Baie dankie South Africa

“It was the experience of many lifetimes in 10 days!”
— BG Loper (Junior, Chemistry)

If you had told me before I came to Emory & Henry College that my first trip abroad would entail an eighteen hour plane ride, presumptuous baboons, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, jaw-dropping views,  impromptu concerts and the most incredible people I would have said you were crazy. About two weeks ago I returned from the stunning country of South Africa. Through this trip I made new friends that were a part of an incredible life changing experience filled with new perspectives and an unbelievable amount of memories.

It was the spring semester of my first year at E&H when our choir director, Dr. Allyss Haecker, began to bring up the possibility of our choirs traveling to South Africa for a tour. I could not believe that this might actually be a reality, which meant when it became a reality I could not pass up the opportunity. Dr. Haecker has a close relationship with the country and the people because that is where she did part of her graduate research and has visited numerous times. Needless to say, she could not wait to start sharing with us the history, languages (there are 11 national languages), culture, and most importantly traditional music. A year later the choirs landed in the country of South Africa. Little did we know that we would be embarking on the trip of a lifetime.

In the first part of this blog series I detailed about some of the things that our choir got to experience like the food, history, amazing scenery, markets, and wildlife; however, in this blog I will write about the several of the amazing people we met and the indescribable musical experiences we had.

We had many different types of concerts on this trip. The more formal performances we had were at two universities: The University of Cape Town and The University of Pretoria. At both of these performances we sang Western music and traditional South African music. Singing Western music in South Africa was fun, but the real excitement came when we sang the traditional music. This is when the audience would sing with us, cheer, dance with us, and ululate (high pitched trilling to express emotions). After the concert with the University of Cape Town we were able to meet the choir and have dinner and drinks with them. They were really the first interaction we had with people from South Africa and they were incredibly welcoming and fun.

We also had several impromptu concerts while on the trip. The first impromptu concert that we had was in the first restaurant we ate at on the first night we were in South Africa. The meal was a pan-African meal and included several performances. To say thank you to the performers and staff of the restaurant we decided to sing a couple of the traditional songs we had learned. This was an exhilarating experience. 

“I found singing at Gold Restaurant to be very meaningful because the staff so appreciated us singing in their language ... Since we had not even been planning to sing that night, it made the experience that much sweeter.”
— Jordan Hawkins (Junior, Mass Comm. & Vocal Performance)

Another impromptu concert was indeed on a plane flying from Cape Town to Johannesburg. A couple of members of the choir had been conversing on the flight with the people sitting with them. Once they discovered that we were a choir they requested we sing, so as the plane landed the E&H Concert Choir sang. One of the gentlemen on the plane who requested that we sing actually came to hear us sing our actual concert two days later at The University of Pretoria. The people on the plane who requested we sing for them were so excited and declared that it made their days that we sang for them and in their native languages. The other impromptu concert that we had was actually at the Eucharist that Archbishop Desmond Tutu presides over. Yes, we sang for Desmond Tutu! Once at the service he also found out that we were a choir and requested that we sing. He enjoyed our singing so much that he invited us to breakfast with him, but unfortunately we could not all go so our director and her husband had breakfast with him. Desmond Tutu told our director that he was touched by the fact that we sang in his native language of Xhosa. He was one of the most gracious, gentle, kind, and funny people we met while in South Africa.

The other two musical experience we had were in two different townships. The first, was in the township outside of Cape Town called Capricorn. We performed in Capricorn as a part of an event that a nonprofit, Living Hope, had organized. This was an experience beyond words. Once we began to sing the audience parents and their children immediately started to sing and dance with us.

“The most impactful musical experience from this trip was during our visit to Capricorn. Before our concert, we were speaking with some of the local mothers and children. A couple of the children came up to me and asked what was inside of my folder. I began to show them the music and realized they were probably a little confused,so I turned to the South African national anthem and asked them to follow along and see if they could figure out what the song was. I began to sing it and they instantly began to sing along and smile the largest smile I have ever seen. They were so happy and proud that an outsider was presenting an important part of their culture with respect and enjoyment as well as having the ability to contribute, to sing along and share their happiness and love of the country.”
— Sean Collier (Junior, Math & Music)

The other concert we had was in SOWETO the largest township in the country right outside of Johannesburg. After our tour of SOWETO we had lunch in the back of a local’s house with a local choir. This lunch, the conversation that followed, and the singing afterwards was not only one of the best musical experiences, but experiences overall for me. These students were incredible. They asked us about what we thought of South Africa and what were similarities between the U.S. and South Africa. We asked them questions about South Africa and the changes since the apartheid era ended. Their response was inspiring. They spoke about how their country has a ways to go, they will not repeat the past, they believe they can make a change, and that they have hope for the future. Of course our time with them ended with singing for each other and together.

The people of South Africa that we were fortunate enough to meet made our trip special. Our bus drivers, our tour guide Prosper, tour guides from other places, the people we met in the townships, the other choirs we met at our various concerts, alumni who live in Cape Town. I wish that through both of the blog posts that I could truly convey the spirit and incredible personalities of the people we interacted with. The people whom our choir met and interacted with were some of the most welcoming, gracious, resilient, hopeful and inspiring people I have met.

I regret to conclude this story which I hope displays some of my excitement over new experiences and the power of music to unite cultures. We sang almost every day we were in South Africa and with physically tired voices, but emotionally fulfilled hearts we returned to E&H. We learned that singing is a much more interactive experience where the audience sings along, dances, and will most likely ululate (make high pitched trilling noises). One of our tour guides for our tour of SOWETO stated that South Africans sing when they are happy, sad, and for every emotion in between. Michael Barrett the director of the Tuks Camerata Choir at the University of Pretoria and long time friend of Dr. Haecker described singing in South Africa perfectly. He stated that music in South Africa was not originally meant to be performed, but rather to express experiences and emotions. He continued by telling us you sing as an individual, but the important thing is that you are singing with other people - together. This trip taught me the importance of studying abroad and building relationships with other cultures, learning from them and understanding them to become a better global citizen. This trip truly exemplified the power that singing and music has to build and strengthen communities and to create and forge relationships. Every place that we went when people discovered that we were a choir and knew traditional South African songs singing became an instant means of communication, became the reason we were welcomed into communities, and helped established relationships that made it incredibly difficult to leave whatever we were doing and the country of South Africa itself.

Needless to say, this trip was beyond all expectations and the country of South Africa has a special place in my heart. I hope beyond all measure that I will be able to return. Baie dankie South Africa, or thank you very much. I would like to thank the people in South Africa that we met and have relationships with now, to Dr. Haecker who is the reason we were able to go and have beyond amazing experiences, and to the other members of the E&H choir who made the trip and experiences so memorable. I feel it is only appropriate to conclude the blog with a quote from the man whom our choir had the great fortune of meeting - Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who explains something that I learned through this trip, the experiences we had, people we met, and power that singing has:

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” - Desmond Tutu

Baie dankie (thank you very much in Afrikaans)

By: Emily Jones '18

*Please take a minute to read the first part to this blog series about the other types of experiences that we had while abroad. Click the link below.