South African Choir Visits Union

Over the past two weeks, the chamber choir from the University of Limpopo in Limpopo, South Africa, has been performing, sitting in on classes and learning about Union’s music program.

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“We are here to share experiences,” said Thabe Matsebatlela, director of the choir. “It has been an opportunity for us to gain a wider view of music and culture and share our music with other musicians here.”

Matsebatlela has a doctorate degree in biology and teaches biochemistry, life sciences and medicine at the University of Limpopo. He met Chris Mathews, professor of music and department chair, when they sang in choirs together during his studies at Clemson University.

He started the chamber choir in 2010, but Limpopo does not have a music program. He said one of the goals of the visit to Union was to learn about how a formal music program operates at a university so he can start one at Limpopo.

The chamber choir consists of about 60 members. Aza Ngcwabe, the chairperson of the choir, is studying economics. She said music is a valuable part of her life, and she sees it as more than a hobby.

“Music takes you into a different world,” she said. “If I am anxious or sad, all emotions go away when I am in the music.”

Ngcwabe said she is interested in American music and the way it is performed. She said she has enjoyed seeing how a music department operates.

Tebele Letsoala was the first chairperson of the choir. He works in computer science in Johannesburg but was invited to join the choir on its visit to Union. He said sitting in on classes and performances at Union has changed his way of thinking about music.

“What is most exhilarating is the way we are being received,” Letsoala said. “The students here are fascinated by our music, as we are fascinated by theirs.”

In addition to classes at Union, the choir visited local schools and performed for their students. Matsebatlela said the best part of the experience has come outside the structured class and performance times.

“The students have met many people,” he said. “They have had a wonderful time interacting outside the music.”

Matsebatlela said he is excited to take what the students have learned back to Limpopo and incorporate it into their work there.

Story by Nathan Handley, Photos by Kristi Woody and Gretchen Foels

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The Limpopo choir checks out their feature in the local newspaper, The Jackson Sun, before boarding the bus to perform at Jackson Christian School.

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The choir rehearses songs in Jennings Hall with Chris Mathews.

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