The Chapel Choir embarks on two tours a year. The first of these takes the form of a Cathedral Visit in which they serve as the Choir-in-residence for a week or weekend of services. In 2017, this time was spent in York Minster; you can read more about our trip on the blog.
Alongside Cathedral visits, the Choir does one international tour a year.This year's tour was to Zambia, and you can read more about it below. Last year, the Choir visited Croatia (with a day trip to Bosnia!), singing in venues such as St Domnius Cathedral in Split, and the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Mostar. Former Choir member Katharine Griffiths wrote a blog post about the tour which you can read here. Other recent tours have visited Finland, Estonia, USA, Norway, Germany and Singapore.
The Choir on the last day of the Finland tour in 2015.
In September 2017, the Choir spent two weeks in Zambia participating in extensive outreach work and giving performances. The trip was carried out in association with The Muze Trust and The Estelle Trust.
Pembroke Choir’s tour to Zambia was an incredible educational experience. We went in expecting to teach, but we came away having learned a great deal. Almost as soon as we arrived in Zambia, we were clear that we wanted this trip to be part of an ongoing relationship with the musicians and children we were working with. The Director of Music, Anna, will be heading back next year for a month, spending a week working giving choral direction workshops to music leaders from the Anglican Churches around Zambia, a week working in schools, and a week working with musicians in and around Lusaka. Furthermore, College are looking at supporting the Choir so that the Zambia tour is something that happens every three years, meaning that every member of the Choir gets to experience the trip at least once in their time with the choir. In addition, as a direct result of the trip, one of the Choir members has donated a large sum of money to the St Matthias Community School, and is now committed to working to improve education and opportunities for music-making in Zambia. You can read more about this in the Outreach section below.
We gave a lot of performances in Zambia, many of which were collaborative in nature. For the first week of the trip, we were hosted by St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Livingstone. Our very first concert took place in the Church, and we were expecting to perform the entire program ourselves, but we found out just before we were about to start that they had actually invited 4 other choirs to join in. The evening became a wonderful exchange of music and dancing, with each Choir taking it in turns to perform. There was a notable difference in concert culture depending on the demographic of the audience; when we were ‘performing’ to locals, it was very much collaborative, whereas when performing to ex-pats and tourists, there was much more of a sense of a traditional divide between the audience and the performer.
Many of our performances also threw class differences into sharp relief, as we would often spend the mornings working with extremely poor communities, and then perform to some of the richest members of the community in the evenings. This felt quite uncomfortable at times, but equally we felt it was important that the Choir realise the diversity of wealth and privilege present throughout the country, and how it didn’t necessarily reflect the racial divide.
A significant portion of the Choir's time was spent doing Outreach works, offering workshops to local communities in Livingstone and Lusaka. In Livingstone, we worked with children from the Ebenezer Orphanage, Linda Secondary School and Mukuni Primary School. We also gave notation workshops to music leaders and other interested young adults from Mukuni Village and the surrounding tribes. In Lusaka, we gave a choral workshop to the Cathedral Choir from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, culminating in a concert and a large service featuring 5 choirs. We also participated in a music exchange workshop with the Choir Vox Zambezi, based at Ngoma Dolce Music Academy.
Some of our most poignant work was with the children from St Matthias Community School, Ng'ombe, in the slums of Lusaka. Out of the 230 children, 122 are double orphans, and 21 are HIV positive. The children all share one big room, with the different year groups delineated by different blackboards around the room. Many of the children have also been rescued from child marriages. We were introduced to the children, who sang to us and told us about their experiences. It was extremely harrowing to hear about these experiences first-hand, particularly from children who were so young. Later in the week, we held a fundraising concert for the school in a shopping mall. All the children came and joined in with the singing, along with some other Choirs. We raised over £800 to help them build some new classrooms.
