“Children don’t have to have to have money to sing”, said Dr. Evona Rebelo of the Catholic Schools Office (CSO) referring to the Catholic Schools Choir Festival in Cape Town which was held on the 14th and 28th August 2022.
The festival has been running for 20 years and they generally have two festivals in the month of August at the Cape Town City Hall as they did this year. Talking about the preparations for the festival Rebelo said none of the schools practice together, “They all do their own items and at the end they are brought together and they sing the medley at the end.” By this she is referring to the 32 schools in the Western Cape and 6 schools of Oudtshoorn, under Archbishop Stephen Brislin and Bishop Neol Rucastle respectively.
The medley for this year was Scatterlings of Africa which was arranged by Adolf Thelen and accompanied by both Adolf Thelen on piano and Andrew Bentley on the organ, with Alison Dunn as the conductor. The audience was treated to all sorts of taste in music which included items like “God and teach all nations” by Springfield Convent Senior School Choir, “Se’nkgatele Mosadi” by St Joseph’s Marist College Junior School Choir, “God van Liefde” by St Vincent’s School Junior Primary Choir, “My African Dream” by St. Joseph Special School and many other more on the 14th of August.
On the 28th August the audience was wowed by musical items like “This old man” by CBC St John’s Junior Primary Choir, “Ave Maria” by Holy Cross High School Girls’ School Choir, “Lizal’idinga lakho” by Marian RC High School Girls’ School Choir, “We are the World” by Dominican School for Deaf Children School Choir, and still many more. On both occasions before the signing of the medley and the national anthem the audience had an address from the Archbishop of Cape Town, Archbishop Stephen.
This year the festivals was attended by 12 different schools on both occasions. Speaking about the festival’s impact, Dr. Rebelo said, “It’s beautiful because children don’t have to have money to sing. Very often if you try and include children in other activities there needs to be costs involved.” Speaking about the purpose of organising these festivals she said most of the programmes they do at Catholic Schools Office are formation programmes, but also networking activities.
“Like most regions, our primary focus is on ownership, sustainability and ethos issues,” said Dr. Rebelo adding that to this end they facilitate conferences and seminars for principals, religious education coordinators, new teachers, boards and school governing bodies, owners and owners representatives. She pointed out that they also have a very strong Catholic Schools’ Forum which coordinates events for their children like Inter-Catholic athletics at the Cape Town Stadium, Grade 10 leadership seminars, choir sestivals, sports festivals, religious education quizzes, and other activities like Holy Childhood, Grade 12 and 7 Masses. “The idea is to bring about the sense of social cohesion within the Catholic Schools Network,” said Rebelo pointing also to the fact that Cape Town is a very polarized community and so they want their children to have an opportunity to sit around the table together.
She said Children from the suburbs and township need to engage together, and they need to give them a healthy appreciation of what it is to understand the South African context. Rebelo said children need to be able to say they are not better because they come from such and such environment. “Very often a child who has got to catch two buses and two taxis to get to school has got much healthier understanding of life in South Africa than a child who is protected.”
Dr. Rebelo said they are luckier than other areas to be able to organise these events because areas because their schools are generally fairly close to each other, and many schools are not more than 50 kms from Cape Town. In terms of organising the festival she said at the end of the third term an invitation with the dates is sent out and everybody starts planning. Dr. Rebelo is happy also because they are lucky that the Church is very supportive, “the Archbishop and the bishop come to most of the things we do.”
Talking about the children Dr. Rebelo said when one sees those children, and some are from the poorest schools, one should know that their parents are very proud of them, and the children look so shiny and polished when they come to the events. “They behave so beautifully, it breaks my heart with joy.” “The city hall is so beautiful and for the children to sing on that stage with a pipe organ and grand piano it’s amazing,” added Rebelo. She noted that it is always a big outing for children coming from faraway places for they look forward to it and plan for it long in advance.
“What I love about these events is that the children who run the fastest and the best are the ones from the poor schools who run without the takkies (running shoes).” With admiration she said when children from poor schools arrive at the stadium they find their town schools peers with all the equipment and running coaches, but it is those children who run barefoot on the dusty streets than are going to win mostly, “they got no training, they just run”.
Regarding another practical side of organising an event like a festival she said one needs to advertise it in time, and there will be schools who want to participate. Rebelo said they have schools that travels 50 to 60 kilometres and they found that music is something that everyone can participate in. “Our children just love to sing, even after the choir festival I couldn’t get them off the stage, they just carried on singing because its natural.”
“When a child runs at the Cape Town stadium with the mountain in the background and the sea air and they come from Inyanga or Oudtshoorn that is a fantastic experience,” said Rebelo noting also that when children stand on the stage of the city hall and the huge pipe organ behind them that just fills them with the sense of awe. “It’s a sacred experience.”
“We don’t know where our children are going to end, most of them leave us after great 7, but we do know we can give them this mountain top experience, this sense of awe and wonder, hopefully it inspires them to look for something better and opportunities. But it is the Holy Spirit who is in charge not us.” Watching the children on stage one eventually notices that children with disabilities form part of the whole event. “We have got two schools, St. Joseph for the chronically ill, those on their wheelchairs, and we’ve got the deaf children.” Rebelo said the deaf children sing by sign led by their conductor and special schools are always given the last item before the mass choir. “For many of our abled children it is the first time they get to experience a child with a disability. We also bring those children into our leadership programmes.”
Following the festival in thanking the principals, choir trainers, accompanists and choir members, Alison Dunn of the CSO, said she would like to thank all most sincerely for the enormous part they played in making their two Choir Festivals the wonderful success they were. “Your choirs performed so well, and the thorough preparation done by you all for the massed choir medley was evident in the enjoyment and happy singing of all the participants. They were indeed joyous occasions.”
Dunn thanked all those who encouraged their parents and communities to attend the festivals, “it certainly helps the Choirs to perform for a full audience.” A special mention went to Adolf Thelen of Holy Cross Brooklyn who arranged the Scatterlings medley for the massed items which Dunn said was a real hit this year. The gratitude was also extended to the CSO stuff and the many volunteers who came to the aid of the festival.