By Roxanne Daniels
I spent the afternoon with the Graeme College Boys’ choir, listening to their rehearsal and speaking to four members of The Leopard’s Voice. As the afternoon approached evening, some of the boys began to prepare to play their instruments and sing in front of the audience. Load shedding could not stop them.
(Scroll down to listen to recordings of the performances)
Warm-ups, cues, words and rhythm
About 40 school boys clad in uniform trickle into the Graeme Music Centre for the usual Thursday afternoon choir rehearsal. At 2pm on the dot, choir mistress, Priscilla Glover begins to play and without a word of prompting, the choir members launch into the warm-up ‘mmm-ing’, ‘ha-ing’, ‘pa-ing’ and ‘ma-ing’.
The nonsensical but essential words used for warm-up come to an end and the rehearsal swiftly moves on to polishing up River of Dreams, Softly as I Leave You, Makhe Silunge, and Goodnight Sweetheart. At one point, I hear only the tune and mumbled words. Mrs Glover soon diagnoses the problem: the boys are shaky with the lyrics. The piano stops, the boys sit down and a session of learning the lines begin. Once this is accomplished, the choir sings The River of Dreams with much more confidence, allowing for correct cues to be taken, and beautiful voices accompanied by foot-tapping rhythm to be heard.
The special crew
Once the main rehearsal is over, a select 15 stay behind for The Leopard’s Voice rehearsal. This group of singers are chosen by Mrs Glover to be part of a smaller, more senior choir. One of the members, Sange Loliwe (Grade 11), says that the boys in The Leopard’s Voice “really want to be there and are really serious about it”. They immediately gather in a semi-circle to sing You are the New Day and Redemption Song. Great honesty is prized in the group as they all admit as to whom is off-pitch for the day, with care not to damage one another’s self-esteem. Kamva Ntapu (Grade 11) proclaims that he enjoys this honesty in the group: “Being in this group pushes you to do better. If someone else is reaching a note you can’t, you try harder to get there as well. It’s really helped improve my singing.”
Not the usual rehearsal
Many of the boys in The Leopard’s Voice have also chosen to take music as a subject from Grade 10 – 12 and this rehearsal is not just an every-day choir practise. It comes just before their practical assessment that evening where they play their chosen instrument (voice or musical instrument) in front of an audience. Even though the concert is for the more experienced senior musical students, nerves are still in the air. “No matter how many times you perform for an audience, there’ll always be nerves. You just have to keep doing it to get better,” Brad Geswendt explained.
Load shedding or not, the show must go on
To ensure that his nerves are not due to lack of preparation, Brad, along with his classmates, comes to the having practised well. They are also ready with lanterns and torches for when the lights snap off due to those unmentionable scheduled bouts of darkness (apologies on behalf of Eskom for this story’s lack of photos and videos).
Jitters of excitement fill the room and Rudolph Botha, the first performer sits in a chair, squinting at the strings on his guitar, until a concerned musician jumps up to stand next to him with a lantern. With the only light in the room shining on the guitarist, the audience becomes enchanted only by the beautiful strumming of Romance by Antoni Rubina.
These boys certainly do not go by convention showing off some unique skill. Both Hlumelo Shelle and Luthando Mpehlo play a curious instrument called a ‘steelpan’, a round, half-circle piece of steel, hung from a metal frame and hit lightly on different spots to create an echoing and soft gong. Siseko Speckman harmoniously masters the saxophone and Kamva Ntapu meticulously performs with the clarinet. The boys who choose their voice as their instrument do not disappoint and I melt in my seat again and again when each singer opens their mouths.
Instead of photos and videos, here are some audio clips of the performances. Press play, sit back and be transported to a happy place as you hear the enchanting music from these gems.