Mlungisi Mkhize – gunning for a podium place
25 November 2015
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Brad Brown: You’re listening to Old Mutual live, great things start here, great things start now and as we continue the run in to the 2015 Old Mutual National Choir Festival, tickets are on sale, by the way. You can pick them up at Computicket and we look forward to seeing you in Mangaung, the second weekend of December.
It’s going to be a fantastic weekend of choral music and we’re joined now by one of the conductors who will be on that stage, Mlungisi Mkhize. Welcome onto Old Mutual Live, thanks for joining us today.
Mlungisi Mkhize: Thank you sir.
BB: Mlungisi, before we find out more about your choir, let’s find out more about you as a conductor, where did your love for choral music being?
How I started to flex my conducting muscles
MM: I think everything started when I was in primary school in Pietermaritzburg, originally I’m from Johannesburg, a small township called Ashdown, so that’s where I started what you’d call my exposure to choral music. Then it moved onto high school where I was guided by the late doctor. He was also, I think, champion in this competition as well.
A couple of years later and after that, I went to Witbank and I started getting exposure to conducting, as well as Sasolburg and then I moved over to Mpumalanga, it’s only then that I really started like, what you’d call flexing my muscles into conducting.
BB: Has it been a journey that you’ve expected to go the way it has, or has it been new learnings around every single corner?
MM: It’s been a very interesting journey for me. Remember, this is not my speciality in terms of career. I’m just doing this for a hobby and I mean the whole journey up until now has been very exciting. I never expected I would go this far, but here I am.
BB: You’ve been to the Old Mutual National Choir Festival before, you performed here, you’re a veteran, so to speak, there’s guys that have been here a lot more than you, but this isn’t your first time. You know what to expect?
Having some experience does help
MM: Yes, I mean this is my third year coming to the Nationals, so I know more or less the ins and outs of the Nationals. I just have to maybe push a little bit further this year and see if I can’t achieve more than I’ve achieved in the past years.
BB: It’s a very prestigious stage to perform on, what does the Old Mutual National Choir Festival mean to you?
MM: To me this is ultimate, there’s no other competition that can equate to the National Choir Festival, especially the Nationals. So you can’t get used to this, every year it’s going to be different, there’s going to be something to learn and something different from the other years. So yes, this is the big stage.
BB: Tell me a little bit about your choir.
MM: My choir is from Mellow in Mpumalanga Province, formed in 2004. The highlights are obviously qualifying for the Nationals, as I said, this is the third year now. We did it in 2010 and 2011, so this is our third year coming.
BB: How much work goes into preparing a choir to perform on this stage?
MM: From my perspective, looking at the nature of my choir, my choir comes from different townships. I think I’ve got plus-minus five townships where I get my choristers from. So it’s very hectic, bringing everybody together because they are from different clusters. So, I mean having to bring them altogether, it’s quite taxing, in terms of time, financial as well, but at the end of the day it’s worth it, it’s really, really worth it.
BB: How excited are they to be coming to Mangaung to perform here?
Excitement is high for the finals
MM: I was speaking to some of my choristers yesterday after the draw and really, they can’t wait. I know they’re not ready, but they can’t wait to be here because the atmosphere, like I said, this is the, in terms of choral music in South Africa, this is our only picks, so it’s what you call, it doesn’t get better than this.
BB: Let’s talk about the draw, there’s obviously lots of banter around the draw and who’s going first and who’s not going first and who’s performing last, are you happy with the draw for you?
MM: I am happy, although I wished I had been a little bit earlier in the day because you know, next, they start working up with the choristers, if they’re further down, more to the, what you call the performance list, but still, I mean at the end of the day, it’s all about performance on the day. If the choir is ready, it doesn’t matter where on the performance list it is, as long as they deliver, that’s the main thing.
BB: What are you hoping to achieve in 2015 at these finals?
MM: I mean our goal as a choir is we’d love to see ourselves in the top three, it’s not been achieved, I mean a choir from our province has never achieved that, so this is basically what we’d love to achieve. Obviously it’s not going to be easy, but there’s a lot of work that we’re going to put behind the scene, to see if maybe we can’t achieve a top three spot, at least that.
BB: Where do you see the biggest competition coming from?
MM: I think all the choirs are very, very good. At this level there isn’t a choir that you can say is weak, it’s all about technical approaches, so we’re going to be separated by very few minor issues. So I really, I can’t say there’s a choir at this stage, I’m looking at all the other choirs as potential winners, so yes, it’s going to be very tough.
Keep on dreaming – you can get here
BB: As far as the journey to get here, obviously there’s lots of choirs that don’t make it this far and many choirs try year after year after year to get to the finals. What advice could you give to a choir who has maybe battled for the last 5-10 years to get to the finals, they’re just not getting over that final hurdle, do you think it’s something big or small things that make a difference?
MM: I think from my experience it’s very minor things. First of all, as a conductor, you need to set a goal for yourself at the beginning of the year. If you say, I’m going to win my eliminations, that’s what you must go for. Whatever comes your way, whatever hurdle you’re going to encounter, make sure you work out of it, don’t somewhere along the journey falter.
Make sure what you want to achieve and go for it and just use all the resources around you to push you towards the end goal. If you don’t make it in one year, push for the next year.
When I started conducting, my main goal in choral was to conduct a choir with an orchestra and I made sure that I achieved that, even if it meant sacrificing some of the stuff that was very dear to me. I made sure that I achieved that. So if your goal is to be at the Nationals, make sure that you use everything around you to achieve that.
BB: Thank you so much for your time today here on Old Mutual Live, safe travels for you and the entire choir who are coming to Mangaung, we look forward to seeing you perform on that stage and best of luck in the final run in. I know you said they’re not ready quite yet, there’s lots of work that still needs to be done, good luck for that.
MM: Thank you very much sir, we’re looking forward to being here in December.