Bruce & Connie's Fall 05 Trip Diaries

North America #1

Having visited our daughter and son-in-law in their new home in Crescent Valley (Nelson area), we are driving across the country to Virginia. Our trip is blessedly uneventful, and beautifully relaxing and interesting. The weather has been excellent all the way with temperatures up in the '90s through Nebraska and down through Kentucky.

On Sunday we were in Lincoln, Nebraska, which is just a little north of the center of the USA, by my guess. The many cornfields explain why all gas stations offer 10% ethanol fuel (at just under $3 per US gallon - cheaper than plain unleaded gas). We've been following the combined Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail staying in Scott'sbluff Nebraska, named after a prominent trail landmark (close to Chimney Rock, too). Until recently we've driven on lots of hilly high plateau country with waving grasses, few trees, antelope & other wildlife (unfortunately visible mostly as roadkill), and occasional cattle & horses. The constant winds & snow fences are ominous signals for our return drive in December, however.

It's now Wednesday and we have arrived at Connie's mom's house in Waynesboro, Virginia - lots of trees getting ready to drop colored leaves in the next few weeks. We'll have a little break here doing lots of local things until our departure from Dulles airport next Tuesday to South Africa! We'll try and get out a "bulletin" out in between Safaris (ha ha).

SA Diaries #1

Our long "trek" to Africa is finally over. We have arrived in Pretoria after 2 overnight flights (Dulles-Heathrow) and (Heathrow-Jo'burg) with an intriguing but rainy day in London in between. The spectacular new Tate Modern Art Gallery kept us both challenged and even sometimes amused for several hours, and then we visited Southwark Cathedral - just in time to witness part of a choral rehearsal! We also passed a replica of Sir Francis Drake's ship, the Golden Hinde (Bruce adds: "I knew a girl like that once!").

Suburban Pretoria near the University is a beautiful, sub tropical paradise, purple flowered Jacaranda trees and all the smells, sounds and foliage of such places; as lush and inviting as the surrounding African veldt is not. We arrived to a heat-wave (90 degrees F. plus) and had a spectacular display of thunder and lightning last night.

My counterpart at the University of Pretoria: Johann Van der Sandt has arranged a wonderful "self catering" apartment for us: 2 bedrooms, full kitchen, lounge, pool, tennis court (at$50 Cdn per night). Thursday afternoon, Connie and I indulged in the most enjoyable part of our trips: stocking up on food in the local produce and supermarkets. Food in South Africa (especially produce) is substantially cheaper than in Canada.

With no cell phone, our communication access is mostly person to person here, much like it was in Cuba. Accordingly, we will go to the University this morning to the Music Dept. office to meet with Johann and plan our 1 week stay in Pretoria which will hopefully include visits to rehearsals, schools in the Black Townships, a meeting and tour with the director of the National School of the Arts and a "reunion" with a wonderful black musical leader in Soweto who we enjoyed so much in 1997: Mike Masote. Johann's UP Choir (Tukie Chor) is one of the best I've ever heard and his wife conducts the UP Children's Choir who have just distinguished themselves in the July Children's Choir Festival in Hong Kong. So Conne and I have lots to see in that area.
Lastly (and most importantly for me) will be an unabashed "raid" on the Tukie Chor library - looking for new black African music.  

On the "tourist" side, we hope to spend a day driving out to Mafeking where my grandfather distinguished himself in the otherwise ugly Boer War at the turn of the last century. I also look forward to introducing Connie to Soweto cuisine at Winzie's restaurant (a buffet of traditional African dishes).

