Interview by Estelle Sinkins
The Drakensberg Boys Choir School, with its emphasis on music excellence and its heavenly setting in the mountains, has had a special place in Charlotte Botha’s heart since childhood.
Botha, who conducted the boys when they took to the stage of the Pietermaritzburg City Hall for Music Revival’s Christmas concert on November 29, says the feeling of “shaping the music with the movement of your arms is nothing short of magical. It is probably as close as we earth-dwellers will ever come to experiencing flight.” The concert was one of the last that she did with the world-renowned choristers.
“It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to leave the Drakensberg Boys Choir at the end of 2016,” she says. “My intention is to pursue a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Choral Conducting. I have applied to a few of the top universities and music schools in the United States and, depending on the availability of scholarships and fellowships, I will be studying full time by August 2017.
“In the meantime, I will be living and freelancing in Pretoria. I am quite excited to move back to Pretoria - where I lived, worked and studied for 10 years prior to joining the Drakies team - and have some interesting projects lined up!”
Botha admits, however, that she will be leaving the school and its pupils with a heavy heart.
“When you put so much of yourself into the craftsmanship of an instrument like the Drakensberg Boys Choir, it becomes an extension of who you are as a person,” she adds. “Because there is no other institution in South Africa that devotes so much time to the training of choristers, I will not experience this feeling again soon. In these last few months I have been telling the boys: ‘It is very hard to imagine a me without a you’.”
Asked for a favourite memory of her time at the school, she says: “If I had to pick one moment it would be this: I was jumping on the trampoline one day after a tough but successful rehearsal, watching the sun set behind Champagne Castle while a few boys were singing what I had just taught them in the distance.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is as good as it gets. This is the happiest I will ever be. Good luck trying to top this, Future Charlotte’.”
Regards choral music, Botha believes that singing together is the only team activity where everybody wins.
“A choir singer uses his or her body to produce sound, but it is through the group that we make music,” she adds. “Therefore each singer needs to be sensitive to what is happening around him or her, and tune in to the group. For the time that a choir is together, everyone is working towards the same goal.
“Choirs set their differences aside in a quest to create something beautiful that uplifts and inspires others. In a country where difference often fuels hatred and creates distance, it is absolutely wonderful to know that there is an art form that binds groups of people with different opinions and upbringings together in such a significant way.”
A sought-after conductor, composer, ensemble singer, and teacher of voice, music theory and aural training., Botha is originally from Klerksdorp. She embarked on an ambitious career as a pianist, percussionist, chorister and vocal soloist from the age of six.
She has sung under and learned from Bunny Ashley-Botha, Christo Burger, Andre de Quadros, Jacques Imbrailo, Lone Larsen, Werner Nel, Ragnar Rasmussen, Lee Shiak Yao, Hanli Stapela, Andre van der Merwe, Johann van der Sandt and Josep Villa I Casanas.
As a conductor she has worked with the Pretoria High School for Girls choir, the Singkronies Chamber Choir and the Drakensberg Boys Choir. – Estelle Sinkins