03 March 2007

Drakensberg Boys Choir

Earlier this week, Lisa Glenn suggested that we go see the Drakensberg Boys Choir (http://www.dbchoir.info/) on Friday night. It turns out that this was their first performance of a program they will be taking to the U.S. on Sunday (tomorrow!) They’ve been invited to represent South Africa at the upcoming convention of the American Choral Directors Association. After that appearance, they commence a three week tour of the U.S. They’ll be in FL, GA, TN, OH, Great Lakes region and end in NYC.

The Drakensberg mountains are mostly in KwaZulu-Natal province, although they extend up into Swaziland and down into Lesotho, too. Draken is the Afrikaans word for dragon, and the mountains do look sort of like the back of a dragon with their jagged, steep, sharp peaks. I’ve seen only bits of the mountains on the drive to Durban and from the air. It’s on my list of places I need to visit.

I met Lisa and another Rotary scholar from the U.S., Ursula, at the Linder Auditorium on the Wits (University of the Witwatersrand) Education campus. (This was formerly the Johannesburg College of Education, until the merger of tertiary institutions a couple of years ago. It’s also where Lisa attends classes.) The auditorium is a very nice hall. I’d heard of it on the classical radio station I listen to. Now that I know exactly where it is, I’ll go more often!

The concert was delightful. I’m a fan of boys choirs anyway, and their program was enchanting. They did a couple of classic choral pieces by Ravel and Bach; a lovely and unique arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner”; the Japanese pop song “Sukiyaki”; the American “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” (a “Negro Spiritual” as the program said; Ursula was bothered by this); "Operator", made famous by the Manhattan Transfer; "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Freddie Mercury; and two pieces by South African composer Martin Watt, including the world premier of a piece that was commissioned by the DBC, “Rea Ko Pele” (“We are Moving Forward”). My very favorite, though, was the always beautiful “Prayer of St. Francis”, arranged by R.Delgado, made even more moving with the addition of each chorister also “singing” in sign language. This was so beautiful I cried. Copiously.

(It may be that I cry a little too easily these days. Just Thursday, I heard Schubert’s Trout Quintet on the way to work, and that made me really homesick and weepy, for some reason!)

There were a few choristers who hadn’t made the cut to travel to the U.S., and they served as ushers. Ursula chatted up one of those boys. She found out that the Drakensberg Boys Choir School is a boarding school, and boys from all over South Africa attend. The academic program is pretty rigorous, and the school just celebrated its 40th birthday in January. The choir is ethnically diverse, with white, black, coloured and Asian boys.

To my friends in GA, TN and NY -- if this choir is anywhere near you, do yourselves a favor and go! They’re very good and present an interesting, diverse program. You'll love it!

Joburg City Triathlon

Okay, you folks who know me really well know that I hate running. Hate hate hate it. I do it from time to time (like when I was training for Kilimanjaro), but I always hate it. In fact, I swam in a race in January where they were selling shirts that said, “I swim because:” and there are checkboxes listed below. The reason I bought the shirt is that the second reason is “It’s better than running.” I should check that box with a permanent marker.

So, it may shock you to hear that I competed in a triathlon last Sunday (25th Feb)! Not to worry, I haven’t gone mad. The competition allowed teams, and I did the swim leg for a team. Colleen and Ralph have friends named Wendy and Wallace. (Wendy was Ralph’s boss when they all lived in Nigeria a few years ago.) Wallace was interested in competing in the triathlon, but decided that he wasn’t fit enough to do the whole thing. Also, he’s not a strong swimmer. So, Colleen (who completed the full, standard triathlon) suggested that we put together a team. A few weeks ago, we were all having dinner with Ziad Khatib, who is from Lebanon, lives in Sweden, and is working here for six months on some sort of HIV/AIDS project (he is in public health). (Ziad's older brother was Wendy's manager in Nigeria.) The subject of the triathlon came up, and Ziad said that he would do the cycling leg if someone could lend him a bike. And thus, Team 140 (or The Internationals, as Colleen registered us) was born.

The race was at Victoria Lake in Germiston, just south of the city. It is the site of the race I swam in January. Colleen’s race started at 7.00 a.m. Wallace, Ziad and I arrived about 8.15 for our 9.00 start. The cheering section -- Ralph and Brody, Wendy, and Wallace’s visiting niece and nephew -- arrived shortly before we started. I started first with a 750 meter swim, then Ziad cycled for 20K, and Wallace finished by running 5K. This was considered the mini-triathlon. It seems do-able for one person, hey? If I ever become really inspired, I might try to do a whole mini by myself. Gotta start running and find a bike first…

After the completion of all the races (there were standard, mini and sprint triathlons, as well as the team triathlon), we all stayed on and had a very nice picnic by the lake. It was a good day.