I've put some pictures together at: ,

SA Diaries #2

Dear friends,

Our week in Pretoria has flown by and we are now gearing up for the drive down to Golden Gate Wilderness Park (half-way to Durban) for a day before going on to Pietermaritzburg for our next week. Our time in Pretoria has been a whirlwind of visited choirs & museums. On Monday night Bruce cooked dinner for Johann and Bea van der Sandt and we had a lovely relaxed evening with them. It has been an insane few months for them: they had to move with their 2 infant children to a campus housing unit for many months while their house was having a major renovation, Johann has had 2 trips to Europe (Finland and Austria) to teach 2 week guest conducting at each, Bea took her children's choir to the Hong Kong Festival; Johann and their 4 year old were in a car accident a month ago which totalled their car - and then the More's descend on them! We really did have a wonderful week due to their superb hospitality and I hope we brought a little relaxation to them in the process. 

An image of South Africa is emerging for us:
- a loving and optimistic people who, in spite of current economic realities and continuing economic and living-condition disparities have truly put the horrors of apartheid behind them. The signs of a vibrant economy are everywhere in the urban and suburban areas with an amazing number of new factories, light industrial buildings and office buildings. There is a great deal of new housing ranging from the nice suburban professional class house in which we are living to the township "match box" style (see website).

Today was the most exciting day for us so far. We drove to Soweto to meet with Siphiwe Hlanbangane from the National School of the Arts. It turns out that he is not an administrator, but rather a public relations officer. We met him at the Hector Pieterson Memorial (school child who was killedi n the 1976 Soweto student uprising). As we entered the museum, I became aware that crowds of school children were looking at him and giggling and pointing. It was clear he was a celebrity of some sort. It turns out he is also a well known SA actor and star of a SA TV drama series. Shortly thereafter, my old friend Mike Masote (grandfather of Soweto music instruction and founder of the renowned Soweto String Quartet) joined us with his wife Sheila. What followed was a most thrilling first hand discourse on life in Soweto during the fall of Apartheid. Sheila Masote's father was Zeph Mothopeng, the main teacher organizer of the student uprising against the imposition of instruction in the Afrikaaner language on all black children . The resulting massacre of school children was in many ways the beginning of the downfall of Apartheid. While I met with Mike and Siphiwe, Connie was taken on a memorable tour of the Museum by Sheila. I'll let her tell you about that.

Here goes from Connie: after initial pleasantries, I said to Sheila "so, how about you? She seemed surprised but pleased by my question and opened up with a flood of memories - things like childhood ostracization by fearful neighbours based upon her parents' political activities, the anxiety of trying to find her children during the massacre, and especially some stories about her 9-month prison sentence in a tiny cell, during which she lost her third child that she was carrying. We hugged tearfully after that memory was recounted. Later when we took them all to lunch at Wandi's, (a Soweto buffet of traditional African dishes) we had some good laughs, too, so emotions ran many directions.

We finished our day with a visit to a recording session at the South AfricanBroadcasting Corporation's state of the art studios in Jo'burg. The choir was " Imilonji Kantu", conducted by George Mxandana (yes you do click your tongue to say this Khosa name). On the way, we drove through a lightning storm and saw a true African sunset (film at "9").

So, onward to the mountains. We have a little Rondavel (round hut) to stay in tonight. We won't be able to watch "South African Idol" or "Survivor - Game Farm" tonight. We'll just have to amuse ourselves with a Braii (barbecue) of South African Lamb and drown our sorrows in some South African wine.

SA Diaries #3

Hi Folks,

Our trip south through the Transkei region (between Durban/Pietermaritzburg and East London) was both exhilarating and revealing. As we were warned, the road (2 lane) was unfenced, so that animals wandered across with total abandon. If one takes the view that the road belongs to them as well as to cars, it was fairly easy to deal with. If one takes the view that cars own the road, then there are accidents waiting to happen. The road was also fairly narrow with 3-4 inch pavement drop-offs, so one had to be prettly alert driving at the posted speed of 100 k/h or at the speed which most cars travelled: 120 k/h or the speed which a surprising number of cars travelled: 150 k/h and up. If a car wants to pass it just comes up on your tail (to an extent that we would call "severe" tailgating") and sits there. If the road is winding with no passing spots, you've got a car on your tail for many miles. Happily the weather was partly cloudy, but pleasant and unlike the next day, we were very comfortable. The vistas in this hilly landscape (homeland of the Khosa ) with its multi-varied vegetation were stunning at times with groups of small homes and round thatched huts every where.

