Showing posts with label Zimbe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zimbe. Show all posts

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thank you Lion Foundation

Photo: Ian Thomson
This from the Lion Foundation's 2011 Annual Report that has just been released:

"Established in 1863, the City of Dunedin Choir is one of the oldest choral groups in the country. As Southern NZ’s leading exponent of large-scale choral works, their performance standards are extremely high. But it’s hard to sing to the rafters without an orchestra in the pit, so The Lion Foundation helped them acquire both an orchestra and a conductor for their Spring Concert Series. The rest, as they say, was music to the people’s ears."

Thank you for the on-going support Lion Foundation!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Christcurch Earthquake Benefit Concert

Zimbe! and more... on Sunday 26 September, 4:00 pm at King's and Queen's Performing Arts Centre

City of Dunedin Choir presents a repeat performance of Zimbe! African Folk with a Jazz Twist which earned a standing ovation from a capacity audience at a recent concert. All proceeds from Sunday's concert will be donated towards alleviating the plight of the victims of the Christchurch earthquake. Please help us to help those who have lost so much in this disaster.

Please note:  Ticket pricing is Adult $20 and Child $10 

NOTE: This concert made $4,200 for the Mayoral Fund destined for the Canterbury folk who suffered from the September earthquake.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Zimbe! review in the Listener

Zimbe! Come sing the songs of Africa! a new work by Alexander L’Estrange was given its New Zealand première under the direction of David Burchell. The combined forces of City of Dunedin Choir, St Paul’s Cathedral Choristers, Southern Children’s Choir and dancer Ojeya Cruz Banks accompanied by jazz ensemble of Graeme Perkins (piano), Nick Cornish (alto saxophone), Sam Healey (bass), Robert Craigie (drum kit) and Justine Pierre (percussion) packed out the stage. This infectiously joyful and energetic community show had the audience clapping along and won all performers a standing ovation.

L’Estrange, known for his creative versatility and for the music he wrote for the TV adaptation of McCall Smith’s book The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, describes Zimbe! as “coming from the seeds of my affinity with African music and the gospel tradition”. The Oxford graduate has collected 15 traditional songs, backed them with jazz. The collection reflects the role of music in everyday life in Africa - from sun rise to sun set, or as the song “Ilanga libuya, ilanga liyaphuma” more optimistically puts it “the sun sets… the sun rises”.

The collection is in two halves, bracketed with slightly altered versions of the refrain “Njooni!, Zimbe!” (Come sing the songs of Africa!). Two children’s games “Sansa Kroma” (Sansa the Hawk),  “Pete, Pete!” (Vulture vulture!) and two wedding songs “Wai Bamba “ (You’ve got her!) and “Hamba Lulu” (Go Lulu)  highlight the lighter side of the African experience while “Thula Mama, Thula” (a lullaby for mothers of imprisoned sons) and “Vamudara” (in which a drunken man dances himself to death) highlight the everyday pain. The second section opens with the funeral song “Aleluya/Thuma Mîna” accompanied by a section of the choir offstage and danced to most lyrically and sensuously by Banks. Anthems and prayers make up the remaining collection, reflecting the importance of maintaining hope in dire circumstances. “We shall not give up the fight”, “Siyahamba”, “Freedom is coming/ Hamba vangeli” were sung with vigour and joy.

The combined choirs gained momentum as they warmed to the music and warmed the music as they gained momentum. While individual members were obviously not natural-born sing-and-dance people, or at ease without their scores, they were aided by the majority who did enter the spirit of the songs, albeit with elbows firmly wedged to their sides. The overall performance lifted markedly when the scores were put aside and the choir projected the life in the music, imperfections and all, out to the audience.

Zimbe! could be successfully performed by smaller groups less inhibited by a lack of space to move, but a huge crowd singing at full throttle is tremendously exhilarating and a sight to gladden the world-weary.

By Marian Poole, New Zealand Listener, 18 September 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Words from the Zimbe! audience

Here are the views from a few members of the audience at the Zimbe! concert, held on 4 September 2010 in the King's and Queen's Performing Arts Centre:

Colin Campbell-Hunt was in the audience and this is what he had to say:
"Well I thought Zimbe was great. Huge energy. Huge enjoyment from the choir (and conductor) and so infectious for the audience. The children were wonderful, casting their beautiful clear voices over the earthy rhythms of the choir. The dancer was of another world. The band was wonderful: ethereal sax, cascading drums, pulsing piano. The two young friends who were with me from Wellington are both good singers (National Youth Choir in their day) and went home vowing to encourage their parents (who sing in the Orpheus) to do it there. Bravo"

Diane Wales reports:
“My totally impartial niece from Wanaka loved it! Very impressed by the children. Thought they looked and sounded great.  She did think the dancer could have moved more to the other side instead of always to the right.  She didn`t realise there was a standing ovation going on behind her or she would definitely have joined in!”

From Pete Hodgson, MP:
“I thought it was a really good innovation and one that was mostly but not fully pulled off. The first bracket of spirituals was weak. Perhaps because they were too complicated. Perhaps because the bass in the choir was not bass enough. The Argentinian bracket was quirky. The  pianist was a delight. The soloist less so.
The rest of the programme was just great. White men can't dance and white women aren't much better. But we already knew that and besides which they sure as hell can sing. And have fun. And cause us to. Lots of fun. Very different experience. Great jazz contribution.
Thank you.”

Deborah Dons reports:
"David Skegg offered his congratulations and said how much he and his wife enjoyed the concert.  Graeme Perkins 'loved it'."

Pam Elwood says:
"I was in the Zimbe audience last Saturday - a most enjoyable change from the usual fare. The smaller venue was excellent, tho' the stage was a bit of a squash. I thought perhaps the children could have been dressed differently from the adult choir, to make them stand out more.

The spirituals at the beginning were a bit slow to take off, but as the choir warmed up and got into their stride and the audience responded, it was great. (I wonder if the spirituals were an appropriate choice, maybe something more identified with rest of the material would have been a better fit?)

(Haven't got a programme, so can't remember what was what...)

The offstage "alleluia" after a more energetic piece was brilliant and very effective.... as was the singing accompanied by dance...
There was a point at the conclusion of some songs when the choir really got into the performance  and were clearly enjoying themselves where I began to hope the choir would start to sing Wimoweh (The lion sleeps tonight)...
The musical accompaniment was excellent too - would have like some more African drums.

I'm sure you would have got a full house for a repeat performance... maybe put it on again sometime, perhaps to coincide with the biennial Arts Festival? I'd definitely go again.

Jeanette McQuillan gives her views:
"I didn't have a particularly good seat. Right at the far left hand side of the hall and consequently may have had a distorted version of the sound and the action. However, I really loved the music, the harmonies AND the action. From where I was sitting the stepping didn't seem to be particularly coordinated but I don't think it mattered for the style of music. I think it's probably better to have spontaneous movement as long as people look as if they're enjoying themselves and as long as the clapping is synchronized. Anyway as far as I could tell most people were doing just that. There were lots of smiles!

The funeral dance was really beautiful... so graceful.

Sadly, I didn't think that the solo soprano voice fitted in with the choir at all and that moment on the CD is so beautiful in the " Aleluya, Thuma mina", it really didn't work from where I was sitting.

One advantage of being in the front row was the chance to watch the jazz group at close quarters. They were fantastic. I could have listened to Nick Cornish all night and the drummer was spectacular!!

I really liked the venue as well, and think that David did an impressive job as conductor. He was a show on his own!!!"

Donald Cullington reports:
"I was in the audience, sitting a few rows back in the centre, and was most impressed with the vivacity and confidence with which the performance of Zimbe! was imbued.

Two qualifications, which could also be points to bear in mind for the future:
1) the percussion was sometimes too loud for the choir's singing to come through;
2) the impact made by the choir was noticeably less than it would have been in the Town Hall with its raked choir seating.

Of course, these two points are linked, and I might have heard a better balance and greater choral volume if I had sat further back, but where one sits should not make much difference, and the quirks of an unfamiliar performance space have to be taken into account in order to keep every member of the audience happy."

Helen Edwards says:
"Comment from audience members:

To be honest, I cried during the 'Halleluyah'. (South African man)

I was surprised there weren't more Africans in the audience. And I was disappointed that the audience didn't get up and dance. (Zimbabwean woman)

The spirituals were spoiled by a few prominent voices.
The instrumental group held Zimbe together. The performance was respectable, despite the choir being white and mainly older. Some spots needed a bit more gusto and exuberance. The children's choir was impressive. (Dunedin man, 30s)

Personally, I'd love to sing it again.  But the accompanying items need some thought so they provide a better match with the expectations of the audience e.g. items from the jazz band, or something tuneful  and vibrant from the choir."

John Hale gets his high:
"First of all, the acoustics. I sat at the middle back for the Sinfonia's recent performance (Stravinsky ... Mendelssohn), and heard a big full sound, which I *didn't* hear though I was sitting just behind the conductor for Zimbe. Anyway, from that closer-up position, the singing sounded smaller.  It's been my impression from hearing Messiah performances where some choruses are sung from memory, others from the the score, that the memorised ones are almost twice as loud, and full-blooded.

