Friendship Concert in Riga © Roger Schmidt 2017
Choir Stories

Many hearts beating with one beat

3 years of friendship – 2 choirs – 1 common passion

16 hours by plane, 186 hours by car, 2428 hours on foot - there are about 8484 miles separating the two choir nations Great Britain and South Africa. And yet two groups from these countries have found each other through their common passion for choral music. When in 2017 the Grand Prix of Nations and European Choir Games in Riga took place and were complemented by a very special Friendship Concert – Barnsley Youth Choir from Great Britain and University of Pretoria Camerata (“Tuks Camerata”) from South Africa performed several songs together –the foundation stone for a lasting choral friendship was laid.

But actually everything started in a Russian hotel lobby - Mat Wright, choir director of Barnsley Youth Choir, and Michael Barrett, choir director University of Pretoria Camerata, met there as jury members at the World Choir Games 2016 in Sochi, Russia. They talked to each other, philosophized with each other and exchanged thoughts about their choirs and their respective views on conducting: "We soon realised that we had the same outlook and we were both so fascinated by each other’s philosophies (which are truly identical)," says Michael Barrett.

Colleagues became friends soon, who met for the first time at the Grand Prix of Nations & European Choir Games in Riga 2017 together with their choirs. And the spark between the two conductors also spread to the singers of both nations and led to inspiring joint rehearsals, mutual visits of the competition performances and joint singing interludes and the story continued: “There was truly a mutual respect between our two ensembles. We simply loved each other. So, in 2018 Mat was invited to South Africa and he did an entire program with Camerata. My choir simply loved him. It was truly a memorable exchange and we promised to continue this. Mat invited me to Barnsley and I had the opportunity to reciprocate,” says Michael Barrett.

This positive connection between Barnsley Youth Choir and Tuks Camerata led to an unforgettable tour of the BYC to South Africa in 2019. A joint concert was one of the highlights of the BYC's South Africa tour: "Singing with BYC again was like seeing old friends. Something special happens when people sing together. Something ethereal and borderless. I don't know why singing isn't enforced by law yet," says Archibald Rohde, singer at Tuks Camerata.

After this unforgettable South African experience, Mat Wright and his choir issued a return invitation for Tuks Camerata to Barnsley in Great Britain. And although the South Africans had already completely planned their tour for the World Choir Games 2020 to Belgium, they changed their entire trip to be able to visit Barnsley before the WCG 2020.

These exchanges enrich the singers not only musically but also socially, as Michael Barett explains: "We have true friendships that have formed in the choir with singers exchanging numbers and contact details - and I know they will stay in touch. Also, so many have expressed how much they have learnt from each other, culturally, and how a new found respect has developed between people that are different. It is music that was the combining factor.”