For the first time in my 3 trips to this fabulous country, I began to understand at a gut-level, the feelings of the white South Africans about their minority status. My "revelation" began with a view from a mountain of the Pietermaritzburg area which showed a city about the size of Nanaimo with townships (black residence areas) surrounding it covering a land mass several times the size of the traditional city. As we drove through the Transkei, we rarely saw hills that didn't have a least a group of Khosa huts on it. We have gotten several allusions from white South Africans to their feelings of lack of security. This manifests itself in high fenced (sometimes barbed wire) residences, always locked and usually served by security companies, the most prominent of which is called "armed response". You get the idea..... Until a couple of days ago, I just wrote this off as over-reaction and paranoia. Now I'm starting to understand the overwhelming feeling of "being surrounded". Put this together with the fears that White South Africans have about employment prospects for their children and the simple mathematics which says: (my phrase) "If 95% of the population is black and if x% of society are criminals, the probability of white populace being affected by black crime is pretty high. I recognize that the key to this dilemma is for races & colours to live together in harmony, but it doesn't change the current economic realities. I believe from what I've seen that on a one to one basis, South Africans do live together in harmony, more than any multi-racial society I've seen (with the possible exception of Cuba). Inter-tribal violence notwithstanding, people are just nice to each other here, much more than I'm used to in Canada.

Our East London B&B was absolutely wonderful, a little cabin overlooking a tropical ravine, next to a swimming pool. Again it was in a gated, secured residence, so we are enjoying personal security as we continue our exhilarating and highly educational trip. I'm surprised at how little real knowledge I gained in our 2 previous concert tours. Being transported by bus everywhere and singing for either all-white or all-black audiences we were very sheltered. Travelling by car with just the 2 of us is an icredible adventure. I can't help but think that it's far more adventurous, thrilling and revealing than a protected "African Safari".

Our trip to Grahamstown, only 2 hours drive, was difficult. The temperature was over 100F (41) degrees and the first 1 1/2 hours up to the Great Fish River was boring, stifling and on the worst road yet. We did buy 4 pineapples (each the size of my head) at a roadside stand and are currently attempting to overdose on that wondrous fruit. By the time we got to our friends the Mosterts in Grahamstown, we were really fried. We were absolutely delighted to find that they had a pool, and a swim in a (happily) unheated pool was pure heaven. We are staying in a 1 room garden cottage on their property which is very pleasant with a small kitchen area and adjoining bathroom.

On our first day in Grahamstown, we had a thoroughly interesting visit with Andrew Tracey, the curator at the International Library of African Music. He pointed us in several directions to find materials which we were looking for. We also spent an inordinate amount of time getting set up for wireless e-mail on the campus. Unfortunately because it is a proxy-server, we're not able to use our e-mail programme (Eudora) and therefore can't download mail to my laptop. Last night our hosts, the Mosterts had a "Braai" (South African barbecue), inviting several very interesting local choral conductors. We had the great time that we always do when we meet and share experiences with our colleagues from other countries. I am terribly impressed with the knowledge that white South African musicians have about black African music, particularly their facility in pronouncing the languages. It's clear that some African languages are taught to a certain degree in schools. Meanwhile we practice different types of tongue clicks, never knowing whether our attempts are ridiculous or impressive!

Checkout new pictures at:

SA Diaries #4

This installment focusses on Grahamstown & Mossel Bay. The small university town atmosphere of Grahamstown seemed "homey", along with it's English Colonial and Cape Dutch styles of architecture and proliferation of educational institutions that attract students from all over Africa (over 100 schools & colleges). A particularly unique antique, a "Camera Obscura" in the Grahamstown museum tower shows a 360 degree vista of the city, as it was possible to experience in the Victorian era when it was built. It uses mirrors focussed on a plaster of Paris viewing disk with a clarity which rivals today's data projectors.

