Our Little Tswana Singers

laugh

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.

Advertisements

the Voices of Botswana

botsicons_bots2_tshenolobatshogileThere are some sounds that knock you sideways.

The vocal talent in Botswana is simply phenomenal. For someone who craves the sound of rich and resonant voices, Gaborone is like a candy shop.

As you can imagine, the master classes that we are teaching are just as much fun for us as they are for our students!  Our young singers are very modest and unassuming; sometimes, they are so shy that it is hard to coax them to sing.  But when they open their mouths, the music just pours out of them!  More than a few times, Nani and Bogdan and I have been left a little breathless by the quality of the sounds we hear.

We have even met a few voices that (if they get the proper training) might someday sing in the great opera houses of the world. But like all young opera singers, they need rigorous training in order to make that dream a reality. And it is hard to get the necessary education in a country without a single music conservatory. Despite the enthusiasm of the singers themselves, Botswana’s audience for classical singing is still fairly small.

On Wednesday evening, we opened the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival with a 5JmTMIconcert on the theme of “powerful women in opera.” Four dozen classical music lovers filed into Baobab School Hall, curious to hear an opera concert in Gaborone.  There has been no opera here since December, when the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera House was forced to close because they lost their lease.

With Bogdan at the piano, Nani and I sang some of the great operatic showstoppers by Mozart, Bellini, Rossini, Bizet, Verdi and Wagner. And it was a success! At the reception that followed the concert, the audience showered us with compliments, calling the show “spectacular” and “immensely enjoyable.” We heard so many kind words from local music teachers, music enthusiasts, tourists, and even from a representative of the United States Embassy! We felt honored to be able to perform for such an appreciative public.

DSCN0885But that was just the beginning.  After the reception, we invited the young opera singers back into the theater, where I taught a master class in vocal technique.   The students were brimming with energy: they studied my powerpoint slides about the lungs and the vocal cords, and they listened carefully to my sound clips of great singers, and they immediately integrated my vocal exercises for breathing and support.

Then, one by one, they came up to the front and sang for us.  Many of them actually seemed quite nervous about this, but with the DSCN0889support of their friends, they gathered enough courage to come forward.  They tentatively handed Bogdan their music and introduced themselves.  Some of them were so shy that they actually hid their faces behind their hands. But then they blew us away with soulful renditions of “Un bel di vedremo” and “Nessun dorma!”  It was the most amazing experience.

The very next night, they all returned to hear Nani’s master class on acting DSCN0914and audition skills (and vocal technique, too!). For me, it was such a joy to sit back and watch Nani teach – it is just so gratifying to watch her give these singers the tools they need to improve. And I can’t wait to see Bogdan’s master class on Tuesday! These students are so hungry to know more about singing.

Then last night, I gave a short presentation on the history of opera, and challenged them to think about Botswana’s place in the FUTURE of opera. They smiled thoughtfully, and then they went right back to work, singing their hearts out.

Our evening workshops will continue all next week, hosted by David Slater at his studio.  Mr. Slater is both a conductor and a masterful voice teacher, but like his students, he is incredibly humble. It is quite evident that he has already taught his singers a great deal about technique, phrasing, languages, librettos, and the architecture of sound. But if you ask him, he will tell you that his students’ impressive sound is primarily due to their own “lovely voices” and “raw talent.”

We are hoping that our festival will bring some national and international attention to these marvelous singers.  We will be featuring these voices in YouTube clips.  There are some Tswana voices that you will want to hear.

Meanwhile, be sure to check out Bogdan’s blog and Nani’s blog for more about our exciting adventures in Botswana!

Making New Friends

554783_10151596392227792_1019184033_nThere is a magical place near Magdaliesburg, South Africa, and it’s called Jackson’s Ridge. It’s a campground for abused and neglected children, and it’s run by some wonderful friends of mine. The campground is full of beautiful vistas and it is teeming with wildlife. It’s an African paradise!

We arrived here Saturday in time for a South African braai (barbecue party). We indulged in some delicious traditional foods while trading stories with our friends.

