PictureAll of us performing "Chauta." Photo: Kristina Low.
After the Ball is Over

JULY 27: The Festival went just fine when it finally got underway.  I did not get to see much of the choirs because I was busy adding scores and running to the stage to tell Mr. Patson which choirs to announce could go to get their dinner.  I knew I would not have to worry about not being able to see the watch, though, because all the guests from the lodge, manager Kristina, volunteer Ines and one of the judges, Stephen Bigger, each had at least one camera or video camera documenting the entire event; I had my camera from my grant there as well to use to make the DVDs for the choirs.  The bank of machines facing the stage looked like a press conference, and I realized I have been here long enough to find the sight jarring and even a bit ridiculous.

We all enjoyed our time together singing "Chauta." The audience loved it, too... seeing us all there from twelve villages (eleven in Mozambique and one in the United States) performing as one.

The third place choir received notebooks and pens as well as a pitch pipe, the second place choir got a robe for the choirmaster and a recording session as well as an opportunity for a choral exchange with an ensemble from the United Kingdom, and the first place choir received a certificate for new choir robes for each of them as well as embroidered hats that said “Winner” in Nyanja (Woyamba – which literally means “a person who comes in first).  The winning choir, Chigoma, then sang one of their selections again as a sort of “victory lap,” and the band played and people danced until 1:30 in the morning.    

PictureMy "room" at Khango beach, with sand floor (it is literally on the beach) and Thomas the Tank sheet.
As the band was playing, the kitchen volunteers took apart the cooking and eating areas and packed them up.  When the band finished, we at the church started taking things down and loading them into the truck to be taken back to Julius’ Beach.  We were very fortunate that the new generator had enough fuel to light what we were doing until we were finished, which was at 2:30.  Not wanting to hitch a ride on the back of the truck, Mr. Joe and I walked down to the beach to get ready to board the boat to take us back to Nkwichi.

We waited.  And we waited.  And we waited.  We became afraid that maybe the boat wasn’t coming back.  Female volunteers with their crying infants patiently sat down in the sand, waiting until we learned what might happen or until someone thought of what they could do or where they could stay.  We knew there were no rooms available in Cobué because of the festival and because Choda, a traditional women’s dance, had been performed in Chicaia that day – two cultural events that draw people from miles around.  Some people began to walk back to their village rather than wait for the boat.  I began to consider staying awake all night at Julius’ pavilion and walking back when it got light out.

The speedboat came at 3:30, and some tempers were a bit short from being overtired.  Eventually, all were on the boat except for two young mothers from Namisse who had to walk home in the dark with their infants tied to their backs, a prospect that obviously did not make them very happy.

After we dropped off the volunteers at Mala, we arrived at Nkwichi at 4:45 in the morning.  I slept for an hour or so, waking up at 6 to begin my Sunday work.

JULY 28: Despite the fact that the festival is over, events have been speeding up, not slowing down.  The day after the festival was spent transferring video files and making DVDs, organizing materials for the choirmaster training, writing the festival portion of my final report, and of course packing. 

It became clear very early in the day that there would be no way that I would have all the DVDs done by the time the choirmaster training was finished.  This worried me; because I had made the promise that these DVDs would be done before I left.  There would still be a few days after the training of course, but people are so used to broken or forgotten promises from visitors that I knew it would likely look as if that was what was about to happen again.  Still, there was not much I could do about it - best to move on and make absolutely certain that they were done before I left Mozambique.

For the first time since coming I did not have dinner with anyone.  It was arranged to have my dinner at my hut, but that often means that it is delivered there.  By the time I realized that I would need to go to the kitchen to get it, it was 8:30 and I was too tired to do any such thing.  I fell asleep by 9, which was actually later than I had expected.  Too much excitement, I guess.

JULY 29:  I was up a little before 6 to get ready to board the boat for Cobué.  We were scheduled to leave at 7:30.  Originally, we were meant to leave at 6, but two guests from France were departing on the same boat, so we needed to alter our plans to accommodate them.  When we learned of this the day before, Lily sent a letter via one of the staff at Nkwichi to Joe in Mbueca so he would not have to start walking at 4:30 to be there by 6.

Unfortunately, Joe never received this letter, so I got to the office at 7 only to find Joe already waiting there.

On the way to Cobué, we saw a crocodile sunning itself on one of the rocks at Mala Point.  I had not seen a crocodile doing this since the first day I came in May, so it was a nice sight to see… from a distance.

In Cobué, we met up with the Catholic priest, a Korean man named Padre Tarsisio.  He unlocked a classroom next door to the malaria clinic as we were taking kneeling benches from the church. There were five choirmasters in attendance: the directors from Chicaia, Cobué (Khango), Litanda, Mcondece and Utonga. 

We began our sessions with the usual introductions and a prayer, and then I handed out nice transparent folders for everyone with the first handout already inserted, as well as a pen for each choirmaster.  These materials were very much appreciated, as I knew they would be.  There is a lovely custom here that when one is handing something to someone else, each presents or receives the item by holding it in one hand while supporting that arm just below the elbow with the other hand.  It does not sound like much, but it actually is a very elegant gesture that somehow seems to instantly add value to what is being exchanged.

