Bringing choral classics to the masses

2011-10-24 00:00

WHEN Maritzburgers think about the festive season, one annual event jumps to mind — a performance of Handel’s oratorio, Messiah.

For the members of the Pietermaritzburg Amateur Music Society (Pams), performing this monumental work has been a labour of love since 1997.

Pams was born out of the remnants of the Pietermaritzburg Philharmonic Society in August 1997. Among its founder members were Freda Waygood­, Deryk Brown, Charmion Rogers, Margaret Brown, Julie Young, Sheila von Blydenstein and Iona­ Stewart.

Speaking during a break in rehearsals for Messiah, which features the spine-tingling Hallelujah Chorus, at the St Mary’s Church Hall in Jabu Ndlovu (Loop) Street, Stewart and Margaret Brown agreed that Pams was helping to keep classical music alive and well in the city.

“Pams fills the hole that the Philharmonic Society left,” Stewart said. “Our concerts give people the chance to experience this beautiful music.”

Pams first concert was a performance of the Messiah in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall on November 24, 1997. It featured 137 choir members, soloists Mauri Mostert (soprano), Hanre Lass (alto), Delwynne Windell (tenor) and John Butler (bass), and John Harper on the organ.

Since then the society has performed Handel’s work some 20 times, either in the city hall, at the Anglican Cathedral in Pietermaritzburg or in venues in Kranskop and Howick.

But the chairperson of Pams, Dave Dugmore, worries that without financial support, the society might have to scale back its performances, reducing the access of the local community to choral and classical work.

“When there was still a Philharmonic Society, it was funded by the municipality and had a paid conductor, John Mitchell. Today, however, Pams depends on money from ticket sales and the support of the local community to keep it going,” he said.

“Finance is a big problem. To operate effectively you need more and more money — for an orchestra, accompanist and programmes. The biggest challenge is finding good soloists. We have been encouraging good local soloists, like Millicent Majola, to perform with us because the costs of bringing in people are becoming prohibitive.”

Dugmore has been successful in getting some funding from the Department of Arts and Culture, but this won’t be available to Pams until after the concert, so the society needs to sell every ticket possible to the performances in Pietermaritzburg and Howick­ to pay for this year’s soloists.

Worries about money aside, every member of the Pams choir is looking forward to performing in November.

Stewart explained: “Being a member of Pams gives you the opportunity to sing challenging music, and doing Messiah and other works like it is a form of worship.

“I love doing Messiah. I think the more familiar you are with it, the more you get out of it.”

Majola, too, loves the work and would love to see more young African singers join the choir. The reason many don’t boils down to transport.

“You need to be dedicated. You need to go to practices, but for many people the cost of transport makes that difficult. It would be wonderful if we could get some kind of sponsorship,” she added.

Those interested in joining the choirs do not need to have a know-ledge of sheet music, although if you do it is an advantage.

Many members have, however, learnt the music by ear. So, if you would like to join Pams, head down to the St Mary’s church hall in Jabu Ndlovu (Loop) Street on Tuesdays at 7 pm.

The Messiah will be performed by Pams, with accompaniment by the Pietermaritzburg­ City Orchestra, at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Howick at 2 pm on November 12 and at the Anglican Cathedral in Pietermaritzburg at 2.30 pm on November 13.

The soloists this year are soprano Michele Corbin, a teacher at Wits University who is singing with Pams for the first time; alto Aukse Trinkunas, making her third appearance with the choir; tenor, Sibonelo Mbanjwa, who is joining Pams for the fourth time; and basses, Andrew Butler (Pietermaritzburg concert) and Langelihle Mngxati (Howick performance).

Tickets are R50 pre-booked and R60 at the door and from choir members.

Inquiries: Ruth at 033 347 5464. Both venues have safe parking. Patrons­ are advised to take cushions.

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