Every morning you greet me,
Small and White, Clean and Bright,
You look happy to meet me.
Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow,
Bloom and grow for ever
Bless my homeland for ever.” (from The Sound of Music)
We were singing this in the car, all the way home from Simon’s Town, after another wonderfully entertaining concert by the South African Navy Band last Sunday, the 27th of February 2011. It had been the perfect ending to a whirlwind week in Cape Town with mom-in-law Lissi. She had to miss the concert, unfortunately, as she had already flown back to Windhoek, Namibia, earlier that day.
So it was just Richard and I who drove south to Simon’s Town with our picnic paraphernalia. Last time, in 2009, we had invited some of our friends to join us for a pre-Christmas Concert at Admiralty House with the Navy Band. We had somehow missed the 2010 concert, and this time around, we hadn’t gotten our act together early enough to involve our friends.
When we arrived in Simon’s Town in the mid-afternoon, the available parking spaces along the historic Main Road were filling up rapidly. We joined the groups of people, heavily weighed down with a colourful assortment of picnic chairs, blankets, cooler bags and rucksacks, who were already streaming towards the open gates of Admiralty House, and quickly found ourselves a nice spot with a view, right on the edge of the flower beds – and in the shade, which was a Must-Have in this summery weather.
The band members were still setting up their chairs and music stands, speakers and microphones, and assorted musical instruments, in the shade of some beautiful old trees, at one end of the expanse of lush green lawns. Last time, they had been sitting directly in the blazing sun, which – although it was great lighting for my camera – must’ve been unpleasantly hot for them.
I left Richard to sort out the chairs and to relax, and trundled off to see whether I could take some photographs of the Band and the grounds.
By 17h00, a large crowd of picnickers had spread out their picnic blankets and lined up their chairs all over the beautifully kept lawns. There was quite a spread of picnic food and drink, with some people bringing wine and proper glasses, and civilised tea and biscuits, and all kinds of delectable snacks. The members of the Band in their neat and tidy black-and-white uniforms took their seats, and launched into the first piece.
Their varied programme included Strauss’s “Artist’s Life” – a beautiful Viennese waltz, a Tribute to Frank Sinatra, WO2 Willie van Zyl playing “Somewhere over the rainbow”, various Big Band pieces and military marches (always my favourite), and a well-known South African piece – “Special Star” by Mango Groove. There was also a compilation of well-known songs from “The Sound of Music”, a high-energy competition between two highly talented drummers (Petty Officer Monyane Mokhesi and Leading Seaman Dean Scarcella), and a musical duel between two xylophone players (CPO Cliffie Coxell and CPO George MacDonald).
The wind was very blustery at times, sending notes and caps and music stands a-flying. At one stage, it even toppled over two heavy speakers, injuring CPO Cliffie Coxell, who bravely threw himself bodily over his beloved drums to protect them against the impact of the two speakers. It was one of those moments where you can see the accident about to happen, but everything freezes and you cannot prevent it. Fortunately, it seems that he was not injured too badly (although it really must have hurt!), and after a brief recovery period, he returned to the stage to take his place once again.
The Band handled the difficult conditions with supreme professionalism and much good humour. I think it was precisely because they took it all in their stride, that the spectators felt that they were in good, safe hands, and that any mishaps would be dealt with most capably. Cmdr Kenny Leibbrandt’s easy-going banter and informative introductions to each of the pieces created a warm and welcoming atmosphere, which ensured that everyone felt relaxed and happy. As always, there was plenty of audience participation.
At one stage, he explained that CPO Cliffie Coxell, the percussionist, would be retiring from the Band this year, and that there were two contenders to the throne, who would be competing against each other for the privilege of taking his place: PO Monyane Mokhesi and LS Dean Scarcella. He said that it would be the audience’s response that would identify the winner.
PO Mokhesi arrived in dramatic style, wrapped in a dressing gown like a champion boxer, to much laughter and banter, as his ‘second’ carried his bottle of water and drumsticks. He gave a most impassioned and lively performance – complete with hilariously overdone facial expressions! LS Scarcella gave an excellent and polished performance too, but when it came time for the winner to be chosen – it was clear from the audience’s response! PO Mokhesi had won!
About halfway through their program, Cmdr Leibbrandt announced that they were assembling an impromptu choir to sing “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music. About 10 people from the audience were chosen or volunteered to participate.
And then, suddenly, he mentioned my name and instructed me to come up to the front too.
He explained that I was a fan-follower on their Facebook page (yes, I am), and that they knew I would be attending the concert (erm… I had left a comment to that effect on their Facebook page – Note to self: Don’t do that again! ;-)). He also said that my reputation had preceded me. Oh dear! Is that a good thing?
Honestly, I got Such A Fright.
It was like being called to the principal’s office! For a millisecond, I even contemplated running away and hiding – it was only because the whole vibe at the Concert was so laidback and cheerful, that I somehow found the courage to walk my shaking legs to the front and join the 2011 Admiralty House Garden Party Ad Hoc Choir.
We lined up in front of the Band, facing the audience (help! everyone’s looking!), and Cmdr Leibbrandt explained that we would do a practice run-through of Edelweiss, just to make sure that we knew the melody and the words. We consulted the pieces of paper we’d been handed, containing the lyrics, and – at first shakily and nervously, then with slightly more energy and confidence – sang into the various microphones, so that the sound engineer could adjust the levels.
Then, we sat down on the grass a little to the side and out of the way, awaiting our turn, while the Band played a couple of other pieces from The Sound of Music. As many of us knew at least some of the words, we started to sing along, at first quietly, but then really getting into the swing of things, and having a thoroughly fun time. After a bit, we were told to stand up and sing into the microphones, so we did… and then it was time for our Big Act!
Petty Officer Emmanuel Twala sang “Edelweiss” in his lovely, strong, sonorous voice, while we accompanied him in the background. I’ve no idea whether anyone could even hear us over the Band, but we sang with great gusto and enthusiasm. All our initial nervousness had disappeared – thanks to the wonderfully supportive energy of the Band.
As you can imagine, it took a while to calm down again after this adrenaline rush!
For the final piece, the catchy tune of “Special Star” by well-known South African band Mango Groove, members of the audience were energetically jiving and swaying and dancing in front of the stage, and even those of us who were still seated were clapping and tapping our feet with the beat. The Band was duly rewarded with appreciative applause and cheers!
Afterwards, as everyone was packing away their picnic goodies and folding up their chairs and blankets, I went over to introduce myself to Cmdr Leibbrandt. I’d been wanting to do so for a long time, but had always lacked the courage – so I figured this was the ideal opportunity. We had a wonderful chat about the performance of the Band and the ad hoc Choir, the Band’s Facebook page, my blog, the book I’d written… and then it was time to head home once more.
Not surprisingly, we were (er… I was) on such a high after the Concert, that – all the way back to Pinelands – we were still singing “Edelweiss”, and “Doe-A-Deer”, and “I am Sixteen, going on Seventeen”, and “Climb Every Mountain”, and “My Favourite Things”… Even if we couldn’t remember all the words and our singing was sometimes a tad off-key, we made up for it with loads of energy!
I hope you enjoy the slideshow!
P.S. A huge thank you and well done to Cmdr Kenny Leibbrandt and the South African Navy Band!
P.P.S. I’ve attached the Gallery of Photos below, in case you want to click on any of them, or don’t want to wait for the slideshow to run.
Gallery of Photos: