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University Singers Welcome Musical Leaders From Venezuela and South Africa

November 16, 2020
“The choir is a model of community, in which tolerance, respect, and team work can be learned.”
--Professor Maria Guinand

During the month of October, University of Minnesota Choirs welcomed national and international guest artists as part of the University Singers Global Voices Unit. The choir typically meets three times a week (M/W/F). During this unprecedented Fall semester, Wednesday afternoon workshops provide a weekly forum to hear from guest lecturers and learn new music. Due to uncertainty as to whether in-person singing could safely take place at any distance, all University Choirs have been meeting online this semester.

In University Singers, led by Professors Kathy Romey and Matthew Mehaffey, the course is organized into study units on How the Voice Works, American Voices, Global Voices, and COVID-Related Music and Art. The semester concludes with final Creative Projects presentations by the students. An online concert will be shared with friends and family on December 13, which is World Choral Day. 

The last two Global Voices guests were Venezuelan conductor Maria Guinand and South African composer Bongani Magatyana in partnership with Village Harmony, an umbrella organization for a diverse range of choral, world music, and harmony singing activities. Both sessions involved opportunities for students and presenters to sing together online. This involved the guest artist singing and playing on a keyboard as everyone else muted their audio to sing along. Emotion could be seen on the faces of faculty and students as they adapted and found a new way to join in vocal musical expression together.

“There is no virus that can stop music. Music is indestructible and will accompany us always.” --Composer Alberto Grau as translated by Professor Maria Guinand.

In Venezuela, choral leaders and choir members alike go to great lengths to meet and sing together despite cultural and political strife within their country. Now with COVID-19, they are enduring additional challenges posed by the need to conduct activities in very small groups or online. Members continue making music despite  technology access issues and unreliable internet connections.

Professor Maria Guinand is the co-founder of Schola Cantorum de Venezuela, a non-profit  institution that promotes and strengthens social development through the dissemination of music through choral singing. More than 40,000 children have been impacted in its forty year history. Youth choirs engage children ages 3-17 years old and reach more than 72 communities in Venezuela. Over 400 conductors have trained through this program, which has been replicated throughout Latin America. 

After describing her impressive body of work as a choral educator and conductor, and also sharing her experiences through historical and political struggles in Venezuela, Maria Guinand and her husband Alberto Grau joined in singing the Argentinian song “Te Quiero'' (meaning ‘I love you’) with the class. They brought an inspiring message to not lose heart while pursuing art during trying times.

“Music gives us strength to keep going.” --Bongani Magatayana

South Africans have used music as a source for hope and a means to cope with challenges throughout their history. Several years ago, Bongani Magatyana (professional singer/music director/composer) had the opportunity to sit-in on support groups for family members and people struggling with HIV at a time when the AIDS epidemic was decimating the working class.

Bongani composed songs about the struggles he heard described and highlighted many angles of the virus in his music: how to deal with HIV in relationships, navigating testing, dealing with community stigma, sharing messages about HIV prevention, and how the illness impacts all generations. In his musical compositions about HIV, he quoted songs from the Apartheid era to musically demonstrate the connection between generations: “HIV and AIDS was a new struggle, but we will overcome...just like we did during Aparteid.”

When he joined us in late-October, Bongani taught the University Singers “Azi Senzeni Na,” an AIDS piece he composed in 2003. He covered proper pronunciation in detail and then went through each part: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. He taught the rhythms and played the melody and harmony on a keyboard so the students could sing along. The Village Harmony facilitators encouraged everyone to learn all of the parts, because all parts rely on each other.

Bongani has composed two songs about the COVID-19 pandemic. One explores the sadness he feels as a result of the lockdown and the other explores specific changes to life during COVID-19 (i.e. social distancing). These works are included on his new album, Africa, My Home, Vol. 1, which also features African wedding songs and other songs he has written over the last two years.

Thank you to these amazing artists for sharing their time and talents with our students!

About University Singers
In University Singers, course units included How the Voice Works, American Voices, Global Voices, COVID-Related Music and Art, and the semester will conclude with final Creative Projects presentations by the students. An online concert will be shared with friends and family on December 13th. The choir typically meets three times a week (M/W/F).