Requiem for the Living – an exercise in compassion

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Praise singers with Avril Cummins and Rexleigh Bunyard
Praise singers with Avril Cummins and Rexleigh Bunyard

Requiem for the Living, a dramatic concert (oratorio) work written for a large instrumental ensemble will have its world premiere on Saturday 27 August.

Composed by South African musician Dr Rexleigh Bunyard, Requiem for the Living will take place at the Linder Auditorium on Saturday 27 August at 8pm at the Linder Auditorium, Johannesburg, with a second performance at the ZK Matthews Hall, Unisa in Pretoria on Sunday 28 August at 3pm.

The Johannesburg concert will commemorate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s contribution to South Africa in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (which turns 20 this year) and the Pretoria concert will honour the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Women’s March to Pretoria.

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Funded by the National Lotteries Commission, this indigenous South African musical composition was originally conceived and composed by Bunyard for choirs, orchestra and soloists to recognise the plight and raise awareness of AIDS orphans;

Directed by the composer, assisted by drama coach Avril Cummins and conducted by Rick Muselaers from the Netherlands, Requiem for the Living’s instrumental ensemble incorporates standard symphonic instruments, some indigenous African instruments, two professional choirs (the Horizons Project from Pretoria and Gauteng Opera), indigenous musicians, soloists (mezzo soprano Claudia Pike, call singer Olusegun Soyemi and trebles, James Venables and Ryan Hoffmann) and 12 praise singers. The Loreto Convent and Hoërskool Oosmoot (Pretoria) choirs will introduce the programme and join the main ensemble for one mass item.

“For this requiem for the ‘living’”, says Bunyard, “I have incorporated Latin, English, the vernacular, Zulu and other African languages, including Afrikaans and a touch of French, Greek and Portuguese (traditionally the requiem, as a mass for the dead, had a Latin text). The **Sanctus 1 and 2, worship prayers, are the most spectacular movements in Requiem for the Living and are full of local South African flavour mixed with international elements. This movement combines the choirs, call singer, kudu horns, djembe (talking drum from central Africa) and praise singers intoning psalms and other religious texts (Indian and Chinese) over the orchestral music.”

The praise singers comprise Bunyard’s son, Bernard Boekkooi (English) and Tylo Neethling (Afrikaans) from Hoërskool Randburg; Mukgadi Sathekge (Venda), Julia Kinghorn (French), Victoria Roetger (German), Kamogelo Mothoagae (Setswana), Thabang Mhlonzi (isiXhosa,) Layla Li (Cantonese and Mandarin ) and Jacinta Demetrio (Portuguese) from Roedean; Khumbuzile Dhlamini (isiZulu) and Phenye Modiane (SeSotho) are from Gauteng Opera, Thirusha Govender, the Hindi praise-singer is performing courtesy of Anthropi Holdings and Dillon Davie, (Hebrew). Their coach is Avril Cummins. Costumes were mostly sourced by the singers themselves, with the assistance and guidance of Christiaan Harris.

By arrangement with Adeyemi Oladiran, the co-founder of the non-profit organisation Music Enlightenment Project about 20-25 scholar musicians will be playing in the foyer of both venues prior to the concerts.

Oladiran, MEP’s Curriculum and Music Director has an Honours degree in Musicology, a Diploma in Music Education, a Certificate in Orff Music Education, has passed through Wits, UNISA, Orff Level courses in San Francisco, has attended various seminars and has had more than a decade of performing and teaching, giving him invaluable experience in music education and performing.

“I’m passionate about the social, economic and philosophical possibilities for transformation that arise through art education, community cohesion and youth development. I’m on a mission to seek all possibilities of using music as a tool to teach life skills to the younger generation and this occasion, performing prior to the Requiem for The Living, offers that possibility, he says.

The Music Enlightenment Project is aimed at disadvantaged children and youths between the ages of 6 and 18 living in and around Braamfontein. Through the project, five learners are now studying at the National School of the Arts and another set of learners auditioned for the upcoming academic year. 32 have attempted the Royals Schools of Music practical exams and another 14 are registered for exams in October. Currently there are over 400 learners in the weekly morning sessions and over 60 in the afternoon instrumental programme. Eleven teachers, five of them are graduates from Wits and others performing musicians who have taken teaching courses, are employed by MEP. The learners have performed at various concerts halls: Wits, Joburg Theatre, Capegate and the Victory Theatre; they have performed for Corporates including Standard Bank, Miagi, JD Group, Mnet, TsogoSun, eTV, Deloitte and others.

Requiem for the Living extends a thank you to its main funder, the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) and to The National Arts Council (NAC) who, in 2008 supported the project with a grant for presenting an excerpt from Requiem for the Living with the Rand Symphony Orchestra; Gauteng Opera and The Horizons Project, the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra and Bongani Tembe; the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra (JPO) and the University of Pretoria Orchestra; RFTL media partner Beeld newspaper; De Kat magazine for photographs; artist-photographer Merwelene van der Merwe for art prints on RFTL symbolic themes; the Loreto Convent and Hoërskool Oosmoot, Pretoria choirs; Roedean School, Johannesburg for the rehearsal venues and support; and RFTL’s two esteemed patrons, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and South African Diva Mimi Coertse.

Tickets: R120 – R250. Bookings: Computicket – 083 915 8000 or www.computicket.com

Corporate bookings: Anina Maree – aninam@groundcontrolresearch.co.za and general enquiries: Rexleigh Bunyard – bunyard@acenet.co.za

Twitter: @Requiem4Living / www.reqliving.org

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