"He incarnated the national soul of choral music in Namibia"
Ernst van Biljon in memoriam
The well-known and internationally highly respected Namibian choral director Ernst van Biljon passed away July 1, 2016.
There are many choral countries in the world where one person incarnates the national soul of choral music. Ernst was such a person for his home country Namibia, and can be considered as the “grand old man” of Namibian choral music.
I first understood this when in 2001 the two of us co-arranged a workshop for African choral directors in the capital of Namibia, Windhoek. Representatives from ten different African choral countries – all through Ernst’s contacts – took part. Since then I have met him regularly at different international events.
I will never forget an experience I had of Ernst in USA. I tell it because it says something about Ernst’s personality. He gave a concert in a suburb of Minneapolis. Not only was the church full, but a couple of hundred persons waited outside to get into the concert hall. Ernst addressed those who already had a seat: “I hope you will agree with me, if I suggest that we make the concert a little shorter and that you then leave the church and give your places to those waiting outside”. Everyone agreed, so he went out into the street to the waiting crowd and told them of the arrangement – if they waited an hour, the choir would repeat the concert for them. Ernst not only was a skilled musician, he also had this humanistic side – which in this case showed itself in the awareness about what an audience could mean to him and also that such human values are part of the role of a good conductor!
Ernst van Biljon came to Namibia from the Orange Free State in 1971. He started paving the way for many Namibian choirs to perform their music both nationally and internationally. He did this with a broad spectre of choral music – from Bach to the authentic African/Namibian singing traditions. He very deliberately worked within a multicultural framework.
Many are those ensemble which he took abroad, thus establishing Namibia as a choral country – the Windhoek Youth Choir, Cantare Audire, Namibia National Youth Choir and Children’s Choir, Young Singers of Namibia and, last but not leased, Voices of Namibia, with which he won Gold Medal in the World Choir Games in Shaoxing (China) in 2010.
Since his first contacts with INTERKULTUR he has regularly been used as an acclaimed juror and also as one of the most active members of the World Choir Council. Just one month ago he submitted an excellent report on Namibian choral music for the council session in the World Choir Games in Sochi later this month.
He will be highly missed by colleagues and friends all around the world!
Artistic Director of INTERKULTUR