Meet Zim's oldest choirs

HARARE - The Phoenix and Harare Male Voice Choirs are widely regarded as the oldest existing choral groups in Zimbabwe. The Harare Male Voice Choir was formed by members of the Royal Air Force stationed at Cranborne Barracks in Harare in 1941 while The Phoenix Choir, formerly known as the Caledonian Society Choir came into being in 1959.Due to dwindling membership, the two choirs merged 13 years ago.

Recently, the Daily News on Sunday’s Dakarai Mashava (DM) spoke to Clive Bishop, who along with Iona Jones, is the joint musical director of the combined Phoenix and Harare Male Voice Choir.

Below are excerpts of the interview:

Q: Is it true that The Harare Male Voice Choir and The Phoenix Choir are now performing as a combined choir?

A: That is correct.

A: Does it mean the choirs are no longer separate entities?

From time to time, Harare Male Voice Choir performs as a separate entity. For example, last year we held a special concert to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the choir.

Q: How many members are in combined choir?

A: We have some 65 singing members

Q: How is the choir managed or run?

A: The choir is a registered charitable organisation and is run by an elected committee.

Q: I understand one of the reasons why the two choirs came together was due to dwindling membership? Are you now recruiting new members?

A: The choir is flourishing and regularly welcomes new members.

Q: When can we expect to see blacks in the choir?

A: We have always had an element of black members in the choir. We currently have four black members on the books.

Q: What is the age range in the choirs?

A: The average age of the choirs is probably around 60. Our oldest member is Peter Hadingham (78) and is one of our principal male soloists.

Q: What is (was) the distinction between The Harare Male Voice Choir and The Phoenix Choir?

A: From the name you will gather that The Harare Male Voice Choir only has male singers, whereas the Phoenix Choir has always been a mixed choir.

Q: Where do you usually perform and which countries have you toured?

A: We currently hold performances in the Loyola Hall, St George’s College as well as The Henry Chapman Golf Club, where we hold dinner concerts. We also take our concerts to retirement homes in and around Harare, and last year we travelled to Bulawayo where we performed in the lovely Sibson Hall. In 2011 we visited the United Kingdom where we toured Southern England and the Midlands. Since then, we have visited South Africa twice.

Q: Have you won any awards?

A: The choir has not participated in any competitions for some years now but in past years, participated in the local Eisteddfod and won many accolades.

Q: I understand The Harare Male Voice Choir and The Phoenix Choir used to compete against each other during the annual Eisteddfod festival? Which had the edge over the other?

A: It would largely depend upon which camp you were in, so very much debatable.

Q: What is the kind of music you sing? Do you compose your own music?

A: We sing almost any type of genre including songs from Musicals, Pop, Jazz, Sea Shanties, Classics, and many more. We have even been known to perform Rap music. Generally, we don’t perform our own music although there have been arrangements especially written for the choirs

Q: Are there any forthcoming foreign tours?

A: No tours are currently on the drawing board.

Q: What should music fans expect during your concerts set for St George’s College in Harare on April 8 and 9?

A: The concert is primarily classical in content, with pieces by Mozart, Handel, Stanford, Finzi and many more.

Q: What the challenges being faced by the choirs?

A: We are not getting any younger so the main challenge is attracting the youth. Despite this, membership is steady.

Q: Any information about the choirs you think we should know about?

A: It’s amazing how most new members invariably comment, after joining, that they wished they had joined sooner in their lives. Singing is so therapeutic and is often credited with helping people with various medical conditions.

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