How the National Choir Festival is adjudicated
11 February 2015
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Brad Brown: Welcome back to this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. Excitement is really building as we head closer to the grand finale of the Old Mutual National Choir Festival and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome back onto the podcast a returning guest.
We spoke to Dr Zoliswa Twani not so long ago, to talk about her history and how she got involved as an adjudicator at the Old Mutual National Choir Festival and I said in that podcast that we’ll get her back on to talk a little bit about the level of competition, particularly in 2015 and how it’s improved over the years. Doc, welcome back, nice to catch up once again, welcome.
Zoliswa Twani: Thank you so much for the welcome, it’s good to talk to you again.
BB: Doc, you mentioned the last time we spoke, just at how the level of competition has improved and one thing I loved in that conversation, you said from round to round, so you give feedback in the regionals and then when the choirs arrive at nationals you see that they’ve taken that advice on board.
But you must see a marked difference over the years, choirs that you’ve seen in your time with the National Choir Festival, from 2010 right up until now. Is the standard of South African choral music really improving through a competition like this?
The standard has improved tremendously
ZT: There is no way that it cannot improve because Old Mutual is not the only competition in South Africa, but I tell you, Old Mutual is the one competition that everybody in South Africa who loves choral music plans for. That first or second week of December is an excitement to everybody who is involved. The standard has improved a lot and in terms of the music.
I’m particularly excited about this year’s music. It’s from the romantic era and it’s all expressed from what you call Grand French Opera, very exciting. Composers like Verdi, and other greats, and that’s difficult music. It needs a lot of sound it needs a lot of power. But our choirs once again, 2015 is going to be very interesting and exciting. There’s going to be fireworks when we get to Bloemfontein this year.
BB: We can’t wait. Doc, talk to me about the adjudication process. As an adjudicator, a choir is in front of you, on the stage, what are you looking for?
What do you look for from a Choir?
ZT: When the choir goes onto the stage, remember they have been taken through a process of workshops to prepare them for the music that is expected of them and all the historical background of the music. Now when the choir goes there on stage, and the music score sheets, where we write our comments, there are three main areas there.
One big area, it looks at the sound quality. Now, with sound quality, you’re looking at things like the tone, colour of the choir, the tone placement, the blending of the voices, you know? Those kinds of things, intonation, pitch and so forth.
Then the second area, second big area is the area of technical accuracy. Here you’re looking at correctness of pitch, correctness of tempo, things like phrasing, all those different elements of music that are related to technical accuracy, that is the technical demand of the music, which they have to master.
Then the third section looks at musicianship interpretation, which are all important. Now in that section, the choir, the conductor, they have to try and get into the mind of the composer, interpret the stylistic features in the music. The stylistic features of the composer in fact, and they need to portray all of those things in the renditions that they perform at the competition.
Those are the three broad areas, but there are a lot of sub elements that go in those areas. They have to be very balanced when it comes to those three. So that your choir is not only good for an example with stylistic features, musicianship and interpretation; because they could be interpreting on wrong rhythms, wrong time signatures, wrong pitches, for an example. Once the technical accuracy suffers, the music suffers, there’s no music there, because the sound cannot come together from the different parts of the choir.
It’s very important and also where you have songs with soloists or a group of soloists, which you call an ensemble, the conductor needs to make sure that you don’t have very well trained high standard soloists and the choir is slacking on the other side. You’ve got to strike a balance between the soloist, they’ve got to be equally good, so that the music can also be at an equilibrium.
BB: Doc, let’s talk about some of the soloists and let’s not get into specifics because I don’t think it would fair this close to the grand finale in December, but as far as the quality and the amount of talent we’ve got in South Africa. Have you been impressed by the soloists that have been on show this year?
ZT: Very much impressed, very much impressed and I will not stop advocating for conductors to grow their own team. They’ve got the talent in the choirs, we’ve got the talent in South Africa. The variety of other musical genres which demonstrate that South Africa has got talent, so we need to nurture that talent and develop it, it’s rich. We are rich, internationally South African soloists are doing wonders in the world.
How do you see the competition staying relevant?
BB: Doc, looking at the competition, at the Old Mutual National Choir Festival, it’s been around for a long, long time and in order to stay relevant, various organisations or various competitions, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter what sphere it’s in, need to keep up with the times. What in your opinion does the Old Mutual National Choir Festival need to do to stay relevant in 2016/2017 up to 2020 and beyond?
ZT: Yes, Old Mutual has got a very good plan where they talk to their customers, I would say, that is the conductors and the choirs. If they can continue making sure that the needs of the conductors are met, you know, they listen to them, they implement and assist them in any way that they can, they will stay relevant.
I would like to see them now getting more into the training, training aspect, especially of the conductors. We know that before the finals they take them to go and work with the orchestra, but that needs to be extended a little bit. This year they’ve gone, you know, a step further to make sure that in the different provinces, where they can, they are able to get orchestras to sing with the choirs.
If they can latch on that, make sure that before they go, so that the choirs don’t only sing with the orchestra at the nationals, but they can start with it at provincial level as well. We need to look into that as well. More training, more training, that’s what I can emphasize, that’s the teacher in me.
BB: I love that. Doc, looking ahead to those finals in Bloemfontein, what excites you most, what are you looking forward to most about the finals?
ZT: The finals, because I’ve been to a number of regionals, you know, this year and some of the tough ones, I’m praying and hoping that the beautiful performances that I have experienced in the different regionals. The choirs will be able to carry them through to the finals because there were some exciting performances with choirs getting platinum in terms of their marks. I hope they’ll be able to keep that momentum and even go beyond what they did at the province. It’s going to be very interesting to watch and see what they can do at that level.
BB: Absolutely. Dr Zoliswa Twani, thank you so much for your time here on Old Mutual Live, we look forward to seeing you in Bloemfontein at those finals and if you want to find out more about it, just get to dogreathings.co.za. Doc, thank you for your time, much appreciated.
ZT: Thank you so much, it’s been fun talking to you, thank you so much, bless you.