April in Africa

922941_10151630156587792_29381106_nSometimes it’s hard to believe that it really happened.

The whole experience was so overwhelming that it took me a long time to even post about it. But here at last is a summary of this amazing, beautiful thing we got to do.

These are the highlights of our enchanted April in Southern Africa, where we launched the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival.

So what really happened over there? If you were following our hilarious adventures on Nani’s blog, or Bogdan’s blog, or here on the Globetrotting Soprano, then you know that we were never able to post as much as we wanted to post.  There were power outages and bandwidth emergencies …. and the day our video footage got stolen by an angry baboon (just kidding) … Anyway, we couldn’t tell you the whole story. But now we can.

PART I: THE VOICES OF BOTSWANA

We came to Botswana to meet this dynamic group of singers:

DSCN0918These talented young opera singers live and work in the capital city of Gaborone. If you’ve read the best-selling detective novels by Alexander McCall Smith, then you already know that Gaborone is a special place. But you may not know that McCall Smith also founded an opera house there! With the help of their coach David Slater, this group of singers had been performing full-scale opera productions at the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera House.  In addition to showcasing their vocal talent, these productions were quite original in how they presented opera in the context of Afrocentric themes. But in December 2012, they lost their lease and Botswana’s only opera house had to close its doors.Hm70SM

By establishing the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival, we wanted to bring some momentum back to the opera scene in Gaborone.  So we offered master classes in vocal technique, vocal repertoire, opera history, piano technique, acting, stage skills, musicianship, social media and career management. It was a labor-intensive two weeks, both for us and for our students!  But we discovered some tremendous voices.

By the end of the festival, our singers were doing some very exciting work.  They showcased their talents at a concert in Baobab School Hall.  The students who attended all eight classes graduated from the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival.  And at the finale of the Maitisong Festival (Botswana’s largest arts festival), they delivered a rousing Brindisi from Verdi’s La Traviata (featuring tenor Boyce Batlang & soprano Tshenolo Batshogile). It sounded like this:

PART II: OUR CONCERT TOURDSCN1073_2

We also had a wonderful time making music together.

We presented two full opera recitals in Baobab School Hall, including both the Power Ladies of Opera (a show that Nani and I opened in Los Angeles in February) and The Jewelry Box, a recital featuring some of Bogdan’s virtuosity on the piano, as well as a lot of coloratura pyrotechnics from Nani and myself.

We also gave a guest lecture at the University of Botswana about empowering women through opera.  We performed some of our “Power Ladies of Opera” program and facilitated a discussion about gender issues in Botswana, and how European opera relates to the African female experience.

QSeML0_2But some of our coolest musical experiences happened at church! I’ve already blogged about the amazing church service where the congregation made my rendition of Mozart’s Alleluia into a call-and-response song! And where dignitaries from all over South Africa (including one Zulu king) came to worship God together in a huge white tent on a sunny Sunday in Rustenberg.  Unforgettable.

But I didn’t tell you about our church concerts in Cape Town! Throughout our time in Cape Town, we were hosted by the Global School of Theology. One of my sweetest memories is singing sacred music for a chapel full of energetic theology students.  Later that day, we had the chance to sing at a benefit dinner for a recovery program for drug addicts.chapel This successful program is run by Mt Hope Worship Centre in Mitchell’s Plain, South Africa, and they are doing some great work.

Meanwhile, back in Botswana, we got to participate in the closing ceremony of the Maitisong Festival, singing a few arias from Tosca and La Cenerentola before introducing the graduates of the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival.  The concert was attended by the United States Ambassador Michelle Gavin.  Ambassador Gavin said some very encouraging words that night about the importance of musical and cultural exchange between Botswana and the United States.DSCN1665

We also performed as dancers at the closing ceremony. That’s right!  Nani and Bogdan and I sang and danced a Zulu folk song with the famous Witts Choir of South Africa.  There is video to prove it.  But that footage is far too precious to be released right now.  You’ll just have to wait for the official documentary. 😉

PART III: THE CHILDREN WHO MELTED OUR HEARTS

DSCN1206_2Sadly, AIDS is still a terrible reality in Botswana.  There have been great advances in drug therapies, and the government of Botswana is doing a good job with distribution.  But that doesn’t solve the whole problem. Some experts estimate that one third of the adult population of Botswana is infected with HIV. And the group most affected by HIV is women between the ages of 25 and 45.  So as you can imagine, a lot of young children are losing their mothers.

We decided to create a music workshop for AIDS-affected children (ages 2-6) in Botswana.  Many of these precious children have lost their parents to AIDS, and some of them are HIV-positive themselves.  But they are full of energy and just bursting with music!DSCN1197

We collaborated with a certified music therapist to design our Joyful Noise! workshop. One morning, we traveled to the village of Kanye to play with 60 children at Kgodisong Centre. And then we spent three mornings at St Peter’s Day Care Centre to work with 76 at-risk pre-schoolers! We wanted to give these precious children a fun-filled week of music games.

DSCN1369Some of our generous donors provided streamers and rhythm toys for the pre-schoolers in Mogoditshane.  You should have seen their little faces light up when we gave them their presents.

My sister and her family helped with this part of the festival.  (They had spent the previous two weeks doing a special service project for orphans in rural Swaziland!) So my two nieces, ages 11 and 6, helped us play musical games with the Tswana children.  That was a special joy for me to see!!DSCN1364

Meanwhile, my mom was conducting some exciting academic research towards her master’s degree. As Vice President of Clubs & Mentoring at Royal Family KIDS, she directs a mentoring program for abused and abandoned children in the United States.  DSCN1260While in Botswana, Mom arranged and facilitated a panel discussion with several African church leaders, authors and experts on the subject of  “Church Response in Botswana to Children & Families Affected by HIV/AIDS.” She returned with some very interesting findings about the kinship care model of foster care.

