Christmas came early when I was given the green light to accompany Schola Cantorum on part of their tour to South Africa in October 2017. 24 hours after leaving the UK and a long journey via Dubai we arrived in Johannesburg and met our courier, Pieter. The group were tired but in good spirits and after a spot of lunch we were revived enough for a guided tour of Soweto. A visit to the Walter Sisulu Square featured the choir in an impromptu performance of Ukuthula in the brick tower (a monument to the Freedom Charter where the full principles of the charter are engraved) with its beautiful acoustic.
Next followed a visit to The Hector Pieterson Memorial and shortly after Regina Mundi, the largest Catholic Church in South Africa where the group would be taking part in Catholic Mass the next day. One of the most prominent artefacts in the church is the painting entitled "The Madonna and Child of Soweto", mostly referred to as "The Black Madonna", depicting a black Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus (see photo). The walls still bear the signs of the shootings of the Soweto uprising of June 16, 1976, when students were shot by the police in Orlando West.
After this thought provoking tour we returned for a rest in the hotel before dinner. A fantastic lightning storm ensued on the way to dinner at the restaurant Carnivore. As the name suggests, there was a veritable feast of different meats on offer including alligator, zebra and warthog, as well as pork and chicken. The group seemed to really enjoy it!
The next morning the Schola Cantorum took part in the service at Regina Mundi where they sang alongside the church choir and were made to feel very welcome. Much of the service was in English but they did switch between many of the other regional languages. The group were given the opportunity to perform on the altar steps at the end of the service. It was moving to see the congregation taking photos and enjoying the music. After the service, the group departed for Pilanesberg in anticipation of the Safari!
Receiving the wakeup call from Pieter at 4:45 am the next day was painful to say the least, but it wasn’t long before the excitement of what was ahead dawned on me. At the game reserve we separated into two groups and almost immediately spotted our first animal - a rhino! The rhino is one of the 'big five' (the name refers to the five mammals that were the most dangerous to hunt), shortly followed by an elephant and a giraffe. Our guide then received a call over the radio – lions had been spotted! We raced through the park and arrived in time to see two male lions wandering around – it was marvellous (and unusual) to see them so active. Before too long the morning game drive was over and we were on our way to Sun City for a visit to the Valley of the Waves where the boys made the most of the water slides (I only went on the slower ones!).
Back at the game reserve for the evening drive it became clear that our driver was looking for something and sure enough we found it – a leopard – the rarest of the big five! What a privilege! There were various groups vying for a good spot but the leopard managed to evade everyone and disappeared after about 15 minutes. It was ok though because as the sun was setting we came across three cheetahs (see photo) which was probably my favourite part of the whole day. The reserve was silent apart from their calls to each other.
Dinner was a BBQ in the middle of the park (guarded by a man with a gun!) and followed by a campfire where the group sang a few songs together. It was a really memorable day.
The next day we said goodbye to Pilanesberg and made the journey to George on the Garden Route. After a short rehearsal the choir performed in a joint concert with the South Cape Children’s Choir and they sang Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus together. It was a joy to watch these two diverse choirs sing together, even if I was occasionally distracted by the bat flying around in the rafters! The venue was wonderful and the audience gave both groups a standing ovation!
On Wednesday, we ventured over the Outeniqua Mountains (where the weather changed dramatically) towards the Cango Caves at Oudtshoorn stopping at an Ostrich Farm along the way. Here the group had the opportunity to feed and stroke some of the ostriches as well as stand on the eggs (which can take weight of up to 120kg)! At the Cango Caves we all visited the first few chambers with impressive formations of stalagmites and stalactites. The majority of the group continued on for the Adventure Tour. This involved a small trek deep into the bowels of the caves culminating with a looped tour where members of the group were required to climb and squeeze through small gaps. It was challenging but everyone had a blast! Back in the main chamber the group took advantage of the spectacular acoustic and performed for the other visitors. We returned to George for a delicious dinner at an ocean restaurant where we looked out at the stormy Indian Ocean. The perfect end to another adventure-filled day!
My final day with the grioup included the journey by coach from George to Cape Town. Before we left George, we stopped at the beach for a quick look at sea. A few people got caught out by the waves so there were some very wet feet for our journey!
I arrived in Cape Town with enough time for a brief glimpse of Table Mountain and the group's short rehearsal at the Hugo Lambrechts Auditorium (where they were to perform another joint concert that evening). I bade an emotional farewell and departed for the airport.
I thoroughly enjoyed being in South Africa, the cultural experience was diverse. The country has so much to offer and I probably only experienced a small percentage of that on my whistle-stop trip! I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit this wonderful country, made all the better for the enthusiasm and knowledge of our representative Pieter, and it was a double bonus to be there with such a delightful and talented group.
The Choir of Jesus College Cambridge is currently on tour in South Africa! If you are interested in learning more about a concert tour to South Africa get in touch here!