Having had too little exercise to this point of our trip, we decided to park the car and walk everywhere during the G'town week, always glad to start out early to avoid the heat. Our usual destination was the university (about 40 minutes each way) - to visit ILAM (International Library of African Music), the music department (mostly for African choral scores, which are rare in the world of "imitate-this & then improvise" choral learning!), or to deal with email at the library (wireless "hotspot"). One morning we struck off through the nearby Black township (generating some surprised looks) to the African Musical Instruments factory, where we bought a unique type of "mouth bow" (mouth acts as resonator) which has to be seen & heard to be believed! The workers also improvised for us and for themselves on several sizes of marimbas - what a treat!.

The weather has been what one would expect in this "convergience of 4 climactic zones": up to 100 degrees on 3 of the days and down in the 60s and 70s on others. There was a spectacular hail/thunderstorm and the day before we left, and fierce hot winds. 

Other highlights of a very pleasantly busy week of music searching and choir visits included a visit with Andrew Tracey, the curator of ILAM, a fascinating individual revered throughout Africa for his knowledge of and ability to play and sing African musical instruments and folk songs and for his many definitive scholarly works on the subject. He invited us to a play rehearsal by 4 Khosa men which he had been coaching for a drama competition on the weekend. It was a comedy, great fun and very well acted. After the rehearsal, Bruce drove them back to their township. It was dusk and even though the townships give one a visual impression of the poverty of the occupants, people were walking along the streets, children running around and everywhere there was a feeling of happy communication at the end of the day. It was a strange and exhilerating feeling.

Our last night in G'town was in many ways the most exciting of all. A graduate student at Rhodes who we had befriended is doing a dissertation on choral singing in the townships. We persuaded him to take us to a rehearsal of the Abancedisi Choir in the nearby township of Joza. We had been hearing about these township choirs which rehearse every night and have competitions on the weekends, but it was always sort of shadowy references. It felt much like the classic Hollywood scenario of the scholar who visits the Dominican Republic and hears veiled references to voodoo ceremonies being held off in the mountains, but only after persisting is he invited to one. The rehearsal was held in a run-down abandoned day-care center. By the 7pm starting time, there were only 9 of the 20 singers present (not unusual in Africa). The conductor, Mpumelelo, asked us if we'd like to hear a couple of solo singers. What followed was a true "jaw-dropping" experience: 2 tenors singing "O sole mio" and a soprano singing an unidentified aria - unaccompanied of course. The 3 of them were absolutely amazing with full, mature vocal quality, excellent musicianship and presentation. With this kind of audition, they would be immediately snapped up by any number of music schools or conservatories in North America. But the huge tragedy is that they're here, jobless, living in poverty and not able to connect with the musical establishment for economic and social reasons beyond my comprehension. They are literally "all dressed up with nowhere to go". Their conductor, in addition to his excellent work with the choir, has tutored the solo singers. He is quite a brilliant fellow, with no musical training other than the (not insubstantial) black choral tradition he grew up in. The most staggering fact is that he graduated from the township high school only 4 years ago. The choir was wonderful. The membership is invited from singers in the township, rather than audition. The african voices are huge with a little too much vibrato for my taste, but the sound is first-rate, albeit somewhat deafening in a small room. Another big surprise was that they learn all their music in tonic sol-fa, at which they were quite proficient. This is apparently a long-standing tradition in black african choral singing. We presented them with Connie's tuning fork, since they had no pitch-giving instruments and thus guess at the starting pitches. Once they understood what it was and how it worked they seemed totally intrigued by it.

