André van der Merwe, South Africa © INTERKULTUR
World Choir Games 2018

Meet the world in Africa

André van der Merwe about the World Choir Games 2018

Prior to the Registration Deadline for the World Choir Games 2018 in Tshwane (December 1) we had the chance to talk to André van der Merwe, conductor of the world renowned Stellenbosch University Choir in South Africa about the event. André will act as Chairman of the National Artistic Committee in South Africa and shared some of his expectations and ideas with us. One of the most surprising news for many of you: His Stellenbosch University Choir will not compete at the World Choir Games next year. André explains the reasons:

The WCG 2018 will take place in your home country. How will this affect your personal plans for 2018?

Oh, that’s very easy. Since I’m involved in the Artistic Committee it means that none of my choirs will compete. But I think it’s a fantastic idea that my choirs have been competing for quite a long time so in my own home country I think it’s good if my choirs are involved in a non-competitive way and we will maybe sing in a Celebration Concert or even be part of the festival chorus at the Closing Ceremony. So it’s a different angle for me which is actually cool. No stress this time!

So, Stellenbosch University Choir will not compete. How did your choir react to this news?

They are fine with it because my choirs don’t only work to compete in competitions; the most important thing is we make music together and you don’t need a competition for that.
Many of my university choir members will be involved as guides and working with INTERKULTUR in that way. So really it’s a new perspective for us and we would like to welcome singers from all over the world to our country.

How will the World Choir Games in South Africa be different from previous World Choir Games?

You know it is different every time just because of the cultural event, if you think for example just the last three: First in Cincinnati, then in Riga and then in Sochi. Every host country brought a different cultural flavor. So South Africa of course has eleven official languages and we have very colorful traditions. I hope that these colorful traditions will be interesting for the world and of course we are a singing nation like Latvia. Many township choirs, many people who can’t travel abroad, I think, will be very surprised to see what a strong singing tradition we have in the world. Many choirs before could not travel overseas so for me it’s exciting to know that these fantastic choirs have the opportunity to experience this international event. If it wasn’t in South Africa, they would never experience it.

And what is your personal recommendation to get a once-in-a-lifetime moment at the World Choir Games in South Africa?

I think the choirs must just take a leap of faith because the media is quite negative. We hear that South Africa is unsafe, but like of course anywhere in the world it’s a small part of a country or a city, and where the World Choir Games will be hosted will be very safe and for me I will be very proud to show a positive image of South Africa to see that many positive things are happening. And I think like I’ve said before: People will be surprised at how effectively we can arrange this and also we have a brand new stadium that is finished this year, which will be one of the first events that will be hosted for the World Choir Games and it’s a beautiful venue.

South African first-timers might come to SA with certain clichés in their minds like heat - wild animals – no music without drums. But give the future participants a different view of the next World Choir Games host country. What is different, what will be expecting them?

I think besides the typical South African flavor like we mentioned, the drumming, will be there. The South African dancing will be there. The gumboots will be there. But we are much more than that. We are also a modern country. We are one of the youngest countries in the world. And our contemporary choral singing is sometimes better than the traditional music and I think that will be interesting for most outside or international choirs to experience also the modern side of South Africa, which most people are not aware of. But we hope to have a few animals on stage as well. We must keep true to that flavor.

What about the heat? We had a lot of hot World Choir Games in the past…

It’s winter in Tshwane or Pretoria when the World Choir Games is hosted there but of course our winter is quite mild in comparison to most other regions. The coldest they will get is 15 or 14 degrees and no rain. So I think it’s actually good for singers, a little bit cooler is better than too hot for any singer.

Which performance at the World Choir Games you would never miss to attend…?

Oh, I don’t even have to think twice, that’s definitely the Opening Ceremony, for two reasons: All of a sudden you and your choir have worked so hard to compete, and then you sit in the stadium with literally thousands of people from all over the world so you very quickly realize this is going to be very unique. It is the biggest choral event on the planet. The second reason, of course, is to see what the host country will bring to this Opening Ceremony. It’s always so colorful, you understand the culture even better, and you realize, ah, you are part of this unique international event. And it’s most exciting.

And next time you will be personally involved in organizing the Opening?

Yes, and we’ve already started thinking about the Opening Ceremony, to show the world how choral singing has developed, starting with the Khoisan people who had a very primitive, chant-like singing and dancing and how the Western influences influenced their traditional black music. I think it’s very interesting and many people don’t know how this has developed. So I’m very excited to share the South African choral history with the rest of the world.

And how many Opening Ceremonies have you seen at previous World Choir Games already?

I think basically all of them, I never miss it. And I’m lucky that I did it and I learned a lot. I know what the previous host cities have done; so I know how to think, how to fit our Opening Ceremony into this; so that we give something fresh but also not losing the traditions of the previous ones. It’s important to me.

And what do you think South African choirs will look forward to mostly when meeting all the internationals?

I think two things, and I mentioned this before, I just quickly want to repeat it: Many, many good choirs in my country do not have money to ever travel abroad. So many of these township choirs, and university choirs and local school choirs will of course marvel at the opportunity to experience international influences repertoire, the way choirs sing, and I think it is very necessary that my country experiences this international scene because they – like I’ve said – it’s a strong choral tradition, but sadly not many people have been exposed to an international way of doing. And also, of course, the World Choir Games in my country will have a very important educational value where they will be able to meet adjudicators and choral conductors from all over the world. If it wasn’t for the World Choir Games they would never get the opportunity.

Registration deadline for the 10th World Choir Games 2018 in Tshwane, South Africa ends on December 1, 2017. Fill in this form to get all information about registration and participation conditions directly to your inbox.