The morning began with a lecture on the anatomy of the voice and the way the voice is produced in the body.  This was all very new information, and some items did not have Nyanja terms, so Joe and the choirmasters were coming up with new words to describe some of what we were discussing as we were discussing it.  Although I knew this was likely, the process took a little longer than I thought.  Mentally I began to restructure the day to accommodate a slower, more thorough pace than originally planned.

After a session of around two hours, it was time for tea, which is traditionally taken here at about 10:30, though we left for Mr. Bondo’s around 11.  As we were getting ready to go, the choirmasters asked if we might reconvene at the secondary school, since they did not want to meet next to the sick people or to disturb them by trying some of the things I was demonstrating.  I have to say I thought this was a good idea, because for whatever reason, near the chalkboard where I was working there was a multitude of mosquitoes swarming about.  On our way out we thanked Padre Tarsisio for his hospitality and then carried the benches back to the church.

After tea we reconvened at the secondary school.  We spent an hour in which I explained the importance of warm-ups, practicing some with them and giving ideas for warm-ups that could address specific issues (the men’s voices are tired from a day of heavy digging, the choir needs to work on extending high notes, etc.).  After each demonstration, the directors were writing notes, frantically trying to absorb all the information that was being given.  I knew all of it was new, so I was realizing I would need to shorten our sessions in terms of time to about an hour at most before a break or a discussion.  Fortunately, it was time to go back to Mr. Bondo’s for lunch at 1.

Lunch was nsima, chambo and cabbage.  I have gotten pretty good at eating vegetable sauces with nsima, but the fish I still find challenging.  The fish sauce is of course no problem, but chambo is a bony fish, and dipping the nsima in the wrong way still means a mouth full of bones and little meat.  Well… one more opportunity to practice.

After lunch we had one of my favorite sessions of the day.  As I mentioned before, one of the choirmasters, Mr. Bernard of Chicaia, had won a pitch pipe.  He had come up to me later that night and asked me what he was supposed to do with it.  This afternoon, the choirmaster from Utonga, Mr. Benjamin, who tended to ask a lot of very good questions, started the time by saying that a frequent problem he had was accidentally starting a song too high, causing his sopranos discomfort and making the song sound bad.  What could he do about this? 

I first asked who had a keyboard, knowing of course that this was not a given.  I was prepared to lecture on using a rubber band stretched on a board, which would give a consistent pitch when plucked.  In this group, however, all had keyboards, although one choir had just bought theirs and did not yet have any of the equipment to power it or provide amplification, and one had one but it was broken.  I pointed out that electric keyboards will often make a small sound when the keys are pressed even if broken, and that that will be all he would need if it can do that.  I drew a diagram of the keys and explained the letter names that go with them, then showed how they also matched the letters on the pitch pipe.  We even got into some discussion of the flats and sharps, as they became very interested very quickly.  I explained how the keyboard or pitch pipe can be used once one knows what pitch will begin a piece most comfortably for the choir: the choirmaster can write it down and use that same letter each time, knowing it will work.  I do believe this was one of the most exciting parts of the day for them.  Mr. Benjamin very reasonably asked if it would be possible to get pitch pipes for all of them, since it is an incredibly useful tool for them that is not readily available here. This seemed a sensible request, and I promised to do something about it upon my return.  What a wonderful (and inexpensive - for us, anyway) project it would be to supply thirteen villages with a pitch pipe each.

We had a brief session on finding inspiration for composition – brief because most of these choirmasters already have composed at least one song.  Finally I gave a handout with a diagram of the different elements of choral music: melody, rhythm, harmony, text, etc.  The advanced element that appeared to draw the most interest from the group was the idea of shaded dynamics.  Currently, choral music here is either loud or soft, with no in between and no rising and falling of volume within the phrase.  Stephen Bigger loaned me some very nice speakers, and I demonstrated nuance by using some recordings.  This was an expansion of a concept that already exists here, and I have a feeling that this might be incorporated into some songs soon.  Other elements such as articulation (notes given special attention by cutting them short or making them longer or giving them special stress) did not appear to be of as much use to them currently.  That is fine. My idea was not to come and tell them to use these various items, only to let them know that they are available and to let them decide what new ways they might want to use them.  That would be most exciting: to hear the elements of music combined in new and interesting ways that the choirmasters of Manda Wilderness invent.

We ended at 4:30, because the two choirmasters from the inland villages were a little bit like tourists; they wanted to be able to wash in a lake, and they wanted to do it before any crocodiles might come, since they did not know where the beasts might hang out near there.  Joe and I went to Khango Beach (Julius’ backpacker “hotel”).  My hut was smartly furnished with one complete and one broken wooden chair, a brand new mosquito net (MOST important), and a big bed with a foam mattress that only sloped a few inches from top to bottom – covered with Thomas the Tank Engine sheet and a nice blanket carefully folded exactly in the middle of the bed to make it easier to tuck in the mosquito net at night.  It was good to have a mosquito net, because all the water for washing or flushing the gravity toilets is kept in giant open metal drums.    