Bigger sound for Zimbe than for Tippett, though. The spirituals sounded a little uncertain at some openings, and unduly decorous for such music.

On the whole I agreed, for the first time ever!, with the ODT reviewer.

AND the whole evening just got better and better, through to that rousing long encore. I got my high by the end. It was a great night out."

From Rosalind Horsman:

"One friend sent by email: 'FANTASTIC!!! WHAT A BRILLIANT EVENING'
I have had several other very positive comments from friends who were there. Here are some: 

'LOVED it'  (that was a text message)

'We really enjoyed the concert tonight.  Great toe-tapping music.'

'All that work and only one show!  I would happily go again.'"

ODT Review:
The review by Marian Poole is posted on the City of Dunedin Choir website.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Not the Zimbe! concert review! Oh, yeah!

As usual, here I am beating the Press to the post again in my not-quite-a-review of our concert on Saturday night.

(They might have had other, more important things to report this time around, unfortunately. Please consider donating to the Canterbury earthquake appeal at the Red Cross website here.)

Of course, this isn't a real review because I might be considered slightly biased about our performance, being a member of City Choir and all!

But I'm going to review the concert anyway, as usual! I wouldn't want to disappoint anyone, after all!

The poster from our Zimbe! concert.

You know, sometimes it is nice to move away from the more traditional music that City Choir typically performs.

This weekend I think we proved that a move away from the classical to the modern and, indeed, very modern, can - and does - fill seats and get positive audience responses.

Michael Tippett - Five Negro Spirituals from A Child of Our Time

First item on the program was Steal Away which was, and is, my favourite of the five spirituals we sang on the night.

Nigel sounded wonderful as our tenor soloist from within the choir, and did a lovely, tuneful job, rising above the male accompaniment in his two verses. Goeknil Meryem Biner was our professional soloist, and she also did a beautiful job as the soprano soloist.

Next was Nobody Knows, and more solo work for Goeknil and Nigel, who both did a terrific job. In the third piece, Go Down, Moses, the solo was performed by Brian, and he did a great job too, with a beautiful tone to his voice. In all three pieces, the choir was solid, kept in tune and time well, and gave a sense of control and management to the works.

Then it was By and By, followed by Deep River concluding the set. I was one of the three soprano semichorus members for Deep River, along with Lluisa and Kathryn, and we had to time our entries and arpeggios against the main body of the choir, which was really tricky! But the piece held together, and sounded good.

I'd sung a different version of Deep River many many times before, as it is a standard songbook piece for my home choir back in Australia - we sing it at pubs and publicity gigs. It was difficult for me to suddenly sing a different arrangement - and sing soprano instead of my usual alto on the work. It really twists your brain around! But I somehow managed, and just focused on what I'd recently learned (the Tippett version) instead of the arrangement I was much more familiar with.

Overall I think the audience thoroughly enjoyed the Tippett pieces. I know I did. They're lovely, are performed quite often around the world, and are a popular arrangement and work.

The main choir sounded absolutely lovely in places on the Tippett, and it was so nice to hear the deep bass notes providing a solid foundation for these pieces.

After Deep River the choir left the stage, which meant, unfortunately, we never got to hear Goeknil sing How Can I Cherish My Man? or the Canciones Argentinas. I wish I'd been in the audience, instead of backstage!

Alexander L'Estrange - Zimbe!

The second half was Zimbe! and it was FUN!

I don't know what the audience were expecting, but I bet they weren't expecting all us old codgers to get up and groove. Yet that's exactly what we did - and we had the audience grooving right along with us.

The funny thing about Zimbe! is that it isn't really African music at all. It is African music, seen through very, very white eyes and white music standards, with a strong white version of jazz running through it.

I know that I, at least, think of Zimbe! as English jazz with African words and tunes, and this is probably my best description of it.

The songs are all well-known African songs, but these arrangements sound uniquely British. I guess a composer can never really get away from his or her roots. I've certainly never heard anything like it before. I'm not sure I will again.

More than anything Zimbe! reminds me of the music of the early 1980s British pop group Madness. I'm sure L'Estrange must be a fan!

For me , Zimbe! has closer musical links to the early 80s pop sounds of British group "Madness" than to real African music. What do you think?

I'm not sure whether L'Estrange has created a new musical genre or simply manipulated some already in existence, but Zimbe! is catchy, fun and easy to sing, and enjoyable by both the audience and the performers.

