Michael Dingaan a choral and classical legend
07 January 2015
Don’t miss a single episode of Old Mutual Live. You can subscribe to it on iTunes or Old Mutual Live here and get every single episode sent directly to your mobile device. You can also listen to these podcasts directly from the Old Mutual app, which is available here.
Welcome to the Old Mutual Live radio choral edition. My name is Aphiwe Monono and as usual, we bring you conductors and choristers from in and around the SADC region. Today we speak to conductor of the Mzansi Classical Players orchestra, Mr Michael Dinagaan, how are you today Mr Michael Dingaan? Michael, let’s start with your passion for choral music, where does it come from?
Michael Dingaan: I think I discovered early on as a child that I loved singing and so I’ve been involved with singing since primary school education. I sang in the high school choir and in the community based choirs and I think I’ve been largely very fortunate to have been groomed by really respected musicians. In the community youth choir and in the high school choir I was led by great teachers, and then later got to meet up with Mr Themba. I worked extensively with other choirs, Drakensburg Boys Choir and so on and so forth and so I think my life has just been choral music through and through.
AN: And Michael, what was Michael like as a child, what kind of music was he into?
Big correlation between Choral music and Jazz
MD: Look, so outside of choral music, definitely I listened to, you know, I enjoy jazz. Of course I’ve got a great taste for house music, I do enjoy music that’s really so far stretched from the idiom that one places us in. So I’ve an ear for other genre outside of classical music. Of course I tend to enjoy gospel music, a specific kind of gospel music. I mean I’m a Methodist church member, so you can imagine the kind of sounds I’m exposed.
AN: Beautiful sounds.
MD: The so-called un-techniqued, that is what I love.
AN: How can that be called un-technique when it sounds…
MD: You know, once people go to school, they then think that certain things are not technically in place because the departure point of what technique is seems to be drawn from one school of thought. There is a technique which one brings out certain styles. You’ve got to have a certain technique for R&B, you can’t use an operatic technique. I’m not just talking general singing technique, but in order to be able to draw out the best out of a style; you’ve got to know how it sounds like and what to do with your vocal folds or with your body and obviously with your imagination as well.
AN: But Michael, your CV speaks for itself, I mean your professional details are literally two pages long. You’ve been with the Drakensburg Boys Choir. You’ve worked with the Rand Afrikaans University Choral Choir, etc. Out of all of these experiences, Michael, what is the one thing that you would say all of these experiences has taught you and working with these different people?
A music career is a journey of experiences
MD: Look, I think each of these experiences have had a message for me. I’ve had things to learn and each one of those journeys, those steps in this much bigger journey have prepared me for what I know today. At the time some of those things unfolded and I’m not just talking about the positive stuff because there’s also the negative stuff. Not negative as in a negative emotion, but really challenges. Another time it presents itself as a negative situation, but I think all of those experiences prepared me for the moment I’m in now. Because I’ve had to deal with very tough musical material, tough musical questions, at a very young age. All that allowed me to almost get onto the stage where I feel now I’m at another level of learning so much more.
In fact the more I’ve learnt in the many other years, I’ve discovered there is so much more to learn and truly, what others may consider a vast knowledge, for me appears to be a droplet in the ocean. Not that I’m undermining anything that I’ve acquired so far. But I really feel that it’s as if one is only beginning to unearth the truth of music, only beginning, not really at the core of it, just on the first page.
AN: I mean you do coaching, you do training for conductors and for orchestras. How different is working and conducting an orchestra to conducting choristers like the instrumental part of it and the vocal part of it? How do you separate the two and how do the two differ?
The true art to conducting
MD: Look, I’m fortunate in that I played the flute and I also studied voice. So I had an experience of both worlds and I’ve always had the love for both types of instruments, voices and instrument. Having majored in singing I then got to know how the voice works and perhaps also how it does not work. How to really preserve it and how to protect. Because I discovered early on, as a young singer, I had nodules growing on my vocal chords. Which if had not been discovered at the time, would have rendered me voiceless today, not even able to talk, let alone sing.
