Hear comes The African Sweet Melodies
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: You’re listening to Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. Another one of the very well-known choirs performing at this year’s Old Mutual National Choir Festival joins us now, the conductor does, Thabang Modibe. Thabang, welcome, nice to have you.
Thabang Modibe: Thank you very much.
BB: For people who possibly don’t know about your choir, tell us a little bit about them.
Developing the youth as a young conductor
TM: Okay, my choir hails from the Vaal Region, from Gauteng, we are actually based in Sebokeng, that’s the location in the Vaal area. I think my choir is having like youngsters, we don’t have old people, so mostly it’s people who are coming straight from matric, some are currently in university, so it’s just a young choir.
BB: What are they called?
TM: The African Sweet Melodies.
BB: African Sweet Melodies, with a name like that, the pressure is on already.
BB: I find it interesting Thabang that you say it’s a lot of young, mostly young people. A lot of the choirs here have got a wide variety from 18-60, why do you think yours is predominantly young?
TM: I think they’re conducted by a young person, so you know old people don’t like to be undermined by a very young guy like me, but we welcome everyone who wants to join, they can come, they shouldn’t be intimidated by the young voices that they see.
BB: You are young, as a conductor. I’ve spoken to pretty much all the conductors who are taking part, you’re a lot younger than most of them, where did it all start for you? Before we get into conducting, where did your love for choral music start?
My journey into choral music
TM: It started from a very early age, I think let me say 12, because the church where we used to attend, we were forced to sing. So we had to sing from Sunday School, which is from 12 years, that’s where my love for choral music began.
BB: Did you grow up in a musical family?
TM: Ja, my dad was a conductor, I only see the pictures, I did not even see him perform, but he was a conductor and my mother is a very great singer. My sisters are also very good singers.
BB: All right, then the movement from singing in the choir to conducting, how did that happen?
TM: It just happened, like it was just a spur of the moment thing. When the conductor was supposed to conduct, I just thought, I could do a better job, so he just gave me the choir to conduct.
BB: This competition, the Old Mutual National Choir Festival, it’s been around a lot longer than you and me, age-wise, it’s a competition that’s been going for 38 years, tell me what it means to you to perform on this stage?
Looking forward to the finals challenge
TM: It’s a great pleasure, it’s been my dream for so long to conduct at such a big event. We grew up listening to the choirs who were singing here. Now I’m here conducting with some of the conductors who I used to see when I was young, so it’s a great moment.
BB: Do you feel intimidated by it?
TM: Not exactly because they made me feel welcomed, so they don’t show any signs of intimidation, so I’m just happy to be here.
BB: How excited is the choir to be coming to Mangaung to perform?
TM: Oh, they’re so excited. Some of them have maybe more than ten years singing for the choir, although they are still young, they began singing for the choir at a very early age. So, it’s the very first time that the choir comes to the finals, the choir started in 1998, but it was conducted by another person. It’s been a dream for that choir to come here. It’s the very first time that we’ll be competing in the finals.
BB: I’m sure the excitement is huge. We’re coming up to the run up to those finals now, so there’s still finishing touches being put on, talk to me a little bit about the music that you guys are going to be performing, is it a challenge what you’ve been prescribed?
Adapting to the prescribed music
TM: Yes. It was a huge challenge basically because we are doing opera, which is normally done in a foreign language, so this time it’s done in English, so it’s very difficult doing opera in English. It’s very difficult converting from a French opera and doing it in English, it was very tough because you don’t even find recordings that are done in English, so you just have to start from fresh and then do the whole music.
BB: Performing with an orchestra, that also comes with its own set of challenges.
TM: Ja, fortunately I have not conducted the orchestra, so I’m just waiting for my moment to go on stage and see how it feels.
BB: It changes the dynamic. You talk about not having English recordings for the music, it’s difficult for the choir too because they’re obviously rehearsing without the orchestra and at the finals, they’re on a big stage and people, they’re not used to performing under that sort of pressure, it’s going to be tough.
TM: I think we’re here to learn how to communicate the orchestra with the choir, so I think it’s some of the things I have to grasp so I can just relate to the choir.
BB: What are you hoping to achieve at these finals?
TM: I’m just hoping to give good music, not necessarily win because it’s our first time. We still have age on our side, so we can just, as long as we can produce good music.
BB: Who do you think are going to be the choirs to look out for in 2015?
Who to look out for
TM: Bel Canto, even the hosts, CUT choir, they are very good, but there are a lot of choirs, there is also Prince Machine which I also think is very good, so most of the competitors are good.
BB: And it’s about performing on the day, it doesn’t matter how good you are coming into it, it’s how you deal with the pressure.
TM: Exactly, ja, but I think, because I’ve been singing in this competition, I’ve been to the finals, so I know how the nerves are, so I can just relate that moment to the choir so they know, at least my experience will count.
BB: Tell me about that, you’ve performed on this stage, so you know what it’s like as a chorister.
TM: Even as a soloist I have.
BB: Is it very different conducting to performing?
TM: It is, the nerves are not the same. As a chorister, you’re only focusing on your music, as a conductor, you focus on the music plus, like conducting, each and every part, you have to learn everything, each and every detail, you have to learn, you have to master it.
BB: Thabang, you seem like you’ve got a handle on it, you’re very passionate about it.
TM: I am.
BB: I want to wish you all the best in the final run in, I know there’s lots of work to be done and we look forward to hearing you guys performing, I think it’s going to be an amazing weekend and we look forward to seeing you back in Mangaung, safe travels back home and then with you and the choir back to Mangaung.
TM: Thank you very much.