Assessment of our performance

I think we did it justice. Strong movements included Singabahambayo thina (2) and Thula Mama, thula (5) - in which the childrens' chorus, a combined choir of St. Paul's Cathedral Choristers and Southern Children's Choir, did an absolutely beautiful job, supported by the semichorus and full choir.

Hamba Lulu (8) was also performed beautifully by the choir, and as I looked out over the audience I could see every single face watching attentively, entranced by the music. It was an absolutely golden moment - one of those points in time that, as a chorister, you never want to forget.

Weaker points in the performance were mainly due to pitching problems, and the choir having difficulty hearing ourselves in relation to the band.

Some of the movements where pitch was an issue were also made difficult by continued slow, descending phrases written into the music itself, and by instruments coming in after long unaccompanied choral sections. Both are an absolute killer for any but the most astute and aware singers. They're really hard work!

Also, many of us simply weren't used to working with jazz instruments and jazz tuning. Ilanga libuya, ilanga liyaphuma (6) and Wai bamba (7) suffered from this difficulty, as did Aleluya / Thuma mina (10), which was rescued by the hard pitch work of Goeknil, once again doing the solo; and by the semichorus singing offstage, who did not have the long, descending phrases to contend with.

Another tricky aspect written into the score was the large number of repeats. I have no idea how David managed to keep track of what was going on, but he did. He thoroughly deserved his extra long green scarf!

The last four movements of Zimbe! were performed largely by heart, with some help in the form of projected lyrics, for those who could see them.

We shall not give up the fight (11) was energetic and powerful, with dance steps that had me perilously close to the edge of the stage. I had my choice before me: restrain my grooving, or plunge to a thoroughly embarrassing death. I chose the former.

It was also really hard work to sing and dance, and once again helped me realise just how darned good the likes of Gene Kelly really were! I am humbled - and at the time I was also sweating a fair bit!

Siyahamba (12), another protest song, really got the audience grooving right along with us, upping the pace. Once again, the childrens' choirs were at the forefront, and they sang well and energetically, doing a terrific job. If any of them want to join City Choir in a few years, I am sure they will be welcome - they were great!

Zimbe! finished up with Freedom is coming / Hamba vangeli (13) and Njooni! Zimbe! (14), ending on a top A for we lucky first sopranos. I'm amazed we had any energy left at all, after all the clapping, dancing and stomping, but we did, and we pulled out those top A's like magic.


Overall, a fun and energetic concert, totally unlike our usual repertoire. Zimbe! proved that City Choir can groove with the best of them, and that doing modern, jazzy music can bring in an audience and be financially viable.

I'd have to say that the weekend's concert proved without a doubt that not only is there a demand for more upbeat music from our audience, but that we may be able to interest and attract new audience and members with a more lively, modern repertoire.

Choir singing isn't half-dead people singing dead people's music! It can be the most lively, community-driven, fun activity in the musical world, for choir and audience alike.

As for me, I look forward to our next jazz concert. Or maybe Broadway music - okay, that's a bit daggy, but why not? Or 60s music.

Now that would be fun!

Zimbe concert photos

David Burchell (conductor) receiving a floral tribute at the end of the Zimbe! performance on 4 September 2010, King's and Queen's Performing Arts Centre. Photo credit John Roxborogh
Photo credit Ian Thomson
Photo credit Ian Thomson
Photo credit Ian Thomson

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Songs of Africa resound

Zimbe! Wow! We did it! We really pulled this one off - awesome! tremendous! That's what I think of tonight's performance. The audience loved the music - whenever I glanced at the audience I saw someone sitting there with a huge grin on the face, or swaying along with the music, tapping the programme, and of course they were just waiting for David (conductor) to invite them to clap along and off they went! Audience participation was 100%.

The choirs did well - everyone singing with energy, concentration and enjoyment. The band was excellent. Soloist Goeknil, pianist Tom and dancer Ojeya - thanks, we could not have done it without your contributions. All the hard work was well worth it. Thanks to David Burchell and our hard-working committee - key elements in tonight's success.

Can you imagine conducting something like 17 voice parts and a band all at the same time? Only David Burchell can pull that off - it reminds me of this poster we made him a few years ago as a Christmas present:

Were you there? What did you think of the performance? Let us know by posting on this blog, or leaving your comment here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

African Coincidence

This morning when I turned over the image on my desk calendar, I was greeted by this brass Nigerian warrior.

Whilst there are no songs from Nigeria in Zimbe!, I nevertheless felt it was a coincidence too good to keep to myself as we do sing a protest song about 'not giving up the fight.'

