On July 20, 2019, several Voices from the Heart members shared memories of the trip to South Africa in the summer of 2018 accompanied by a slideshow of pictures.
Written by: Ann Bliss
The Copper Military Statue Comes Alive
There are too many experiences to really select one that stands out. That said, the power of connecting with the people whether singing, dancing, or talking were the most moving and memorable. One experience in particular stands out when a group of about 12 of us walked to the Victoria & Alfred Water Front Park across from our hotel to eat dinner. As we walked through the main square, a marimba band played. The lead player was in fact the teacher from Music Works, the non-profit that received our primary donation. He immediately jumped off the stage, gave us all big hugs and then jumped back on stage to play a tune he knew we knew. We started to sing and dance and people shopping and ambling stopped to listen. Slightly off to one side of the stage was a man who was a “living statue” dressed in a copper military outfit…his skin was painted copper, everything was copper. He stood military straight, not moving until we began to sing and dance. I then saw him smile and sway and eventually come off his platform to watch us. We finished, went on our way, and after dinner we walked back through the main square. The living statue was still there. As we walked by, he began to sing the song we had sung earlier and we all stopped laughed and sang with him…he then started talking with us, asked us how we sang the words of the song so well and perfectly in his language. Where did we learn this? Of course our wonderful director taught it all to us. He went on to explain that he couldn’t help but come down from his platform to watch us .He was so moved that a group of white American people could sing his country’s song so well. It felt honoring of him, his people, and his culture. These connections made will always stay in my heart and will remain the highlight of this trip for me.
Written by: Cheryl Booth
When Voices from the Heart sisters travel we like to sing - at our concerts, in our busses, but also in shops, hotels, airplanes, parks, restaurants - really just about anywhere a few of us have gathered. We did this all over South Africa. We sang South African songs in South African languages and danced the native steps. On one occasion a few of us met at the “Watershed” in Cape Town. It’s a place for a collaborative of South African artists, many of them women, to sell their work - ceramics, textiles, jewelry, fashion, etc. We gathered in front of a favorite jeweler and began to sing and dance the South African song “Amavolovolo.” Within seconds local women from all over the warehouse ran up to join us. We made one big group and danced and sang in the native tongue. We joined together and my heart was lifted as I watched these women rejoice and sing and dance and smile and laugh with us - welcoming us to their beautiful land.
A taxi driver named Vanny drove 4 of us to hike Lion’s Head Mountain. When he heard our story he refused to take any money and insisted on waiting for us at the bottom of the mountain.Two hours later he was there waiting. In the taxi he asked us to sing a song. We gave it our all and sang the South African National Anthem. Vanny sang along - and his utter joy reinforced how meaningful and rewarding our trip really was.
Ten of us hiked up Table Mountain. Once at the top we could see all the beauty below - tall cliffs of grey and brown stone, the contour of False Bay, sage, lavender, and brown fynbos, and the Cape of Good Hope. On the descent, with a view of Cape Town and Robben Island - where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison - we stopped to sing “Thula Sizwe” in Xhosa, a native language of South Africa. Translated: “Hush nation, do not cry, our God will protect us. Freedom - We will get it.”
Written by: Ashley Lapp
On Tuesday, July 31st we boarded our buses, dressed in our now infamous black and purple regalia, and headed to the Amy Foundation not exactly sure what to expect. The Amy Foundation is named after an American student Amy Biehl whose life was tragically cut short during a political act of violence in 1993. Amy was committed to making a difference in South Africa and the foundations mission is “to weave a barrier against violence through a holistic approach to community development in disadvantaged communities in and around Cape Town.” To put it in perspective, only 43% of South African students who enter first grade graduate high school.
Upon arriving we were treated like royalty and learned all about their skills development programs that teach vocational skills and hands on experience in areas including beauty and wellness, craft and design as well as hospitality. The youth in the program that day had carefully crafted lists to acknowledge our groups various dietary restrictions, worked double time to finish handbags that members in our group wanted to purchase and offered massages that helped work out the knots we developed on the million hour flight to get there.
