How to balance a full-time job and conducting
23 June 2015
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I’m Aphiwe Honono and today on Old Mutual Live, not only is today’s conductor an HR professional who specialises in labour law; he also conducts choirs and trains adults and young children. Joining me today is Mr Vuyani Mpafa. Thank you for being on the show. I’m going to start by asking the obvious, you are a qualified HR professional who specialises in labour law, when did the passion for conducting or even choirs for that matter start for you?
VM: I came into touch with choral music or classical music from my church where I grew up in the Old Apostolic church. That was a traditional way of life and that is actually where I got in touch with this kind of music.
AN: You are also a trainer who has over 20 years of experience. If someone, a young person would like to join a choir or get into choral music, what would your advice be to them?
Need a passion for singing to be a great chorister
VM: Ordinarily the advice would start with passion. If someone has a passion for singing and you identify say a choir where you want to go and actually practice that particular passion. In various corners of South Africa there’s community choirs and they are led by trained and knowledgeable conductors. That’s where someone would get the necessary training to be a chorister first. It extends further than that. These days singing is a profession, so you would have people who are actually going out and studying opera music. Out of which some of them can actually make a living because they would have studied the music and out of that, they can actually make a profession out of it.
AN: Vuyani, you in your career conducted school choirs and adult choirs, what is the difference between the two, for someone who is not too knowledgeable in the choral industry?
The difference between school and adult choirs
VM: The difference is the level of maturity first. Obviously at school you’re dealing with fairly young people and when you train a school choir, for instance, their level of understanding and comprehension would not necessarily be on par with people who belong to an adult choir. Who have been singing in an adult choir for all this time. So your turnaround time in terms of getting an adult choir versus the school choir to a particular level of performance would be rather quicker. When you do it with people who are relatively experienced and relatively seasoned as in the adult versus school choirs. Again, it would also be based on age, the level of maturity, the level of vocal ability, of the school kids versus adults.
AN: We understand that a lot of funding is needed, especially in the choral industry. I would like to think that unlike our traditional music and for your different genres of music, the choral industry seems to be a bit lacking behind. What would you say is contributing to this and what ways can we look at to change this?
VM: I’ll give you an example; I conducted a choir when I was still in Mpumalanga, that particular choir, we had to go and market ourselves out to particular corporate companies. At the time was my then employer, who first we had to try and explain or articulate what the objectives of the choir are. What is the value add and what is the value add to the community at large. So we sold it as a product of community building at that time and I sold it as a product and a vehicle of taking away the youth from the streets of that then town, Middleburg, Mhluzi. Giving them something that they can engage in that is productive and that strategy seems to have worked in getting funding from a particular corporate company or a particular company.
Choirs have to market themselves as community projects
The problem that we have with South Africa at large, there seems to be no consolidated effort to try and get the corporate to support this kind of music that we have. You would get statements to the effect that our music doesn’t sell, our music is not commercial, amongst other things. So that is why you would not necessarily or easily find it to be well funded or having sponsors.
AN: Your achievements as a conductor, you are a National Choir Festival Provincial Champ of the years 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2006, what would you contribute that success to?
VM: My strategy to having achieved all that I have achieved and represented the Mpumalanga Province at the National finals of the Old Mutual all those years. It was obviously passion, dedication and a never-say-die attitude. When you get into this kind of music that we get into, if you do not have the resilience, you’re not going to go far. Secondly if you are a kind of person who does not research, who does not go out extensively and look what you’re doing and compare to what your other colleagues are doing next door; you would not go far.
A lot of work goes into being a top conductor
So my success, in the main, I surrounded myself with good choral, classical colleagues. People who have the better knowledge or the better know-how than what I would have had. By so doing, each time I extend and I exchange views with them, you always become a better person and when it comes to the choir itself. How we achieved that, I heard a group of people that has respected me, confidence in me and confidence in what I was doing and thereby following me and giving me the necessary support was very easy.
AN: With regards to the National Choir Festival this year, which choirs do you think we should look out for, which are your personal favourites?
VM: You want me to fight with some of my friends? I am so close to most of the conductors, but let me tell you something interesting before I answer that question. You would know that at the moment I am not conducting choirs, but I have moved over into program directing within choral activities. The satisfaction that I’m actually getting out of that, it’s because of my conducting background and knowing the culture of choral music. It makes it very easy for me to interact with the audiences, it makes it very easy for me to be able to articulate myself and connect with my audience. I know the culture in the choral music industry, I have conducted in those stages for all these years and it’s something that I’m finding such a fulfilment out of it.
National Choir Festival is always wide open
When it comes to the National Choir Festival, as to who is going to win; I won’t commit to anything, to a specific choir. We see surprises here in the National Choir Festival where we think this choir is going to nail it this year and some choir comes in unexpectedly and then they’re on fire. So my take would be, let all the choirs prepare very well and the choir that is best prepared and the best for that particular day of the competition be the winner at the end of the day.
AN: Well, there you have it folks, from a veteran conductor, Mr Vuyani Mpafa. We don’t know who is going to take it this year, but thank you so much for joining us Mr Mpafa and hope to speak to you soon.
VM: It is only my pleasure, thank you very much for your time.