We went to a fantastic concert last night at the City Hall in central Cape Town. Two choirs participated: the touring British and Irish Lions Male Choir (consisting of 70 members drawn from 18 UK choirs) under their highly entertaining conductor Dr Haydn James, and the Cape Welsh Choir (almost 30 people) under their conductor Phillip Swales.
I’d obtained tickets to the concert via the Irish South African Association some time ago for my friend Kim and her mother to join Richard, myself and my mom for the evening. Despite stormy winter weather and bucketing rain, we headed into the city centre and were grateful when the rain eased off just as we arrived at the Grand Parade, to find that half of it was a building site – thankfully the rest was still available for parking! A long queue snaked around the building from the side entrance all the way to the front, and as we shuffled forwards and towards the warm shelter of this magnificent building, I could feel the excitement mounting. We found our seats on the balcony – front row! awesome! – and settled in.
The place was packed, with only a handful of empty seats. The colours of the Welsh and Irish flags decorated the balcony and the bays along either side of the main hall. It looked so festive!
The Lions Choir, all in black trousers and gleaming white shirts with red ties, sat on the top half of the stage just below the magnificent organ. At the beginning, the Cape Welsh Choir sat on chairs just below them, but they later walked up to the top of the stage, behind the Lions Choir.
It struck me that the average age of both choirs must lie somewhere between 50 and 70 years – try as I might, I couldn’t find (m)any younger folk among them. So I thought it interesting when one of the speakers mentioned at the end of the evening that the Cape Welsh Choir was experiencing some ‘natural attrition’, as he put it, and that they were looking for new (i.e. younger) voices to join their choir (for a history of the CWC, see here).
After the two choirs, their conductors and the accompanists on the piano and the organ had been introduced, the concert began.
It was fantastic.
They sang beautiful choral arrangements from operas (e.g. “Divine Brahma”, which is the chorus of Bizet’s opera ‘The Pearl Fisher’, and the “Soldiers’ Chorus” from the opera ‘Faust’ by Charles Gounod) and musicals (e.g. “Anthem” from the musical ‘Chess’), as well as adaptations of spirituals like “Old Time Religion” and “Every Time I feel the Spirit” and a beautiful version of Elvis Presley’s “The Wonder of You”. They included the traditional Welsh love song “Ar Lan y Mor” (“Upon the Shore”), the Welsh hymn “Gwahoddiad”, and the more military sounding “Men of Harlech”.
I really enjoyed the extremely catchy and foot-tapping “Rhythm of life” from the Broadway show ‘Sweet Chariot’, and their light-hearted and joyful rendition of “Siyahamba”, which brought us back to the shores of Africa. With regard to the latter, conductor Haydn James had told us beforehand that he had ‘choreographed’ a ‘dance’ for them, and that “it had gone down a storm in Beaufort West” (or something like that). So, he added, they had oiled their knees and hips, and were thus warmed up and ready to move, as soon as he gave his signal. They began to sing, we waited with bated breath for the signal, and then the men suddenly started to sway from side to side. It earned them a blast of applause!
At the end of the second half, the audience was told to stand up, and the massed choirs launched into Cwm Rhondda, with most of the audience singing along lustily. I’d never heard this piece before, but we did our best, thanks to the words being printed in the programme. We had a beautiful soprano voice singing along behind us, harmonizing with the voices of many others who also knew the melody and the words, and I felt a shiver of goosebumps because it was so magical.
After presents had been given to the various VIPs, we all stood up once again to sing the two national anthems, first the Welsh and then the South African. What an uplifting end to a fantastic concert! Not surprisingly, the entire audience shouted and applauded loudly and stamped their feet, demanding an encore … but to no avail.
It took a while for everyone to get out of the City Hall, but after long minutes of shuffling along, we emerged into the drizzle of a cold winter’s night. We’d heard the rain pelting down on the roof during the performance, but luckily, there was a bit of a lull which allowed us to reach our car.
On the way, though, I had a little encounter with an overflowing stormwater drain, that led to me standing almost knee-deep in freezing-cold water, which spent the rest of the drive home sloshing around in my shoes.
But we were in such a good mood and our spirits felt so uplifted by the magic of the music, that being thoroughly wet really didn’t matter.