Dr Zoliswa Twani – adjudication is in her blood
28 October 2015
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Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. I’m Brad Brown, it’s good to have you with us and with the finals of the National Choir festival approaching very soon, it’s time to shift our focus to that competition. It’s an absolute pleasure to welcome onto the show today Dr Zoliswa Twani. Doc, welcome onto Old Mutual Live, thank you for joining us today.
Zoliswa Twani: Thank you so much and I greet the listeners of the adjudicators for the 2015 National Choir Festival, how did you first get involved?
How does one become an adjudicator?
BB: Doc, I’m so glad we got to touch base. Obviously things are really culminating and we’re building up to a crescendo, so to speak, with the finals coming up early in December. Let’s talk a little bit about your role as one
ZT: Oh, okay, I was appointed by Old Mutual because I’m always curious about what is happening in music. I always want to be involved, so I contacted them, sent them my CV and my profile and introduced myself, that I would like to work with them. Obviously they liked it and I’ve joined them from 2010, I’ve been with them since then.
BB: Doc, you’ve been around the National Choir Festival for many years now. It obviously keeps growing, it’s a fantastic competition in unearthing talent here in South Africa, but where did your love of choral music stem from?
Where my love for music developed
ZT: My love of music generally, I will start there, comes from my parents. My dad was a jazz player, he played in a band in the Eastern Cape. My mother had to learn to play music. They made it a point that they teach all of us music, but I knew from 14 years old already that when I go to university, that’s all I’m going to study, music, music, teach music, teach music and I’ve been at it since.
Choral music, I was introduced to it at school, but I didn’t do much of it because at that time, during the days of apartheid, there was no music in our school. During choir practices I was off to town to learn to play the piano, the cello and the recorder. But then choral music was strengthening when I was at varsity.
One of my courses that I had to do was choral conducting and choir training, which I had to do up to Honours level at Rhodes University. I was in the Chamber Choir and the Chamber Choir, especially the touring Choir, would have only 20 members, especially when we had to do overseas trips.
I would always be in that choir. I was one of the few blacks, I think, in my time, there were about two people in the Chamber Choir. I learnt a lot when I went then to work at the University of Transkei, which is now known as Walter Sisulu University in Umtata. That’s where my love of choral music was strengthened.
Interestingly, the choir would be conducted by our students, one of which is one of the main big conductors in South Africa, in the Eastern Cape. He used to be my trainer and coach when it came to African music.
BB: What a great story that is. Doc, do you think, for you personally, do you think your love of music was born into you or is it something that’s developed over time?
ZT: Even though I was born with it, with that passion, with that love, but it developed over time and obviously the skills are sharpened when you go and nurture them. When you go and study, when you go and practice them. You can’t do it without, you know, that aspect. You need to develop your knowledge, you need to develop your skills and you become sharper in the game.
How does the adjudication process work?
BB: Doc, let’s talk about the Old Mutual National Choir Festival, particularly in 2015, you’re one of the adjudicators, you’ve been very busy over the last few months as we build up to those finals coming up at the end of the year. For someone who is listening to this, who maybe doesn’t know too much about the National Choir Festival, can you talk us through the process of what it takes to get through the various regional levels to eventually compete on the National Stage in December?
ZT: Yes, each choir that is interested, they obviously contact Old Mutual, they go through a process of auditions where they send a tape and they tape all their music as well. Then you enter for the regional levels first, that is the first level, in your own province.
Then they get funded, I’m not very much clued up in terms of how they fund then at that level because I’m not involved in that area. But what I like and what I’ve seen is that Old Mutual, when we have the workshops for the regional choirs, for an example, it’s not just a workshop on the music, on the pieces, they also give them knowledge and skills on economic issues like management of finances.
They have a workshop, a section on that, management from financial managers, which helps assist the choirs with running their own funds. Taking care of their own budgets and making sure that they do not mismanage the money that they have.
Also, on a personal level, during the competition, the Old Mutual people are there to teach people and advise them about healthy living, about welfare issues, about wealth issues as well, like all the insurances, the policies, the investments that they have. It’s a package, you know, which comes with involvement.
BB: Doc, I find it very interesting that you talk about the business side of choir because I think a lot of people don’t actually realise that even though it’s a choir, it needs to be run almost like a business in order for it to be sustainable and to succeed long term. Because it’s all good and well if you have talented members of that choir, but if the finances aren’t there to take part in these sort of competitions and travel and get better, you’re going to go nowhere as a choir.
Old Mutual helping choirs in so many ways
ZT: Yes, definitely. The business side is very important, even for individual artists, much of our music programmes at university as well, they have a business side on it so that the students, when they leave university, they leave holistically.
They’ve got the music, they learn about the business side, they learn about the recording side of things, but when it comes to the choirs, it’s actually interesting to see the different choirs from year to year, you begin to see the growth. Not only musically, but in the business sense, how do we see that?
For instance, you see choirs coming in with fresh attires, for the different sections, that is an indicator that the finances are well managed there because they plough back that money they win, back to their choirs, for the development of them.
Because it is also, you know, healthy and very important for the choir members to all of them look very smart, tidy and uniform on stage. It says something about their confidence, even their stage deportment, when they get on stage. It builds up themselves as a team, of the different choir members. So, the choir is a business, it needs to be treated as such.
BB: I love that. Doc, for you on a personal note, what would you say are some of the benefits you’ve got, just personally, from being involved in the Old Mutual National Choir Festival over the last five years?
ZT: Oh yes, thank you very much for that question. The first benefit that I’ve come to appreciate over the years is that, you know, when you work in that environment, you need to be prepared, not just musically, in terms of your knowledge, but also psychologically.
But also you know, from your heart as well because you need to be aware that these are people that you are dealing with and in your judging of the choir, you need to be very skilful in how you formulate your message and how you write your comments for the different choirs. So that people can respond to what you’re advising them, rather than them feeling offended by the way in which you are, I would say chastising them.
So, when you are skilled in your writing and how you say things to them, the main purpose is that you educate them, you advise them and also you are remedial in the process. So you don’t just identify problems, but you also give and advise as to how to overcome those problems. I’ve learnt the skill of very good writing, the writing that touches the heart, the writing that people can respond to.
The second thing I’ve learnt, is it’s very gratifying as an adjudicator. When you’ve been to a competition, you stand on stage, you give them feedback about their performance and when you see the choirs in the next level, which is the final, you begin to realise that hey, they did listen, they did take the good advice and it’s very fulfilling.
BB: I think that’s fantastic. Doc, I’m going to leave it there. I’d love to get you on in a couple of weeks’ time, just to talk about the level of competition in this year’s Old Mutual National Choir festival, as to how it’s improved, if it has. I’m not sure and I’d love to get your take on that, but we’ll save that for next time.
ZT: I’ll wait for the next time, but it has improved tremendously. I’m excited about the choice of the music, it’s exciting. We have brilliant guys in the panel who can think and we have brilliant, excellent conductors and choristers who know how to pitch when the prescription comes out, but we’ll take that at the next time.