The next day, we went to a worship service at the Excellence Christian Centre. And it rocked! The church was inaugurating a brand new chapel, and the service took place in a huge tent right on the building site. People came from far and near to help celebrate.There were several visiting dignitaries, including His Majesty, King Motlotlegi Kgosi M.E. Molopyane Mabe!

After three hours of singing and dancing and speeches, we were asked to join in the fun. Bogdan grabbed a seat at the synthesizer and off we went. I sang Mozart’s “Alleluia” and the congregation cheered after every phrase — it felt like call-and-response Mozart! Nani sang Bach’s “Bist du bei mir” beautifully. We also delivered a duet, “How Can I Keep from Singing.”  And the crowd went wild, praising God! It was a big praise party. (A video clip of this event will appear here when we have a faster internet connection!)

At the end, the pastor asked us to learn a song in Zulu to take back to the United States. We joyfully accepted this commission!  Then I got to sing Amazing Grace a cappella while the congregation filed out of the tent and walked into their brand new chapel for the very first time. What a beautiful moment.

After church, our friends took us to see the local Lion Park in Johannesburg. We spent the afternoon feeding giraffes and petting lion cubs.  It was pretty awesome.  But Nani did cause a small scandal.  Just so you know, it is NOT okay to feed potato chips to a giraffe.  (Who knew?)

By the time we came “home” to Jackson’s Ridge, it was after dark. I couldn’t stop gazing up at the night sky, marveling at the sea of bright stars.  The Southern constellations are spectacular. an unforgettable day

Welcome to South Africa

photo(1)The airport in Johannesburg was not quite what I expected.  From what others had told me, I was bracing for an atmosphere of controlled chaos, like the  international terminal at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport. But my information was seriously out of date. The O.R. Tambo airport is clean and bright and efficient, featuring high-end shops like Gucci and Montblanc.  It feels just like dozens of other international airports across the world; the only sign of Africana was a large plastic elephant in one corner of the concourse.

The team of the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival traveled in two separate groups. Bogdan Dulu, our star pianist, was flying on his own from Vancouver to Johannesburg. But I was traveling with Nani Sinha, our fabulous mezzo, and my mother, who is helping to coordinate the music program for AIDS orphans in Gaborone.

Weflew from Los Angeles with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (or, as I like to call them, “the Flying Dutchmen.”) The seats were a bit cramped, but there was a wide selection of movies (including a performance of Aida conducted by Zubin Mehta) and copious amounts of airplane food. We spent twenty-one hours in the air, not including a dangerously tight connection in Amsterdam. I slept most of the journey, but fortunately I was awake to see the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert from 30,000 feet!

Meanwhile, Bogdan had a very different experience on British Airways — on his way from Canada to South Africa, he managed to spend a snowy day in London!

When we finally met up, it was almost midnight in Joburg, but we celebrated the beginning of our festival by going out for pizza. To our delight, we discovered that the pizzas at Cappello Pizzeria were named after world leaders! Check Nani’s blog if you want to know whether we liked the Obama pizza better than the Mandela pizza. After the global-leader-pizza-party, we called it a night.  There is much to do in the next few days.

The adventure has begun!

Into Africa

images-1And we’re off!

After eleven months of planning, the NO. 1 LADIES’ OPERA FESTIVAL is about to begin.

My music team is more than a little excited. Our flight to Johannesburg (via Amsterdam) departs in just a few short hours.

We can’t wait to experience the sights and sounds of Southern Africa.  And we’re especially excited to meet the singers of the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera House in Gaborone, Botswana.  We’ll also have the chance to share our music with some AIDS-affected kids. And we’ll be visiting some friends along the way.

Stay tuned for photos, stories, audio and video clips of our adventures!

Where can you find these updates on our progress?  Right here!  This is where I’ll be posting my news.  And if you’re still hungry for more festival news, read Nani’s updates and Bogdan’s updates!

And of course, you can join our festival Facebook page!

Are you ready? It’s time to get launched!