PictureAnzanga [my colleagues]... all honorary URI choirmasters for a day. L to R: Bernard Matifalo, Chicaia; Benjamin Jackson, Utonga; Jaime Chimphanga, Mcondece; Paulino Luis Kalumba, Litanda; Ernest Mkandawile, Khango; Joseph Salimu, Mbueca and Manda Wilderness Community Trust
Dinner was back at Mr. Bondo’s: rice, nsima, cabbage and more chambo, though I passed on the chambo.  I just don’t like it that much, and I would rather use the nsima on the cabbage.  After dinner, Mr. Jaime of Mcondece asked Joe if he could help him set up the voice recorder he had won for being best choirmaster.  I tried to make out the tiny instructions by lantern light while Joe pushed buttons.  To test it, the choirmasters sang “Chauta.”  I tried to sit and listen, but I just had to join in on the bass part to strengthen it, since we were a little tenor-heavy.  Once again it was indescribable to hear the piece this way, clearly entering the repertoire of the region.  I sincerely hope Mr. Toppenberg won’t mind, but I have to believe he will be thrilled when I tell him.

We walked back to Julius’ where many people were gathered around the television to watch the Portuguese telenovelas playing on Mozambican stations.  Cobuéans (?) take their soap operas very seriously, and men, women and even some children were huddled closely near the set until one in the morning, cheering and catcalling the good and evil characters, sounding as if they were watching a sporting match.  This actually helped me fall asleep, as I like that kind of sound.  The high pitched whine of tiny mosquitoes kept me awake for a while though and woke me up from time to time during the night.  The net really was excellent, though, and I woke up without any bites.  I wanted to turn on my light so I could do Sudoku puzzles or something to pass the time until I fell asleep again, but the lake flies are small enough to pass through a mosquito net, are attracted to light and will fly into your eyes, ears and nose if they are not covered.

JULY 30:  On this day, I spent the morning explaining the judging rubrics for the festival for both the choirs and the choirmasters.  I explained what a rubric is and how it can be used as an evaluative tool.  It was also important to show how it makes judging fairer: rather than simply ranking which choir a judge feels is best to worst, the judge must justify their decision based on a set of standards.  The numbers they select then provide information for feedback as far as which items the choir did well and which they will want to improve.

After explaining the rubrics and taking questions, I then met with each choirmaster and explained what the rubrics said regarding their choir and their own performance.  These choirs had all done well, so it was not a difficult chore requiring diplomacy, as it might have been in a couple of cases had some other directors been there.  Some of the judges’ comments were quite harsh, and I would have needed the ability to soften the wording without watering down the message.

As I was meeting with each choirmaster outside, the others were working together on topics of interest to them, exactly as I had hoped might happen as they got to know one another.  Sometimes I would hear applause, laughter or snatches of song coming from the classroom.  When it was time for tea, the choirmasters from Utonga and Litanda walked down the main business road of Cobué, singing duets.  These villages are of course quite far apart; if the conference achieved nothing else, it helped all these men to know that they had friends in other villages who share their passion for music.  Maybe next year they will greet each other at the festival as friends and colleagues rather than rivals.  Choral music is unifying as it is, but the profundity of its effects was never better demonstrated to me than the seven of us walking the dusty roads of Cobué on our way to tea.

We met Lily and Stephen and Beth Bigger on our way to Mr. Bondo’s and they joined us for tea, leading into lunch.  This was the time for the group to hear what judges look for in a performance and for them to ask their questions of a judge for the event.  Without trying to draw attention to it, I sat off to the side to let Stephen take up the session.  He will be staying after I leave, and it was good to have him there to see how things work and for me to know that his work with the Mcondece choir in making their recording is sure to be a success.

The concluding speeches were very kind.  I know that much is merely the politeness of the region as the men went around the table thanking me and telling me that they had learned much and would carry it back to their choirs, but I appreciated it all the same.  I returned the favor by thanking them for the same.  I know my choirs will see what I will be carrying back to them that I have learned.    

The kumwera was beginning to pick up by the time we finished at Mr. Bondo’s.  I thanked Mr. Bondo for all his help – including hiding me from the police! – since I knew I might not see him again before I left.  This was my first farewell, and I was surprised how emotional it made me feel.  Though I could not presume to call him a friend, Mr. James Bondo was one of the people who made me feel absolutely welcome in Cobué, and his kindness, decency and good nature shine through in all that he does.

We boarded the speedboat and made our way back to Nkwichi.  Joe actually had to sit on the front of the boat to keep us weighted down properly.  The waves were not yet too bad, but we all had to wear rain ponchos and make sure our equipment was securely stowed in the tarp.  I knew it was a matter of time before the waves picked up, and I was happy when we came in to dock.

Now I have reports to write and DVDs to finish.  I also have the process of letting go, saying goodbye, to go through.  I still have plenty to do.    

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    A choral conductor walking cheerfully over the world...


    May 2013