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Choir’s final boot camp for glory

The Kearsney College Choir perform this week before they head for Vienna for the Summa Cum Laude Youth Music Festival. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

The Kearsney College Choir perform this week before they head for Vienna for the Summa Cum Laude Youth Music Festival. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 25, 2022


Durban - The famed Kearsney College Choir undertakes its first international tour since Covid regulations shut down singing, with the boys leaving for Salzburg, Vienna and Prague on Tuesday.

The choir will compete in the Summa Cum Laude Youth Music Festival in Vienna in St Stephan’s Cathedral, the famed Golden Hall of the Musikverein, the Music Theatre of the Vienna Boys Choir, and the University of Music in Vienna. There will be also be performances In Salzburg and in Prague at the National Museum of Music.

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This week, the school held concerts for the choir to strut its stuff and unveil its new repertoire.

It has been years since the choir has been able to perform in a competition, the last being at the Tshwane World Choir Games in 2018. A tour of Belgium was cancelled at the last minute in 2020.

“After all, the most dangerous activity in the world was singing in the choir,” says the school’s director of music Bernard Krüger.

The Kearsney College Choir perform a Ukrainian lullaby. The choir’s musical leader, Benjamin Burton, is second from right. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)
The choir gives a rendition of the national anthem. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

The Independent on Saturday spoke to Kruger and two of the choir’s star performers after the show. Both in matric, Kudzai Kamwendo is head of choir and Benjamin Burton is head of orchestra and musical leader.

It’s Kamwendo’s role to oversee the motivation and discipline of the choir, its structure and movements, while Burton looks after the vocal dynamics and makes sure everyone gets the crucial harmonies right. Some of the numbers have up to eight part harmonies, with the choir broken into two separate groupings. “An all-male choir is a powerful sound,” Burton says.

Both boys came to the school because they saw the choir perform at an open day and wanted to be part of it.

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“It started at primary school,” Kamwendo says. “I wanted to join the choir so badly and was initially declined. Then, in Grade 5, I re-auditioned and got into that choir. When looking at schools in Grade 6, I heard the Kearsney College Choir and just knew I had to be a part of it.”

Choir leader Kudzai Kamwendo, second left, in one of the choir’s energetic routines. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

Burton too sang in his primary school choir.

“When I heard the choir I was astonished at how they approached their music. It was a sound I’d never heard before. As an artistic boy, I couldn’t describe that passion. I wanted to be part of something that is greater than myself. I hope we can leave a legacy.”

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Krüger tells how he could sing and play the piano before he could walk.

“Music chose me,” he says. “My mom was a music teacher, and ran a local choir, so, as a baby, I was in a cot under the piano. I was forced into instruments like the French horn and the double bass.

A gumboot dancing interlude. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

“At school, I was signed up for medical school, when my mom persuaded me to join the National Youth Orchestra camp. I thought: ‘Oh, well, I’ll do it.’ Up until then, I was the only boy in the school who could do music. But here I was surrounded by so many comrades, by musicians who valued music, talked about music, partied about music, made jokes about music. I thought: ‘Okay, mom, you’re right.’”

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While Kamwendo has travelled on a leadership exchange programme to the US, Burton has never left the country, “although I’ve been everywhere in the country”.

Both are looking forward to seeing what the world has to offer.

“Hopefully we make the Champions Concert,” Kamwendo says.

A final gumboot burst of energy at a concert at Kearsney College this week. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)
Vienna here we come. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

On the programme, the choir will be backing a Ukrainian singer performing a folk lullaby. For Burton, the number that moves him most is Ancestors.

“The entire choir enjoyed the intricacies of it, it’s precise, choreographed, brilliantly arranged. The feeling it gives you on stage is invigorating.

“As a choir we’re able to sing pop, folk songs from different countries, gumboot dances. I love how vast our borders are,” he says.

Kamwendo and Burton both intend to follow careers in the arts. Kamwendo will study acting, hoping to use his musical experience on the side. He also plays flute and bass guitar.

“I picked up the flute in Grade 2,” he says.

Burton knew he wanted to do music from the age of four when he picked up the violin. He intends to study a BMus in composition. “I want to create something different,” he says. “What would I do without music?”

This weekend, Krüger, who is affectionately called Chef by the choir, is putting the boys through one final choir boot camp in preparation.

“I need to crack the whip and stir the pot,” Krüger says. “We need to work our butts off and push that little bit further. That’s when you get the glory.”

The choir boasts 15 gold and seven silver medals at the World Choir Games between 2000 and 2018. It was awarded the “Prize of the City of Vienna” at the 33rd International Youth and Music Festival in Vienna, as well as first prizes in international choral competitions in Hong Kong, Germany and Austria. At the World Choir Games in Cincinnati (July 2012), the choir was crowned World Champions in Scenic folklore for the third time. At the Games in Latvia (2014), the choir won the Scenic Pop category and the Champion title again, as well as gold medals for the Folklore and Young Male Choir categories.

Catch a video of their performance this week on our Facebook page

The Independent on Saturday