We also gained lots of insights from a rehearsal visit at the Victoria High School for Girls, a public institution with a small minority of white students. In particular we were happy to videotape their movements as they sang - a treasure to share at home. Connie also conducted part of a Gr. 4-7 choir rehearsal at Kingswood College private school, and we both enjoyed a lively discussion followed by a marimba rehearsal with Mandy Carver at St. Andrew's College & the Diocesan School for Girls. Almost unbelievably, Mandy has a brother in Victoria and may subsequently visit us while visiting him!

As mentioned earlier, our last day in Grahamstown was "puncuated" by extremely high winds. As the day progressed, we became aware of a burning smell and the air slowly filled with smoke. Apparently many fires were burning in the veld and forests throughout South Africa, fanned by furious winds. There was never any danger in the city, but as we drove to Mossel Bay via the "Garden Route" the next day, we passed through large freshly burned areas. At times it seemed that all of Southern SA was burning. This sort of veld fire is not unusual in this country, particularly with the planned burning of the sugar cane fields, but apparently these fires were unusually bad and somewhat disastrous, particularly to state parks and forest plantations.

Our Mossel Bay visit was made special by our hosts Helen and Mike Vintcent. She was the organizer of the Chamber Singers' visits in 1997 and 2003. They have a beautiful home over looking the town and the bay with a 180 degree view from the balcony of our bedroom. They are retired now but busier than ever with the miriad of things that retired people do in small communities. Most of their work is volunteer now (although I was told by someone in 1997 that they owned half the town). We found them to be fascinating and lovely people and kindred spirits to us in their political and humanitarian views. The conversation never stopped in the 2 days we were there. Among the highlights of our stay was a visit to the Khoi-San cave on a point just beyond the city where relics of human habitation have been found from about 200,000 years ago; a visit to the museum where the Chamber Singers had given their concerts in front of a full sized replica of Bartholemew Diaz's Portugese explorer ship and a visit to the Little Brak River where Bruce swam in the surf. We also looked carefully and from a distance at the riverbed there where Bruce was nearly swallowed in quick-sand in 2003.

Our trip to Cape Town yesterday was most enjoyable - vast rolling hills of golden grain (someone should write an anthem........) with high granite mountains in behind. At the end of the trip we took a detour into the mountains and an area which I had never seen before: Francheshoek. The road into the pass was interesting with rocky hills reminiscent of Southern Ireland, but with cloud and showers. We were a bit disappointed until we reached the pass and saw a heart-stopping view down the other side over a sun-drenched village and vineyards. It was without question the visual highlight of our trip (and maybe of my /Bruce's/ life). Be sure to see the picture on our "site".

We may not have wireless access so that we can send this previously-typed material until we arrive in England late on Nov. 11. On the other hand, maybe we'll be surprised in Cape Town,. We'll search on Monday, but today we're off to a worship service at St. Mary's in the black township of Guguletu - more on that later.

Love to you all,

Bruce & Connie

SA Diaries #5

Our long safari is finally over. Tomorrow we "sail for mother England".

Our week here has been as full of beautiful sights as the rest of the trip was full of excitement. The Cape must have more stunningly natural beauty than anywhere in the world (assuming that you're "into" mountains, gardens and sea views).

Having accomplished most of what we came for "musically", we visited only one choir (Tygerberg Children's Choir) and spent the rest of the week being "tourists. Our base was Wini and Con's luxurious (3,000 sq. ft.) flat in Kenilworth. Here we were well positioned to travel North, South and East, which we did with a vengeance.

- Cape Point is the "must see" for anyone visiting here. There are 5 floral regions of the earth and this miraculous piece of "real estate" is one of them. There are hundreds of species here not found anywhere else. We visited the light house at (arguably) the southern tip of Africa, fascinating tide pools on the shore, and great views of the many mountains along the way. We enjoyed the colonial sea-side charm of Simon's Town and visited the Penguin habitat nearby.

