I’m trying to get at is, is we are promising our people that our performance is going to be one of the best performances that Kopano Chorus ever put together.
BB: I’ve chatted to a couple of the conductors and I’ve asked most of them this question, I said, where do you think the competition is going to come from, who is the choir to beat? Kopano is coming up very, very often, does that put added pressure onto you?
MM: No, there is one choir that is going to beat Kopano Chorus, just one choir and it’s Kopano Chorus.
BB: I love that, and I mean that’s what it boils down to, is if you do what you know your choir can do on the day, if, by any chance as a choir that’s better than you, then so be it. You’ve done what you can do, but you’re pretty confident, that if you do what Kopano can do, you’re going to win it.
MM: I think so, everybody is here to win the competition, so it’s not necessary for us to come here at the interview and become modest, we must say it the way it is. We all want to win and we’re all working very hard to win the competition. So that is it.
Pot luck the Gauteng choirs were grouped together
BB: Monty, I asked Sidwell Mhlongo this question too, with the draw of the running order for the finals, how did it work out that all the Gauteng choirs ended up where they did?
MM: I really don’t know, it’s difficult and I’m actually bothered about Sunday because the competition is all over the programme. Half the time, if not more, we’re used to having good choirs clustered in one space, seven, eight, nine, 10. So now you have one up there, two there, so it’s difficult to plan around it. Ja, it’s very tricky, it’s very tricky.
BB: It’s going to be an interesting weekend to say the least, there’s some amazing talent in this country. There’s no shortage of talent from a conducting perspective, or from a choral perspective. You’re obviously in the large section. Touch on the standards, looking at some of the young conductors coming through, what’s the take on the future state of choral music in South Africa?
MM: I can tell you that already I’m a product of standard category. I started conducting the standard category when I started conducting in 2002 and now it’s almost how many years later, 13 or so, so I want to believe, have the years, the standard conductors will be sitting here as the large category conductors.
BB: There’s a couple of exciting young conductors here who are going to e performing. Are you excited by what the energy and the passion that they bring to it?
Great to see the passion coming through
MM: Amazing, I’m going to tell you something. You know, it’s different from what used to happen in the past, because I think conductors, they make efforts. They stand up because they know that they don’t know, so they go and make research. Most of the people that are involved in this music, this genre of late, they went to school, they studied, they know what they’re talking about, that’s why it makes it very interesting.
BB: I’m looking forward to those finals, I’m sure you are as well. Final preparations are being put on those choirs. How excited is the choir itself, all the choristers, to come to Mangaung and perform.
MM: They are looking forward to it, but we are hoping that the competition can be in January, just to postpone it a little bit, so that we can be really sure of what we’re going to do.
BB: I want to wish you all the best for those final preparations, we look forward to seeing you on that stage and we look forward to the heat, as you put it, that Gauteng is going to bring.
MM: Thank you very much, that’s the word that I was looking for, wishing for the best, not good luck, yes, then we really appreciate that.
BB: Excellent, Monty, thank you so much.