When I first moved to East Tennessee, I joined the choir of the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church. When I moved to Nashville, I joined the choir of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville. A couple of years later, I was part of the Nashville in Harmony civil rights chorus. I am a big believer in making friends through music! It is no surprise, then, that I joined a choir in Cape Town in January, just two months after I moved to South Africa.
The Stadskoor Tygerberg has been performing since 1977. The name simply means “City choir of Tygerberg.” The irony is that Tygerberg is not a city; instead, it is a sub-district of Cape Town positioned to the south of the Tygerberg hills. Tygerberg includes Parow, where I shopped during my first weeks here, and Bellville, where I registered for taxes and my traffic register number. It is also home to the campus of Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences where I work. Singing in a choir for Tygerberg keeps it all in the neighborhood!
Some of its members have been with the group for most of its history! In 2012, Linda Claassen became the conductor for the group. She has sought to direct the group toward greater musicality, with more challenging classical work and a cappella pieces. Her own flair for organ performance led in the direction of this season’s premiere piece, the Messe Solennelle of Louis Vierne (1870-1937). The group will perform this work during the Choral Festival at Bishops Diocesan College in Rondebosch (May 13-14, 2016).
One of the key challenges for me in the choir is that the rehearsal is almost entirely conducted in Afrikaans. I frequently sit with Don, a physics professor who moved to Durban from Canada in the 1970s. We represent the Afrikaans-illiterate section of the choir (Durban is in KwaZulu-Natal, where Afrikaans is infrequently used). We’ve both picked up enough of the language to recognize when the director wants only the basses to sing, but I know I struggle when she calls out a measure number from which we should start singing. Though most other choir members are quite comfortable in Afrikaans, they are almost all completely fluent in English, as well. They’ve been very welcoming to me, and I feel at home with the group.
Of course, every choir must have its uniforms for performance. The outfits for men are quite simple. We wear black pants and shoes with a white collared shirt. We have a rainbow of neckties from which to choose on performance days. So far, our group has contributed music for church services, but the coming performances are likely to be more demanding. I’m hopeful that we show our best colors this weekend!