- Table mountain and the "12 Apostles" dominate Cape Town from every angle. Our first goal was to take the cable car to the top. We stopped in at the base office to get information, parked and walked a half mile back only to find that they had closed, due to high winds less than a minute before. We were disappointed, but we had a wonderful circle drive around the mountain, enjoying the spectacular views of Cape Town from Signal Hill, Boulder Bay, Hout Bay and back through the lush wine country of Constantia.

- Yesterday we drove for 3 hours north towards Namibia to see the Karoo (mountainous rocky desert) and Lambert's Bay - a very "funky" little fishing village on the Atlantic Coast. Since it was fairly hot, we had a beach picnic and swam in the Atlantic. Ahi Chihuahua!! Such Cold!!! I swear it was even colder than off Dallas Road in the summer! The drive up contained the full range of all we have come to know as the beauty of Africa. Sweeping fields, spectacular mountains, green treed valleys and of course the peculiar "moonscape" which is the Karoo. If one was to sum up the source of geographical beauty in the country, the most prominent would be the colour contrasts. Especially in the Spring, the deep green of the mountain sides is contrasted with gold of tilled fields, the eternally blue sky, the gray of granite in the high mountains, the sandy white of the beaches and sand dunes, the blues and turquoises of the sea the deep green of the trees and blaze of colours of the flowering jacaranda, flame trees and bouganvillea. Although we drove for 6 hours, we were constantly "entertained" by South Africa's spectacles. An exciting moment came rather unexpectedly as we stopped to take pictures as we started through a mountain pass. After a few minutes, we realized that there were clouds of little gnat-like flies everywhere. Soon they were landing on us and virtually covered the car. We beat a hasty retreat into the car taking many of them on the ride of their lives. By the time we got to Lambert's bay, most of them had disappeared. Happily they were not "biters".

- This morning we go to "Kirstenbosch", Cecil Rhodes' huge garden estate nearby with it's massive collection of (you guessed it) Rhododendrons. From there we go to Mnandi beach for a swim and
our last "sun" of the trip.

- I leave the description of our most powerful experience for the last. On the first day of our visit to Cape Town, we went to a Sunday service at St. Mary's in the nearby township of Guguletu. This is the church that the Chamber Singers raised money for in 1997 and purchased 4 marimbas which they now use in their services (in the asbsence of any other musical intstruments). The charm and excitement of these services for Connie and I is the continuous 4 part singing by the entire congregation - everyone sings a part which they seem to learn from birth: everything from traditional anglican chant to what sounds to us like traditional Khosa gospel songs and hymns. Each hymn is begun by a designated member of the choir who sings the first line while thumping loudly on a hymn book or a small leather pillow. Similarly, the spirituals are begun by a single person and the rest of the choir and congregation join in. In these pieces the movement and dancing is particularly prominent. The only music that doesn't contain movement (or have a beat) is the chant.

The feeling, standing in the middle of this music is overwhelming, it is joy, it is happiness, it is excitement - It is music in its purest form! I related to Connie at one point how I had leaned over to Alexis in '97 when were here and told her how much I wished my mom and dad (United Church minister) were alive and could experience this. Connie and I both quietly "lost it" for a moment. At the end of the service, the priest (woman) asked us to say a few words to the congregation, which we did. Connie's brief words were difficult as she was choking back emotion. Following the service, my dear friend of 8 years: Bonnie (Boniswa Mogale) who had driven us to the service, drove us around the immense area of the townships of Guguletu and Khayelitsa. We had mixed feelings of sorrow at the basic conditions in which most blacks live in the townships, but it was full of hope also. Bonnie spoke of the vast improvements since 1994 and I also could see major changes.

And that's the note on which we wish to leave our diaries of South Africa. It is a country like no other: vast beauty, tremendous natural resources and the greatest resource of all - it's people. It is a country of hope, not for just itself, but for everywhere. We believe hat is happening here, when it finally comes together will be a model for the entire world.

Watch for new pictures in a few days - same website - except #4.

Much love to you all!

Bruce and Connie



Connie & Bruce