Made by the Edo people in Nigeria, the small plaque is one of several brasses covering the doors and pillars of a large palace complex. This warrior, and his attendants are high status and look suitably fierce - I would not want to tangle with them!

They were made in the 16th or 17th century, and are now part of the Metropolitan Museum's collections of Benin art. Read more about them here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Zimbe! available on iTunes

If you have iTunes and an iTunes account or are able to set one up, you can buy the Zimbe! CD tracks from iTunes for only $18.99, or you can buy selected tracks for much less. Great for practicing - and the notes will match your score!

Monday, July 5, 2010


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.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hamba vangeli

"Hamba vangeli" is a protest song from South Africa: Freedom is coming. Spread the new word.

This song forms part of the Alexander L'Estrange's work Zimbe! that City of Dunedin Choir will be presenting at the concert in early September this year.

Sung here by a group from Soweto, Johannesburg.

Protest song

"We shall not give up the fight" is a South African protest song (freedom song) - "together we'll have victory, hand holding hand". The majority of South African protest music of the 20th century concerned itself with apartheid, a system of legalized racial segregation in which blacks were stripped of their citizenship and rights from 1948 to 1994.

This song forms part of the Alexander L'Estrange's work Zimbe! that City of Dunedin Choir will be presenting at the concert in early September this year.

This recording: Performed by The Greater Boston Intergenerational Chorus, May 20, 2008 Concert. Arranged and directed by Joanne Hammil

Thuma mina

"Thuma mina" is a traditional South African funeral song: Send me, Lord; Lead me, Lord.

This song forms part of the Alexander L'Estrange's work Zimbe! that City of Dunedin Choir will be presenting at the concert in early September this year.

This arrangement is by Junior Howell and Desmond Waithe originally for the La Petite Musical. In this recording Eastern Youth Chorale of Trinidad and Tobago has decided to perform the piece accompanied by non melodic percussion (african drums) to bring an authentic Afro nuance to the work.


"Vamudara" is a Shona drinking song from Zimbabwe, about a drunken man dancing himself to death!

This song forms part of the Alexander L'Estrange's work Zimbe! that City of Dunedin Choir will be presenting at the concert in early September this year.

It is performed here by Smithtown High School East Chorus (in St James, New York),  choir director is Mark Hegrenness.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hamba Lulu

"Hamba Lulu" is a Zulu wedding song from South Africa and it means: Go well, Lulu. Lulu is the name of the bride.

This song forms part of the Alexander L'Estrange's work Zimbe! that City of Dunedin Choir will be presenting at the concert in early September this year.

It is performed here by the Cantate Youth Choir at their 15th Birthday Concert, 2009.

Wai bamba

"Wai Bamba!" is a bouncy, groovy traditional Shona wedding song from Zimbabwe, usually sung with a lusty call and response by the "crowd".

This song forms part of the Alexander L'Estrange's work Zimbe! that City of Dunedin Choir will be presenting at the concert in early September this year.

This rather subdued performance is by The Early Music Consort of Lipscomb University under the direction of Dr. Gerald Moore.

Thula Mama, thula

"Thula Mama, thula" is a Zulu lullaby for mothers of imprisoned sons. The words mean, simply: Hush, Mama.

This song forms part of the Alexander L'Estrange's work Zimbe! that City of Dunedin Choir will be presenting at the concert in early September this year.

This is a different version of the song performed here by the Vocal Sisters.

Sansa kroma

"Sansa kroma" is a playground song from Ghana in Africa. The words mean: Sansa, the hawk! You are an orphan, and so you snatch up baby chicks.

This song forms part of the Alexander L'Estrange's work Zimbe! that City of Dunedin Choir will be presenting at the concert in early September this year.

It is performed here by Con Anima, at the October 2008 St Patrick's College of Wellington's Music Department Concert, under the direction of Roger Powdrell.

Singabahambayo thina

"Singabahambayo thina" is a Methodist sacred song from Africa; the words translate as: We are the ones going through this world, to our home in heaven. Alleluia!

It forms part of the Alexander L'Estrange's work Zimbe! that City of Dunedin Choir will be presenting at the concert in early September this year.

Sheffield Socialist Choir performance at the Sala Dolores. The performance is part of the International Choir Festival in Santiago de Cuba


"Siyahamba" is a traditional worship song from South Africa, sub-titled: "We are marching/singing in the light of God". It forms part of the Alexander L'Estrange's work Zimbe! that City of Dunedin Choir will be presenting at the concert in early September this year.

This performance is by the 2007 VCDA District VII Mixed Chorus of South Africa.