The real magic, however, began when the music started. From the emotional rendition of “Another Train” sung by our amazing Hallie Fuller to which several youth wanted to have sung on repeat - to shocking them with our South African repertoire and dance moves; music is what united us. We laughed, we danced, and sometimes we cried as we shared this special lifechanging day with them. The invisible wall that society continues to weave through our lives fell down that day at the Amy Foundation to allow us to become one collective community who share a love of music. The African philosophy, Ubuntu, comes to mind as I reflect on that experience – believe in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.
One of the most moving experiences I had in South Africa was visiting the Great Motherstone near Cape Town. The Motherstone is a sacred site located in a spectacularly beautiful area on the coast, near caves used by the ancients.
We were introduced to the area by Dean Laprini, a spiritual guru who has a background in archeology and astronomy.
As we approached the caves leading to the Motherstone, he asked us to enter the area with respect and good intentions, and to ask for permission to visit. This was a new concept for me, and it spoke to his deep respect for the earth and for the sacredness of this site in particular.
The caves were large enough that all of us were able to sit together in one of them. It was a beautiful day with sun and blue sky and a soft breeze blowing. We could see and hear the large sprays of water as the surf crashed against the rocks.
We held hands and sang gentle songs that paid tribute to the earth and sisterhood and beauty.
I was overcome with emotion and released the tears and sadness I had been carrying. I felt so connected to my Voices sisters and blessed to be singing there with them.
We then walked down to the Motherstone, a huge round stone probably twenty feet tall. I placed my forehead and hands against the stone and leaned into her and stood like that for several minutes.
While I was touching, or I could say, embracing her, I felt a profound sense of comfort radiating from her into me. I didn't want to let go.
I could've stood there for a very long time, absorbing that feminine energy. I felt connected to all the people past and present who had touched her and received her healing. I believe she offered me healing as well, and I was open to receive it.
I left her with a deep sense of belonging and connectedness to the world and my place in it. It is a sense that has stayed within me. I can bring it back by thinking of the Motherstone and remembering that magical day where I knew that I belonged. What a gift!
In the words of our late Voices sister, Anne Smith...
Written by: Claudia Ravin
It could have gone so wrong.
I was dreading our participation in a children’s music workshop at Heideveld Primary in a beleaguered Cape Town neighborhood. Poverty and unemployment have fueled development of violent gangs there. Our host, and beneficiary of funds we’d raised, MusicWorks, uses the power of music to encourage and support children in neighborhoods like Heideveld.
However, it wasn’t fear for personal safety that provoked my dread. While I was proud we’d be able to present MusicWorks with a big check; I hated the image of us, mostly white and entitled, albeit well-meaning, women from a bucolic town in New England, making a big show of our generosity, along with a somewhat condescending demonstration of our musical talents. And the kids sitting there bored and resentful.
That didn’t happen. Within minutes of our arrival, we were randomly assigned to drums, marimbas or gumboot dancing. The kids would teach us! Being marginally better at stomping and hopping than percussion, I was initially disappointed I’d been assigned marimbas instead of gumboot dancing. Plus, this was a big bass marimba which requires real power; and my chicken wing arms seemingly weren’t up to the task.
It was quite humbling. But my young teacher was very patient…putting her hands over mine. And when I eventually kinda got it, she gave me a radiant smile.
Voices singers in the gumboot dancing group described how much fun they had bantering with the cheeky teenage boys tasked with teaching them. Hilarity and hugs abounded.
The workshop concluded with a concert; all of us, and all the kids singing, dancing, and playing the marimbas anddrums together. By happenstance the MusicWorks kids were wearing purple and black, just like us. The kids looked sooo proud of themselves for turning these mostly white, entitled women from a bucolic town in New England into fledgling gumboot dancers, djembe drummers and marimba players.
Music at its most empowering and uplifting.
Written by: Alalia Thaler
Voices spent three busy days in Piketberg, a farming community two hours north of Cape Town, and the home of our sister chorus, the Berg River Choir. This choir, under the direction of Sherlock Fortuin, had performed in Portsmouth in December 2014. Set in a scenic valley with undulating wheat and canola fields, Piketberg was finally having its first successful growing season after four years of a devastating drought. While in town we were wined and dined by the community. One evening Sherlock and his mother hosted Voices at their home for a delicious braai, or barbecue, followed by a jubilant songfest.
