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Taking choral music from note to note

Sabelo Nyoni-Maswaure and Christopher Charamba

“Without music, life would be a mistake,” wrote the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Music, like all art, has the ability to connect and unite people. It stirs emotions and makes life meaningful.

Note2etoN, a community choir in Harare, was born out of a shared love for music and the desire to make life in Harare more interesting and fun.

The initial concept of the choir came from a dare between two friends who wanted to see if teaching choral music to performance level could be done with amateurs within a period of eight weeks.

The founders had noted that after singing in high school choirs, there were no other choirs that produced music that lifted the soul in such an ebullient way. There were no choirs that sang music from different genres of the art: traditional African, neo-classical, Sacred Latin Mass, Afro Jazz and classical pieces.

Most of the choral groups that existed in Harare were mass choirs or choirs of a gospel nature that mainly sing in their places of worship. There are choirs of a highly classical nature that put on wonderful performances, such as Messiah or the Old Mutual National Choral Festival.

Note2etoN was going to be a fresh new taste in the Zimbabwean choral scene.

Taking this up as a challenge, the founders, Sabelo Nyoni-Maswaure and Kuda Nyemba started recruiting for the choir in January 2016. They reached out to their friends who they knew had been high school or church choir singers to come and join this unique experiment.

In March of 2016, Note2etoN took up their first challenge, with 17 members, entering the National Institution of Allied Arts Eisteddfod, singing Ndikhokhele Bawo, arranged by Tuks Camerata’s Michael Barrett.

In what was a surprise to the choir, which had only been rehearsing once a week for about six weeks, Note2etoN was awarded an Honours with 96 percent and took the Rotary Trophy for a Traditional and Contemporary African performance.

Since then, Note2etoN has performed at various occasions such as memorial services, benefit concerts, Christmas events and many other functions.

The choir re-entered the NIAA Eisteddfod in 2017, entering seven categories including some solo, duet and trio performances by the choristers. The overall achievements were four Honours awards and the A Capella Trophy for their performance of Katy Perry’s Roar, and three First Class category performances.

Having set a high standard locally, Note2etoN intends to move on to regional and international competitions and festivals in 2018, singing alongside world-class choirs from all over the world.

The choir, now boasting over 30 members, is made up of a mixture of adults of different ages and backgrounds. They were brought together by a shared love of music and a desire to find alternative ways to spend their time in the city.

Their repertoire consists of a wide variety of music from classical to pop, sacred to African contemporary and traditional. One of the main objectives of the choir when it formed was to take traditional Zimbabwean music and create choral arrangements.

This year, the choir experimented with Nhemamusasa, which was arranged by two of the choristers, Tapiwa Chifamba and Kuda Nyemba, and the song was awarded Honours at the NIAA Eisteddfod this year. The choir is honoured to be hosted by Prince Edward School, a bastion for musical enthusiasts in Zimbabwe, where they meet twice a week on Tuesday evenings and Saturday afternoons for a two-hour session.

Note2etoN is led by Musical Director Sabelo Nyoni-Maswaure, who is a classically-trained pianist, church organist and choral director with almost 40 years’ experience in music. She holds Grade 8 piano and music theory certificates.

Her career as a choral director started in 1991 when she took over this post at Trinity Methodist Church, the “cathedral” of Methodism in Zimbabwe. Currently, she is the church pianist and Technical Director at All Souls Anglican and Methodist Church in Harare.

Sabelo is also the Technical Director in the Methodist Church, Harare East District and is working towards her ABRSM teaching qualifications. She was instrumental in introducing accompanied classical choral music to the MCZ; the pinnacle of her career was training 18 choirs that participated in 2015.

Note2etoN is also assisted by the Technical Director, Imbuwa Aongola. He is a music director, choral conductor, composer, arranger and voice coach. He has over 15 years of experience as a choir director in the New Apostolic Church, where he has worked with choirs at various levels: congregational, district and even at a regional level in Bulawayo and Harare.

During his tenure as District Music Coordinator for Harare, Imbuwa established the Greater Harare Orchestra and the Harare Voice class, both of which were able to train young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and give them professional level music qualifications and exposure through recitals, concerts and workshops.

Currently, he is the Technical Director for NAC Greater Harare Orchestra. Imbuwa is also a Classical/Crossover Baritone who enjoys singing sacred arias and inspirational music.

Together, Sabelo and Imbuwa aim to create a high performance choir that understands the style of music that they are singing; their goal is to have a musically literate choir by the end of 2018.

In order to achieve their goal, the choir is given theory and rudimentary musical training that will enable all members to gain a working knowledge of reading and performing choral music. All the music used by the choir is in staff notation.

Shakespeare said, “If music be the language of love, play on.” For Note2etoN, music is more than just a language of love; it is one of fellowship, entertainment and peace. To that end, they shall continue to sing on.

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