Barrett himself is an old choir member, having joined the choir while he was a music student at Tuks. Now a doctoral student, specialising in choral performance, he is proud to be their conductor. “In its very short interim since I’ve been here, it’s really done very nicely,” he says of the Camerata.
Some of the choir’s recent highlights include a performance at last year’s Rand Merchant Bank Starlight Classics concert, where international Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins also performed. They also performed at the Nelson Mandela memorial service held on the UP campus. “By far the most moving was, for us, to give something back to Nelson Mandela. Words cannot describe how emotional that moment was that we had some way of bidding farewell to the world’s greatest leader,” Barrett says.
This year has already seen the choir achieving some more highlights. In February they performed at the KykNet Fiëstas and later this year they will be touring to Riga, Latvia for the World Choir Games. They will be competing in the contemporary university category and in the traditional African music category. Barrett says that the choir has started rehearsing what they will be performing at the competition. On top of all of the musical preparation, they are also raising funds to cover the costs of the 71 students going on the tour, although Barrett says the university has also contributed to this cost. “The rest of the money has all come from concerts and shows, which are getting straight back to the students so that we can get them all there because we believe that that is important,” he continues.
At the beginning of March this year, Barrett’s arrangement of the traditional isiXhosa song “Indodana” was published in an international choral music publication by Santa Barbara Music Publishing, based in Ohio, USA. Barrett told Perdeby that it was a huge honour for him. “It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the connections I made through the university and as my position as conductor of the university choir,” he said. The choir performed this song when they featured on SABC 2’s Morning Live.
Barrett arranged the song together with African choral music specialist Ralf Schmitt, the artistic director of the Mzansi Youth Choir. Schmitt and Barrett attended the Drakensberg Boys Choir School together which is where their love for traditional African music started. “Every year in the Drakensberg we had a huge traditional African programme that we had to learn and we had to sing,” Barrett says. Barrett says that traditional African music is so special to him because of “the movement of the music and the language and of course the simple harmony”.
Barrett saw Schmitt’s choir perform “Indodana” and was so moved by it that he asked Schmitt if he could rearrange it. “He did the first arrangement of it and then I totally readapted it for the university choir and the end result is what we have published now together as a joined work,” says Barrett.
“Indodana” was published after Prof. Cameron LaBarr from the Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, visited the choir last year and heard them performing the song. “He has connections with Santa Barbara Music Publishing and he emailed them. He said to them ‘This piece has to be published, it is exceptionally moving’ and the rest, as they say, is history,” says Barrett.
When asked if “Indodana” will be part of the repertoire for the choir games in Latvia, Barrett answered no, although he did say it would’ve made a fantastic competition piece. “We did it last year but music loses its integrity when it is performed too much. It was really special for us last year and I think it needs to remain that way,” says Barrett.
New audiences may still have a chance to see it at some of their other performances during the year and maybe watch it again on television. “We’ve been invited to possibly perform at Skouspel in October,” Barrett told Perdeby.
Photo: Brad Donald