The art of being a choral music singer
23 June 2015
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Welcome back to Old Mutual Live Radio, my name is Aphiwe Honono and I invite you to take this journey with me as I speak to choral music lovers, conductors and even sometimes even chorists from the choral industry itself. Today I speak to Bonga Mbeka who is a medical student. Bonga is a member of the Kopano Chorus and this is a community choir formed in 2005 based in the Pretoria CBD.
Let’s get right into it. You are a chorister and you are 30 years old; a medical student, how did you get into the profession of choral music?
BM: I started choral music as early as primary school. I think around the mid-90s to be precise. I’m from the Eastern Cape, I was born in Bethelsdorp and you know, if you’re from the Eastern Cape, that’s the only way that you can get exposed to it. So it’s since then that I started choral music. I’ve been doing choral music throughout primary school. I went to high school, I even joined the choir and that’s when I got exposed to Kopano Chorus because there were people there who were members of the Kopano Chorus, which is a Pretoria based choir. That’s how I got exposed to Kopano Chorus and choral music in essence around Gauteng, when I came around 2007.
AN: You are obviously a choral singer, what voice do you sing, are you a tenor?
BM: Yes, I’m a tenor singer, you can hear my voice is very small, yes.
AN: Is choral music predominantly now a society of, do you need to sort of be following choral music to know where the next choral functions are? Would you say it is well advertised, if I may use the word?
Choral music needs a way to get more exposure
BM: Not really, not necessarily because it doesn’t get a lot of time as compared to other genres, like your jazz, you’ve got support. You can see, a lot of times, a lot of choral programs on the radios, they are played around on the Sundays. We need more exposure, I mean if we can be assisted by you, the media people, I don’t know how. If you can do it the way you do it, like in other genres, and so on and so forth, you can do it. Even if people can be educated because there is this other stereotype that it’s a music of old people and so on and so forth, which is not necessarily the case. I mean I started this music as early as primary school. So I think people, they need to be educated because I mean choral music, it’s the oldest genre in the culture, you can date it back as around 17th century.
I was reading this other article whereby there was this other choir which was, they were supported and pictures in the UK, which came in the form of slaves. So it can tell you that it’s an old genre. I mean our own National Anthem is returning the choral section; it’s a choral song, so it’s old.
AN: Can you tell us about some of the various provinces where Kopano Chorus has performed and what competitions you guys have won?
BM: We have a year plan, we will basically attend a lot of things. Attend funerals, we attend functions, I mean in this year we attended the funeral of Jackie Selebi. On Freedom Day with President Jacob Zuma and we have those functions, you know. Like we also attend competitions and we have domestic competitions like Melting Pot National Festival. We have won a lot of competitions, even we are defending champions of the Melting Pot competition, which started two years back. We won the competition last year, going out with a prize of R250 000, winning the Western song there. So yes, and the choir is just a natural choir, I mean there are various choristers from different provinces. Even the name lived up to, at some point I think we can even have all the 11 official languages in the choir. Like the pianist and I believe we have all the 11 official languages in the choir, because we are from different provinces.
Funding is key to assist the growth of the genre
AN: Earlier you mentioned that you need the media to sort of shine the light on choral music. What would you say, I know sometimes choirs need funding. That’s a big thing for you to be able to make these commitments and perform at Freedom Day and perform at Jackie Selebi’s funeral, you obviously need funding and transport. How does your community choir get this funding and if you are to look for it, where would you start?
BM: Currently we are getting something from people who, you know, the Messiahs. They would then give us something and most of the time, for you to get funding, I think that’s a challenge of being a choir. You need to register as a non-profit organisation. I don’t know with which department around government, I think that’s a challenge because before you can get any funding, you need to be registered. Companies they want to give money to people who are registered, who are paying taxes. So that’s the challenge and yes, as you say, we do have a serious crisis when it comes to funding.
Like I said, I think people, they just need to be educated, even those who need to sponsor. They need to know who we are and where do we perform. What do we do and what do we give back to the community and so on. The only sponsor that we have, which is exposing us, is Old Mutual. Believe me, if Old Mutual pulls out, we are doomed in the choral facility. That’s the only thing right now which is exposing us out there, because the only time you can even see us on TV, it’s when they are playing the recordings of the National Choir Festival. It is funded by Old Mutual and we don’t get more assistance from the Department of Arts and Culture, like other genres.
AN: Just some information, what would your advice be to anyone who is young in the community that wants to get involved with choral music?
Choral music is anything but a lost cause
BM: There are programs which are currently taking place at schools; it’s a government program which is responsible for choral music in primary schools and so forth. Well, you can only get it there, like if you’re in the township, you can only get exposed to it via that thing and there are various churches and other community choirs which are out there. You need to be very disciplined in order for you to be involved in this music because discipline goes a long way with the choral chorus. It takes that, because many people, they do love the music, but the fact that it has this other cloud, you know, think it’s boring music, it’s the music of old people and so on and so forth.
AN: All right, thank you so much for your time Bonga, we really appreciate it and are you guys entering the National Choir Festival this year?
BM: Yes we are, we’ll be there.
AN: Okay, we’ll be looking out for the Kopano Community Chorus, thank you so much for joining us and do keep well.
BM: Okay, thank you Aphiwe.