The Cathedral of St Michael and St George in Grahamstown is home to many treasures, given over the years to the glory of God and for the inspiration of those who come into the building to worship. One of the most exciting treasures of the Cathedral is not ancient, but very much alive, the music made by the Choir under the Director of Music, Dr Andrew-John Bethke. The choir of almost 40 voices consists of some sixteen adults and the young choristers of the Makana Choir School. Throughout the year the Choir sings at morning Eucharist services twice a month, and at Evensong twice a month.
Dr Andrew-John Bethke, who was appointed in 2012, holds a Fellowship diploma in organ performance from Trinity College, London and has performed widely in South Africa and internationally. He also has an M.A. in Sacred Music, a Masters in Composition and a Ph.D. in Liturgical Musicology. He currently holds a post-doctoral fellowship with UNISA. He has composed a number of sacred choral works, which are included in the Choir’s repertoire. Under Dr Bethke the choristers’ high standard of musical training has been maintained and indeed exceeded.
The Makana Choir School was initiated in June 2009 by the then Director of Music at the Cathedral, Barbara Stout, and her husband Wilf, who was the Cathedral organist. They began with a handful of junior choristers, all Junior School pupils, and by the end of that year they numbered 15. For the last two years there have been several choristers in Grade 12 (matric), most of whom have been with the Choir School for four or five years. As they leave, other youngsters have been auditioned and recruited to take their place. Several of the older boys now sing tenor and bass parts. The junior choristers attend the local state schools: Graeme College, Victoria Girls' High School, and Victoria Primary.
The choristers are trained in singing and musicianship during a one-and-a-half hour practice at the Cathedral each week, one practice a week held at their respective schools, and a one-hour practice before every choral service. In return for the choristers' commitment to the Choir they may be eligible to receive a Scholarship towards their school fees.
In 2016 about 13 children were due to receive the full scholarship amount of R4,000, while three who were initially on probation will have received R3,000 by the end of the year.
Belonging to the Cathedral Choir exposes the young people to singing an extensive repertoire at a professional level. The Choir is becoming better known through concerts, and through singing during the National Festival of the Arts. Listen to the Cathedral Choir singing part of the Magnificat in G by Andrew-John Bethke at a Choral Evensong in the 2016 Arts Festival.
The Choir has recorded two CDs, Come, sing a prayer for Africa (2014) and Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Songs (2015). These are available for sale at R50 each. Enquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The commitment, enthusiasm and sheer talent of these choristers is impressive. Teachers and parents alike have commented on the positive impact that the training and exposure to a professional standard of performance has made to the lives of the youngsters.
The Vision of the Choir School is to develop the musicianship of young choristers and thereby to develop them as well-rounded leaders in their community.
The objectives of the School are:
The Makana Choir School is grateful to a number of donors for their support, which has ensured the continued viability of the Choir School. Donations received from major funders for disbursement in 2016 include a sum of R150,000 from the New Settlers' Foundation, which has been used to cover the costs of the scholarships, and a stipend for the music intern who assists Dr Bethke, as well as various items such as transport for the junior choristers and a choir camp in the second half of the year. A grant of R22,000 from the Donaldson Trust is being used to support a course in conducting which was given by Dr Bethke to local aspirant conductors. Regular private donors make up some R22,000.
If you would like to become part of the chorister funding programme please contact the Cathedral office (email@example.com or 046 622 2445)