Festival Week


JULY 21 to 26: So, this is it: the week before the choir festival.  I would love to say that this feels like a grand culmination, a big moment where everything comes together in one grand gesture that summarizes the entire journey….  Actually though, I wouldn’t love to say that, because it isn’t true.  It doesn’t feel that way, and it makes sense that it doesn’t. 

Even though my title here is “Guest Choir Director,” I have spent months now working in the villages themselves, spending time with the choirmasters and the singers and those who worship with them and work with them and live with them.  My interest in the choirs on the day of the festival tomorrow will be with each and every one of them – not about whether they will win or not, but has this group improved to match the potential they showed?  Will another group get over its performance anxiety and show what they can do?  Has that other new choirmaster gained the confidence and authority to lead his group?  Will the audience and judges see any of what I have seen, or will their experience necessarily be different merely due to circumstances – rehearsal versus performance?

In truth, my real role as “Guest Choir Director” at the festival will consist of three minutes of “Chauta,” sung after all the choirs have performed and are waiting for the results.  This is why the festival does not feel like a culminating event to me.  If anything, the capstone experience for me will be the time I will spend in training and conversation with the choir directors next Monday and Tuesday.  Then I will be the guest director, speaking to other choirmasters about their issues, successes and concerns.

That said, there is much I am doing and will do in relation to the festival itself other than the time I spend directing.  I spent this past Sunday making sure I had all the documents together that I have spent the past month creating or revising.  These documents included the new rubrics for adjudicating the choirs and choirmasters; the information sheet the choirmasters will receive upon arrival in Cobué that tells them how to get the food for their group, where they will warm up, and what time they will perform; and all the handouts for the choir training.  These all had to be put on USB drive so that I could send them with Lily as she went to Lichinga to run all manner of errands for the festival.  This is the first year of a much-needed five-year grant to support the festival, so she is going to buy lanterns, cooking pots and spoons as well as a generator that will allow the festival to run for years to come.  Of course there are more ephemeral needs, too: sixty-five chickens, twine to block off the areas for the amfumu and the judges, pens for the judges, etc.  Also, since the choirmasters will be staying at the new boardinghouse until the choirmaster training is over, there are mattresses and blankets to buy.

Monday I began to work on getting my final report structured.  I was still not certain when I would be leaving yet, and it could conceivably have been as early as the 1st of August, since that is the last date for which there is a boat scheduled to go to Likoma.  That would give me one day to write the part of my final report concerning the festival and the training, so I thought it best to begin to write the part about my village visits and recommendations for the future before things got really busy.

Tuesday was spent finishing those portions of the final report I could write.  It was also time to really work on specifics concerning the choirmaster training: when will we cover each topic?  I also met with Patson concerning the general outline of the script and how he would be most comfortable to have it laid out for easy reading in the dark.  He will be reading it from a clipboard with a booklight attached.  Most of the lighting will be candles and lanterns, although this year we are hoping to string some stronger lights by lashing a bamboo pole vertically to the netball hoop on the playground near the church.  The hope is that this will create a little more light on people’s faces, rather than only at their feet.

Wednesday supplies came back from Lichinga, including the certificates and the handouts.  This is the time for organization and making sure things go in the right piles for the correct days.  Any errors cannot be easily corrected; once that boat leaves Nkwichi we must take what we have!  I also practiced using the fancy video camera I brought, and processed all the rehearsal videos I have taken so that they are ready for transfer onto DVDs for the choirs.  I will be spending all of the Sunday after the festival making these DVDs.  We will arrive at Nkwichi between two and three in the morning, and I am hoping the computer can “grind out” the video transfers onto iPhoto, then iMovie as we all grab a little sleep – IF the new batteries have any reserve power to work overnight.

Yesterday was the day of ups and downs.  Most things were going well, but we discovered that we were five judging sheets short for the choirs, and that the wrong choirmaster judging sheets had been copied last month (they had been stored away when they came back, since there were more pressing concerns at the time).  Fortunately, a boat was on its way to Likoma, so the boatmen were able to take the correct USB drive to Likoma to get the file copied.  Electricity was out for lunch when they were there, so we will need to hope it arrives on the boat today or tomorrow.

Today we spend packing and double-checking.  As you can imagine, coordinating such a large endeavor in a place with no cars or trucks, phones or computers, takes numerous cross-checks and recalculations.  One plans something once then alters the plans five times then spends the rest of the time clearing up misunderstandings from the changes and making sure the new information is processed and implemented.  The more people are involved, the more confusing it gets.  Mistakes are bound to happen; 

The band, Body Mind and Soul, from Mzuzu, Malawi is already in Likoma, which is a huge relief.  The venue Lily arranged there two weeks ago when we were running errands is ready to go for a concert with them on Likoma tonight, then they will take the boat Saturday morning to come to Cobué and set up their equipment.

The judge from the United States, Stephen Bigger, arrived with his wife last night.  It was nice to have a fellow choir conductor here at the lodge; and despite his fatigue, we had a nice long talk at dinner.  He will be staying for a while after the festival to teach how to use equipment in order to record and distribute the music of some of the winning choirs.  He will be doing his training in the village that wins the prize, and it will be after the choirmaster training.  He will likely be here a few days after me.

That is the final piece of news: I have a flight on the 4th from Likoma.  This means I will have until the 3rd or even possibly the morning of the 4th before I must leave Nkwichi.  I am happy about this, because it gives me a chance to process everything that has happened in the last three months, and also to visit any places I have not been here or revisit some of my favorite spots without the pressure of deadlines or preparing for another village trip.

As you can probably tell, this is a quick post to catch up to today’s date – a first for this blog so far!  The boat leaves early tomorrow morning and comes back early Sunday morning, so I will not be able to post anything from the festival.  I am hoping to put something up on Sunday letting you know of the results of the festival; a one-day lag here is practically the equivalent of live-blogging!  If my computer rebels at all the demands being placed on it that day, I may not be able to write anything at all, but I will try.

After Sunday, I return to Cobué for the two-day training. This means another delay in posting.  I was very glad when I learned I would be leaving the 3rd or 4th after all; ending my experience here with time in Cobué is a bit like spending a Summer in artistic retreat near the Great Lakes and ending one’s time there with a concert and convention in Toledo, Ohio (sorry, Toledo… and yes – yes I have been there). At any rate, if I am not too involved in my farewells I will try to write a bit before leaving Nkwichi.  Thanks again for your patience I move into another time of scheduling uncertainty.  If you have been reading a while, though, you know this is not unusual here.  I’ll write when I can!    

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    A choral conductor walking cheerfully over the world...


    May 2013