So this experience has allowed me to treat the human voice with utmost respect and I vowed to myself that no singer shall lose their voice under my direction. This is a commitment I made to myself and anyone that I work with. Then coming to the other instruments, as in violin and trombone and so on and so forth, brass, wood, wind, strings, collectively, I think I love the sound. But also I love the confluence between the vocal and the instrumental music in the classical idiom. How these instruments are able to transcend the spoken word, to really bring out emotions. I think both languages are just capable to reach a sphere that cannot be reached through just a body of lectures. But really through the experiential singing, through hearing the other vocal parts, hearing how other instruments interact with voice.
A great synergy between instruments and voice
I’ve been lucky and maybe to go back to the core of the question, the conducting side of it. I did choral conducting and of course I went on to do orchestral conducting. I think they are pretty much different even though the basis and departure point would be the same. They are different and of course the nuances and the orchestral language, it’s somewhat more intricate and more complex than just the choral conducting technique. Because there is so much that one must configure, including the reading of the scores, the way you read the orchestra scores and the depth of the orchestra scores is far greater than that of the choral score which is usually four voice parts. But with orchestra scores you’ve got to read at least, at some point, sixteen parts and they’re all moving at the same time and then you’ve got to know what is happening and where.
So intellectually it demands so much more, emotionally it demands so much more and it’s beyond just waving the stick and keeping the beat. It’s really, really trying to find out the various layers of the music and what they say and how they communicate.
AN: We are gearing up for the Old Mutual Choral Festival, Michael, what are you doing in preparation on this and who are you, are the Mzansi Classical Players entering this year? Competing this year and what sort of preparations have been put into place leading up to the festival itself?
MD: Well, Mzansi Classical Players is an orchestra which last year has been playing in the Schools Choral Eisteddfod and various other private functions. But we’ve not necessarily played at the NCF Eisteddfod or competition, so to speak. In my individual capacity I’ve been involved with the Old Mutual competition for many years, as a singer in a choir, I was a conductor.
An honour to coach and nurture talent
But in the past maybe 10-12 years I’ve really been intensely involved with the coaching of very many choirs and it’s a fantastic platform to help people who have a gift and who just need to be assisted to walk the path more confidently and reach their worthy goals. Because personally I don’t compete and so therefore, taking the function of coaching and guiding choirs and conductors is for me a thrilling experience. It’s the most wonderful thing. It’s underrated because most people prefer to be on the stage and carry the trophy.
I’m the sort of guy who can safely say, now in fact you come to my house, there’s not even a trophy. If you say you’re looking for something like that to show the world what you’ve won, I don’t have that kind of accolades. But the people out there that I’ve worked with and the many others who would have seen my work will then say, will agree with me that those accolades, in the spiritual context, are sufficient enough to keep me happy and to keep me driven to work with the next choir. Without seeking that I should get some kind of, a medal or something of the sort.
Not that those are unworthy to me, but I find the thrill of working with singers and conductors and here a choir transforms in a rehearsal from point A to point C to point D, is for me much more fulfilling. So I take up this function with utmost respect and care.
AN: Michael, thank you so much for your time and it was worth the run around. I was looking for you for two weeks, you are truly an inspiration and I wish you all the best for everything you set out to do. Thank you so much for joining us on Old Mutual Live radio.
MD: Thanks Aphiwe for the privilege and as I’d said initially, my not being available was owing to performing elsewhere outside the country. We went to Swaziland recently with Mzansi Classical Players, you know, giving performances with their Schools Choir Competitions and so forth. So it’s really been hectic but exciting as well. So, thank you for the time and I do hope that our listeners have been inspired and I’m also open to input, if people want to ask further questions beyond this platform. I’m easy to reach, I’m on Facebook.
AN: Please give us your Facebook name, if you’re on Twitter, if anything else, or email, if people want to get in touch with you, just throw that in there as well.
MD: firstname.lastname@example.org, that’s the one address or email@example.com alternatively on Facebook, Michael Dingaan. That’s quite easy and I’m on the Old Mutual Facebook page, I’m easy to find also on the South Africa page and on various other choral pages.
AN: Thank you so much, Michael, you have yourself a good day.