I’ve already blogged about Jackson’s Ridge, a beautiful campground in eastern South Africa dedicated to serving disadvantaged children. It’s the kind of place where you wake up in the morning to the sound of monkeys dancing on the roof of your cabin – pure fun. We met with Royal Family KIDS leaders at Jackson’s Ridge to discuss launch a mentoring club for abused children in South Africa in 2014!images

And we were able to make a very special donation towards a program called Jway Children’s Ministry. They train local churches in ‘child friendly’ outreach and education (40% of Africa’s population is under age 15), using puppets and magic shows to entertain kids from all backgrounds. When you’ve met these kids, you just long to bring joy to their little hearts.  So we decided to donate our last money from the festival towards… a bounce house!

PART IV: THE BEAUTY WE CAN’T FORGET

Yes, we went on safari.  How could we not??  We spent three days in Kruger National Park (South Africa). Here are some of our animal friends:

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And the beauty of Cape Town deserves its own post, but I’ll tease you with a few images:

IMG_4731IMG_4727IMG_4785This wonderful trip would not have been possible without the support of so many wonderful people.  We want to thank David Slater, our chief musical collaborator in Gaborone!  And Gao Lemmenyane, the director of the Maitisong Festival.  Our sponsors: Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Water’s Edge Church, First Presbyterian Church of San Pedro, and Empower International Ministries. Our dear friend Karen Torjesen at Claremont Graduate University.  And Professor David Kerr at the University of Botswana. And all of our singers… and all of the pre-school kids!  Thanks to our dear friends Father Andrew and Gladys Mudereri at St Peter’s Day Care Centre. Also, our best buddies Charmaine and Donovan Manuel with J-WAY, and Neville and Gail Fannin with Royal Family KIDS at Jackson’s Ridge.  And finally a big shout out to YOU, our faithful readers and supporters!!!

We are in the process of making a documentary about the festival.  Our brilliant videographer CAROLYN RAFFERTY got the whole thing on tape. So we have our footage already, but editing costs money. So there will be a Kickstarter campaign next month.  Please consider donating. The world needs to hear the beautiful voices of Botswana! Thank you.IMG_1255

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Our Little Tswana Singers

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When I close my eyes, I can still see their little faces.

It was hard to tear myself away from St. Peter’s Anglican Day Care Centre this morning, after three days of leading music workshops for AIDS affected pre-schoolers.

They waved good-bye as we pulled out of the lot, still clutching the stickers and candy we had given them.

Thanks to some generous donors, we were also able to give the children dozens of new music toys (claves, jingles, triangles, tiny cymbals, rhythm sticks, resonator bells, and colorful streamers for dancing).  The kids were thrilled with their new instruments. When we have a faster internet connection, I’ll upload a video of the St. Peter’s Pre-School Band!  (YES, Carolyn got it all on film!) These kids really know how to make a joyful noise!

Earlier in the week, we also got to visit a very special pre-school in the village of Kanye.  We sang praise songs with them, and played Vivaldi for them, and taught them to dance the hokey-pokey.  They loved it.sing

So we taught master classes (for adults) in the evening, but we spent our mornings singing and dancing with children between the ages of 2 and 6 years old!

Both pre-schools are specifically for children who are affected by AIDS. Botswana has the second highest HIV infection rate in the world (behind Swaziland), and more than one-third of the adult population is HIV positive. There are sixty-four kids at the school in Kanye and seventy-six kids at the centre Gaborone, so we played with 140 pre-schoolers this week!

Some of these little ones are HIV+, and others have parents who are sick (or have already passed away).  And some of the children are not directly involved with AIDS, but they have been victims of abuse or neglect. They are all hungry for love and attention.  And they all love to sing and dance!

Once again, I was so proud of my team.  Nani and I kept the kids busy with all kinds of (highly active!) music games.  Nani is an inspired teacher, and Bogdan was very creative with his spontaneous accompaniment to all of our songs! (There was no keyboard in Kanye, but he got to play an upright piano at St Peters, and he also hammered out a mean boogie-woogie on the resonator bells.)

I also had a lot of support from my family! My sister and brother-in-law and their two daughters drove up to Botswana on Tuesday, after completing a service project in Swaziland.  They came to help with the music workshops at the pre-school, and I was so excited to have them with us!

You should have seen the Tswana kids’ faces when they saw my two nieces (ages 6 and 11) come into their classroom.  It’s an amazing thing to watch kids from vastly different cultures trading their favorite songs and dances.  Such fun!

My mom helped coordinate the entire effort at both pre-schools. She located both facilities, and she interviewed several local experts on AIDS, because she is currently researching the response of the African Church to the orphan crisis. We met several people who inspired us – they are passionate about caring for at-risk kids, and they have dedicated their lives to serving these precious little ones.

By the end of the week, the kids were clinging to us like Velcro! We were getting innendated with hugs.  But it was wonderful, because they are adorable and huggable kids.  We’ll miss them.

Meanwhile, we have had many other adventures here in Botswana, and I just haven’t had time to tell you all of the wonderful (and crazy) things that have happened to us. So once again, I will direct you to Nani’s blog and Bogdan’s blog because they’re both touching and hilarious.

Please stay tuned for more news about our final concerts!  I just can’t believe the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera festival is almost over.  It’s been unforgettable.