From hospital choir to national finalists
20 November 2015
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Brad Brown: You’re listening to Old Mutual Live, Khulekani Khumalo joining us now. Khulekani, welcome, thanks for joining us today.
Khulekani Khumalo: Thank you for having me.
BB: The excitement is building ahead of the Old Mutual National Choir Festival finals, you’re one of the conductors from KZN in South Africa.
BB: Tell us a little bit about your choir who will be performing in those finals.
KK:Well, my choir, it was established in 2006 and basically it’s a hospital choir, it was formed with the aim of performing at weddings, funerals, in the performances within the hospital and the competitions for Department of Health in KZN. It was basically formed because of that. Now, because now we saw that they were good enough, so we decided to enter the community choir competitions and then from there we never looked back.
BB: It’s been an exciting journey.
KK: Very exciting, very exciting, for all these years, from 2006 until to date, we have been a growing choir. A bunch of kids who want to work all the time, who want to sing, that are very passionate about singing.
Not daunted by our inexperience
BB: As far as the choir goes, it’s almost 10 years old, there are choirs in this competition that have been going for a long time, older than you. How does it make you feel that you’re competing against choirs that I don’t want to say they’re better established, but they’ve been around for longer, does that put pressure on you as a young choir?
KK: It is in a bit, but then we have our own mentality that it’s all about ourselves. It’s all about having fun, fun, fun, but at the same time it’s a learning curve for us, that we are up against the big dudes. We are up against those experienced people, experienced conductors, we’re sharing the same podiums, sharing the same stage. It is a learning curve for us. It’s very exciting. At the same time we’re having butterflies in the stomach.
BB: Tell me a little bit about your journey before we touch more on the choir, how did you get into conducting, where did it all start for you?
KK: Well, it all started at school, I would say I started in 1999 when I was doing grade eleven. I didn’t want anything to do with choral, all I wanted to do was gospel, I only sang gospel. I just joined them because I just wanted to check whether I do fit in or what.
I started as a singer, I became a soloist, I went to varsity, studied music for four years and I became a professional soloist, then I shifted a bit. Wanted to be a choir conductor, I sang with African Chorus, SA Singers and now I sing for Voices of the Nations.
It was a learning curve also for me. It was a very long journey, a very hard working journey, shifting from being a singer to be a conductor. It has been a very, very long journey and a very hard, with a lot of problems, but then here I am, for the first time in the finals, National Choir Festival finals. It’s an honour for me, it’s a very big step for me.
Some of the challengers along the way
BB: You come on the stage, there are choirs that have performed here many times, you must be looking forward to it because as the newcomer. No one is expecting you to perform that you could win this thing, but that means there’s no pressure on you.
KK: Well, I always love being an underdog because no one is taking notice of you, but then what I know is, we will make a mark on the day. That’s one thing for sure.
BB: Tell me about some of those challenges that you had to overcome, from moving from being a soloist and singing in a choir, to being a conductor. What were some of the things that you had to deal with?
KK: Well, what I had to deal with is the transition, it’s all about the transition from being a singer to being a conductor. Sometimes when you conduct a choir, you demand more things that you are able to do while they cannot do because you know, you are a soloist.
You can do what you want them to do, but only to find that they don’t meet the requirements. Sometimes you quarrel with them because they just do not have the same mentality that you have. I think that’s one of the challenges, that you want the choir to be at the level that you were there before, while you were still a singer.
BB: Tell me about the choir itself, size, how many voices in there and are they excited to be coming to Mangaung to compete?
KK: We have 60 voices, ranging from 18 to 60 years old. They are very excited, they are very much excited. Yesterday I was engaging with them on our page, they were asking me, when are we going to the rehearsals, we want to sing, we want to come and make a mark. So everyone is so positive, everyone is looking forward to come and perform on this marvellous stage in the finals.
Special to be a part of an iconic competition
BB: Let’s talk about the stage, the Old Mutual National Choir Festival, it’s been around for a long, long time.
KK: It is now.
BB: It’s an institution in South African choral music and every choir aspires to perform on the stage. You’re going to have this opportunity now. What does it mean to you personally to be performing on this stage?
KK: Well, the National Choir Festival is THE prestigious competition in the whole of Southern Africa. Once you’re in the finals, you’re regarded as one of the top choirs in SA, which means a lot to us. It means heaven to us. It’s something that is remarkable, that is going to stay in our hearts and minds for quite some time.
You just cannot lower our standards, in fact we need to up our game because we are up against champions, we are up against the regional champions, so we cannot afford to lower the standard. It’s so exciting, it’s an honour for us as one of the little choirs, one of the young choirs in SA to be in one of the big stages of the finals, National Choir Festival.
BB: There’s been a lot of joking around about the order of performance and not wanting to go first, are you happy with you draw?
KK: Oh, I’m very much happy, at one time I thought no, as an underdog I’ll be the first choir on the stage, as the first timer, in the finals, I will be the first choir. It all calls for working hard at the regionals, for you not to be the first choir in the finals, for earning good marks in the regionals, that means very much hard work. We’ve been trying to enter for National Choir Festival in the regionals, but we did not succeed because we were not ready yet, but now I feel we are more than ready to take the stage.
BB: Let’s talk about that hard work. How much work goes into getting a choir ready for a competition like this? How much time do you spend a week with the choir in the build up to this?
KK: We only rehearse on weekends, we normally have camps from Friday to Saturday, every week. So there’s ample time that is being put on the daily basis work. There is so much work, so I think it’s going to be fun and exciting.
BB: As far as your choir goes, challenges that you’ve had to overcome, it’s never easy getting to this point.
KK: Well, there are challenges, there are many challenges, because there’s transport, there’s food, there’s everything.
BB: I want to wish you all the best.
KK: Thank you very much.
BB: Safe travels back home after this and good luck with the final few weeks of preparation and we look forward to seeing you and the rest of the choir in Mangaung.
KK: Thank you very much, thank you very much for having me sir, thank you very much.