It’s about more than just singing for this choir
12 February 2015
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, we’re joined now by Sikombuso Tshona, welcome onto the podcast, thanks for joining us.
Sikombuso Tshona: Thanks for coming here as well.
BB: All the way from the Eastern Cape, it’s a long way for you to come. It’s been an exciting weekend here at the conductors briefing, have you enjoyed your experience so far?
An overwhelming experience being on stage
ST: Very and it was so overwhelming yes, to some of us, as you saw me on stage, I was so overwhelmed and then I just enjoyed myself to my fullest.
BB: Tell me about that experience, the orchestra, they’re a fantastic group of musicians, it’s the first time you’ve been on the stage with an orchestra?
ST: Not really, I always come for the briefings, every year my choir wins and we come here, at least I got that experience of coming. But in the Eastern Cape, eish, there’s no orchestra. At least there is one orchestra that we just formed, that is called Buffalo City Municipality Orchestra and it’s keeping well. So at least we’ve got hope that it will make us get used to an orchestra.
BB: How different is it, you obviously have to prepare for a competition like this throughout the year and your choristers arrive at the finals and they’ve got to perform in front of thousands of people, it’s a big stage to perform on, but they’re also performing with an orchestra that they’ve never performed with. It’s a difficult thing to train for isn’t it?
ST: It’s very difficult because you need to go as far as the rules are concerned, so choristers, take for example a chorister will have to make sure she or he is responsible of the music, the rules, and everything that is encompassed in the competition and then the very difficult thing that small slot that you get for the rehearsal, when tomorrow you are going to perform. That’s a very small slot. You miss it, your hopes are diminishing and then you have to pick them up so that tomorrow they do more. So it takes a lot of things, psychologically, courage, mental fitness and all that.
BB: Where did your journey into choral music start, where did your love for this begin?
We have revived this choir into champions
ST: Eish, man, it’s quite a long story because I’m a church member from the old Apostolic church and then I was the only one who was fortunate at home that my father taught me music. I went as far as, I remember 2006, I was still a student at high school level and I was conducting a choir for the first time at the rehearsal because our conductor was not there. I felt that no man, I must keep on with this thing. Now that I was a very good tenor and I kept on with these two, singing and conducting and then I find my comfortable zone on conducting, up to here.
BB: Tell me a little bit about your choir, this stage and this competition, there’s some amazing choirs, you guys are from the Eastern Cape, tell me a little bit about the choir and how long it’s been going.
ST: The choir has been 16 years of existence now, but I think it was 2011 when we revived the choir. I would say on the time of the revival it’s at about four years now and the choir is keeping well. You know, one thing I told them, by the time we were reviving the choir, I said, guys, let’s go and be a laughing stock on stage, known for a fact that in three years to come, we will make it.
Then that three years, on record, we make it, became champions and champions second time now and ja, we are looking for the third time. I’ve got something very special about my choir that the whole world needs to know. My choir is different from other choirs because we are also focusing on these social issues. Up to now, we have made a little boy, I think he is three years now, or four, he was deaf and he could not talk and today, if I may tell you the honest truth, he is talking and he can hear some.
That is so special about my choir. Just apart from music, because we are South Africans and we are still affected by all the issues around. So we are embarking on becoming an organisation that will not only focus on music, but other issues as well. As my mission says, that we are trying to use music as a catalyst for social transformation and as a vehicle that will cross from poverty up to the stage whereby we can be able to put bread on the table, through music.
BB: This stage, if you look at the Old Mutual National Choir Festival and you talk about being able to use music as a catalyst for change; if you look at some of the big names of South Africa musicians that started singing in choirs, that performed at NCF and have gone on to very successful musical careers, does it give some of the youngsters that are in your choir hope that they too can follow in those footsteps?
ST: Yes, because some of them are recovering from drugs. I must tell that clearly and quite a number of them, they are in a small ensemble of the song that we are going to perform on stage, on the 12th and 13th and I can assure you, you will hear them. You won’t say boetie, they are recovering from drugs and now I’m very proud of that, I’m very, very proud of that.
The history behind the choir
BB: Tell me about the name of the choir, where did that come from? Tell me the story behind that?
ST: I was not there by the time this choir was formed, but one guy, the late, may his soul rest in peace. I think he’s the one who was behind this name and he collected all the members that were there, by the time and then they discussed about the name.
Then this name, Bel Canto came from the same guy who was forming the Bel Canto and something that makes me laugh is that those guys, I think 16 years ago, they asked about this name, what is the meaning of the name Bel Canto. This guy said, no, this name means beautiful singing, so I want the choir that is going to sing beautifully. Then the time of the revival I said, okay, let me follow this word, just as my motto to develop the choir and it’s now, they are stunning.
BB: I love that. You’re coming into this competition, you’ve won it twice before, you’re hoping for a third, does that put extra pressure on you?
No pressure at all
ST: It doesn’t because I would not be able to enjoy my music, so you ought to do music at ease, take all these things at ease. Even though pressures are there, I’m not saying I don’t have pressures, but it takes one to be able to cope with pressure because pressure is not going to do anything for you, on stage. It’s not going to score you marks, you must make sure, yes, I’m up on my good psychology now, I’m going to the stage. Whether you like it or not, you’ll be on stage.
BB: Let’s talk about the music that’s being prescribed this year. It’s a challenging year, tell me about the challenges you faced with the music that’s being prescribed?
ST: One challenge I faced was that as a Christian, I must make sure that I bring out all the elements of music that are needed there, remember, we are doing the music that is a satanic melodrama. So as a Christian, you first consider that, how am I going to promote a satanic thing whilst I’m a Christian.
That’s another challenge and then it takes you to a level of saying, oh, for that matter, you have to do it and before you do it, pray and say to God, no, I’m not doing it because I’m promoting Satan, but I’m doing it because there’s music in me.
It’s just that kind of thing and then the challenging part is opera, opera on its own. It’s very difficult, someone might take it as, it’s that kind of music where you just throw your voice. No, there are rules to be followed, you must not do anything that is anti-opera, you must live that culture of opera. So it’s those difficult things.
Apart from bringing out all the musical elements, that’s another case as well, generally in the music and another part, conducting an orchestra and making this person to live that opera culture, because youth of today don’t involve themselves in these special things in music, they just want to sing and go and win. They don’t know the motive behind winning the competition.
BB: Sikombuso, it’s been great thank you, best of luck.
ST: Thanks a lot. All right, thanks.