We held two memorable concerts. First we sang at Broodkraal Farm for migrant farm workers and their families. In turn, a group of preschoolers entranced us with “Twinkle, Twinkle.” The culmination of the visit was a gala joint concert with the Berg River Choir at the beautiful Dutch Reformed Church, accompanied by our host Sherlock on the majestic church organ.
One morning Voices members joined a group of elderly women for an interactive activity filled with laughter and friendship. A few hours later, Voices sang and drummed with boisterous primary school students at a community rec center and then went on to perform for and with an enthusiastic group of high schoolers.
While most of the chorus left for the high school workshop, Deb, Sue and I were asked to judge the preliminary round of a talent show. The teachers assured us that we were more than qualified to evaluate kids of widely differing ages and abilities, even though we were given no specific criteria to use. The students blew us away with their interpretations of pop, African, and gospel songs as well as a rousing group rendition of the South African National Anthem. After narrowing down the field, we learned that not only were we to come back that evening for the finals, but that the winner of the contest would go on to Cape Town for a higher level competition! The community center was electric as the nine primary and secondary school performers, now dressed in their finest outfits, prepared to sing in front of the entire community. Smiles, tears, and wild applause filled the room as, one by one, the children climbed the stairs to face their friends and families. I felt so honored to sit at the judging table as the students sang their hearts out. Yes, in the end we had to pick a winner, but what I mostly remember is how naturally these kids demonstrated the immense power and joy of music in their lives.
Written by: Joanne Connolly
I am not only a conductor, but a firefighter as well.
My “job description includes:
*finding inspiring music
*arranging the music
*teaching the music
*Two days before 60 of us leave for South Africa, one of our singers comes to me: “One of our soloists has pneumonia and won't be coming” .......rearrange music.
*While walking to breakfast at Titsikama National Park in South Africa...“one of our singers has been badly burned” .....”Call Dr. Patty!”
*On the bus leaving our last concert and hotel...“We have left one of our singers at the last hotel!”.....”Turn the bus around”
And then this one:
*At St Oswald's Church outside of Cape Town... After our dress rehearsal my singers went off to have dinner and two concert organizers come up to me and invite me to sit down.. One placed her hand on my shoulder and said.. “Desmond Tutu will be here to listen to your concert tonight.” My hands did not fly to my head, or mouth or eyes. But I did this Pug dog “thing” , and said “What?” “Desmond Tutu will be seated here in the first row with his wife and daughter...oh, and , don't tell your singers about this.....” The organizers graciously gave me flowers to present to Mrs. Tutu (Ma and Pa Tutu) and after we sang....I gave the flowers and a hug to her. But was a bit overwhelmed in meeting “the Arch” and took his hand , bent and kissed it.
Such a great honor...
*to be in his presence
*to sing for him
and , clearly, no fires to put out that evening....only the one in my heart....
Safari & Tsitsikamma National Park
Written by: Becky May
I knew I was going to love the people of South Africa, I already loved the music of South Africa, but what I didn’t expect was the sheer beauty of the landscape. The mountains took my breath away - the pounding surf at Tsitsikamma still resonates with me.
Of course, Voices couldn’t go to South Africa without experiencing a Safari. We enjoyed morning and evening safari’s getting up close and personal with herds of zebra, graceful elephants, necking giraffes, playful ostriches, families of warthogs, mating lions (yes...mating lions) and so much more.
We stopped for a traditional toast to the sunset featuring wine, Biltong, nuts and dried fruit. Lynn S. wrote this wonderful description of this shared, amazing moment: As darkness fell, we heard a sound. A call. Then another sound. An answer. The sounds vibrated inside I felt a chill in my bones. But it was a chill of wonder, not cold. The lions were calling, as darkness fell.
I didn't think the night could get any better. As happened so often on this trip...it did get better. Later that night several of us gathered at the Boma for a star safari. We gathered in the enclosure that was set down in the ground to block out any ambient light. Our guide used a laser (a surprisingly effective tool!) to point out major stars and constellations. My eyes adjusted and the dark sky was bigger than I've ever seen. The sky was filled with stars, the Milky Way was breathtaking and we were directly under the Southern Cross! It was a sacred moment made even better because I was with dear Voices sisters. And just when I thought it couldn't get any better...a large group, or a bloat of hippos nearby joined the gathering with an amazing chorus of snorting and splashing. South Africa!