Collegiate Choir Makes Impression at South African Festival
May 29, 2020
Editor’s Note: The Collegiate Choir departed prior to travel restrictions enacted
in response to COVID-19.
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Members of Illinois Wesleyan University’s Collegiate Choir sang
their way through the Cape Town and Stellenbosch regions in South Africa during Spring
Break where they were subsequently honored for their performance at a renowned cultural
The choir, comprised of student musicians from a variety of academic disciplines,
has participated in international tours every four years since 2000 under the direction
of Professor of Music Scott Ferguson. This year, the group performed concerts in the
Chicago area before departing for the week-long South Africa tour, arriving back in
Bloomington just before the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting international travel.
“I have unforgettable memories from every international tour, but the combination
of the extraordinary natural beauty of South Africa, profound cultural experiences,
and exhilarating performances put this tour in a special category,” Ferguson said.
Among the most notable moments of the trip was the choir’s performance at the Woordfees
cultural arts festival in Stellenbosch. The 10-day cultural arts festival is the largest
of its kind in the country, consisting of music, visual arts, theatre, writers' and
film festivals. Although the festival typically includes international participation,
the Collegiate Choir was the first American choir to be invited to perform at Woordfees.
“It was an exceptionally high honor for us to have the opportunity to represent the
American choral tradition at this festival,” Ferguson said. “It was also a great responsibility
to be the first to represent, in particular, American collegiate choral ensembles.”
The choir presented a joint concert with the University of Stellenbosch Chamber Choir,
performing primarily sacred music from the contemporary era, including arrangements
of American folk hymns and African American spirituals.
“The audience's reception to our singing was electric. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime
experience,” Ferguson said.
Among these pieces, Ferguson said the choir was honored to perform the world premiere
of the 2019-20 Collegiate Choir commissioned choral work The wicked are like the troubled sea. This commission series is the oldest of its kind in the country, and it is made possible
by the Sylvia Monti Anderson Commissioned Choral Work Fund honoring Delta Omicron,
Illinois Wesleyan University’s professional music fraternity.
The wicked are like the troubled sea is a dramatic motet, written by renowned South African composer Hendrik Hofmeyr, “one
of the most highly regarded South African composers active today.”
“It is one of the best commissioned works we've had the privilege to perform during
my 24 years at IWU,” Ferguson said.
The group also had the chance to rehearse the composition with Hofmeyr himself, who
attended the performance.
“Your choir is absolutely superlative. It was a great privilege for me to have you
do my work,” Hofmeyr told Ferguson.
The choir was recognized for its performance through its nomination for “Best Achievement”
in the festival's classical vocal category. This was the first time that a concert
of this type was nominated for this prestigious award. “It represented a validation
of the choir's dedication to the art of choral singing and recognition of the months
of preparation for this tour,” Ferguson said. “The choir maintains this level of performance
every year, and I couldn't be happier that their dedication was recognized at an event
of this stature. “
In addition to their performance at Woordfees, the choir also participated in a choral
exchange with a high school choir at the Harry Gwala school in the Khayelitsha township
near Cape Town, conducted by Mhlalasi Mungeka.
Ferguson’s colleague from the University of Stellenbosch, professor Martin Berger,
who arranged the exchange, told him that it was rare for an American choir to visit
a township to share music. Ferguson and Berger included the township exchange in an
effort to show the value of using the arts to promote social justice. Ferguson said,
“The township choir was excellent.”
“I would love to have some of their basses in my choir. We sang back and forth to
each other, each choir spellbound while listening to the other. After our performances,
we became one choir as they taught us a song from the South African tradition,” he
The choir also shared performances and social time with the Stellenbosch University
Chamber Choir and Cape Town Youth Choir.
“We always learn much from listening to other choirs sing, and it was especially wonderful
to hear performances of South African traditional music,” he said.
By exchanging music with choirs around South Africa, the Illinois Wesleyan Collegiate
Choir experienced music as a connection between continents.
“I think the choir would agree that one of the greatest gifts from this tour was the
opportunity to witness the universal power of music to transcend cultures and allow
us to feel our shared humanity at its most fundamental level.”