Monday, July 5, 2010

Zimbe


Since we are getting well into rehearsing the Zimbe! songs now, I thought I might point singers to the official Zimbe! website for a look-see and finding out more about the work and Alexander L'Estrange, the composer.

"Composer Alexander L'Estrange, himself a highly regarded jazz pianist and bass player, has chosen songs from all over Africa and arranged them wonderfully, interleaving the choral writing with the instruments of the jazz ensemble."

Anyway, visit the Zimbe! site and read more about it there.

I have no doubt that City of Dunedin Choir and David Burchell will make a huge success of the forthcoming performance in September, but I cannot help wondering how easy (or hard) it will be for singers schooled mainly in the British tradition of choral singing, and mainly in music of the Renaissance era, to loosen up and warm up to traditional African folk music.

One main characteristic of 'original' traditional singers in Africa is that they had no voice tuition (and now I am not referring to the modern groups in Africa performing traditional songs) so their notes were often slurred. I've noticed that L'Estrange tries to portray that effect with small grace notes. The danger is that singers of Western cultures will sing the notes too precisely as written.

Something to keep in mind is that traditionally the African tribes sang while they worked, walked long distances, danced and, of course, also while sitting quietly in pensive mood. Mostly there is much movement associated with their singing. Westerners need to "loosen up" and feel the rythm in their bones if they want to sound authentic singing these songs of Africa.

Before coming to New Zealand I worked at the South African Bureau of Standards in Pretoria, which had 1400 employees at the time. The SABS also had a choir - directed by a capable young African woman. The membership was about one-third European (yes, 'moi' included) to two-thirds African peoples. The choir sang, but for one exception, only African songs. While rehearsing or performing the singers never stood with their feet planted - they always swayed from one foot to the other or forwards and backwards, even taking a step or two; like each song had its own unwritten dance. Someone would spontaneously and very naturally take the lead moving this way or that, and the rest would follow - the movements were never scripted or rehearsed. Quite naturally the European members would follow the lead of the African members. It always looked right - because the rythms came from inside.

Ah yes, you must be wondering what the 'exception' was - are you ready?

Gaudiamus igitur !!! Mmmm... that performance was less successful, the African membership found the Latin words and precision of the music exceedingly hard to master. Anyway, much fun was had by all.

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