The point of the trip was largely to show people what a wonderful country Zambia is. What we couldn’t have predicted was that one of the Choir members, Christophe, on returning home, was so moved by the trip that he wanted to do more. He realised the power that a relatively small amount of money has in the right hands. Christophe was so moved by the experience of working with the St Matthias Community School that he decided to donate the remainder of the money that the school needed, doing so in memory of his late father, Major Alexander Karas. Not only that, but Christophe and his mother are looking at setting up a foundation to support education in Zambia and in other disadvantaged countries, working on similar projects to our Choir Tour over the course of the next twenty years. This demonstrates quite how important it is that we continue to not just support places such as Zambia financially, but also forge personal relationships as they can lead to much greater things than just financial aid.
Thoughts from the Choir
I walked into the tour with the expectation that we would simply be sharing our music with new audiences. I left Zambia moved by the music shared with me, having fallen in love with the beautiful people and culture that colour the nation. Beyond being able to sing in some incredible venues throughout the tour, it has to be the joy of making music together that was the real highlight of the trip. The music workshops with the students of Linda Secondary School and Kachele School stood out as two highlights for me. I was taken aback by the sheer enthusiasm, energy, and innate musicality these individuals possessed. Their unabashed optimism, despite having far less in material possessions than us, left me humbled and moved by their infectious positivity. For me, these experiences affirmed the transcendental nature of music-making – in that it has the ability to unite and bring joy to all of us irrespective of race and creed.
This year’s tour to Zambia has been probably the most remarkable two weeks I have ever experienced. I can’t properly express how much I have learnt or how moved I have been by everyone’s welcome and kindness to all of us. I have so many questions now about the culture and lives of everyone that we met which I didn’t even realised I had to ask before we left, and, more than anything, this tour has made me want to be able to do more to give back to all those people who gave us so much – and those who offered us so much of their time, in particular the Mothers’ Union in Livingstone, Gift, and Father Katete.
I feel so incredibly privileged to not only have had the chance to have seen the Victoria Falls, and to have gone on the cruises and safaris – seeing rhinos, elephants, hippos and so many more animals in the wild – but also to have had the opportunity to sing with the Cathedral Choir of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Vox Zambezi, and all the other Choirs we encountered; to have learnt some of the traditional music and dances of everyone we met; to have got to know the children from Mukuni Village, Ebenezer Orphanage, Linda Secondary School, Kachele Village and the St Mattias School in the slums of Lusaka. I was especially glad to have had the chance to help in fundraising for the extension of that school where so many of the children come from such terrible and fraught backgrounds.
The Choir Tour to Zambia was undoubtedly the best two weeks of my life. Not only did we all fall in love with the country and the people, the outreach work was incredibly rewarding; from giving music notation lessons in Mukuni Village to fundraising for the St Matthias Community School in the slums of Lusaka, each day somehow managed to top the one before. I t was humbling to see the impact we’d had on the various groups of children that we worked with, but I wasn’t prepared for the extent of the impact the children would have on me. The musical culture of Zambia is so rich and intuitive that music seems like their second language, and getting to immerse ourselves into their tradition was an incredible experience that I will cherish forever.
I’ve never been on such a fun, enriching and life-changing choir tour. We did a perfect mix of singing, fun activities and enjoying fellowship with the people we met. In terms of singing, one of the best moments was when, after rehearsing for two hours for a concert in St Andrew’s Church in Livingstone, we found out that three other choirs had come along and also wanted to be in our concert! As much as we thought we would have liked to do our own programme, we ended up taking it in turns to sing a few pieces each and within no time the church exploded into dancing, including our whole choir. Soon after, we were singing our madrigals with the crowd cheering; it was the most exciting musical exchange, and hilarious to watch our choir trying to dance. The fun activities were endless; I loved seeing rhinos, getting close to lions, and cruising along the Zambezi River with elephants and hippos. The best part of the trip, however, was being able to get to know musicians in Zambia, whether it was the kids that we sang rounds with, or ladies from the Mothers’ Union who welcomed us, or the self-taught opera singer who sang to us after lunch in the Cathedral. We got to learn so much about music, so much about Zambia, and so much about friendship and generosity from our Zambian friends.
On the plane home from our tour to Zambia I sat next to Anna. We immediately began to reminisce about the trip from the very beginning to right this second. Anna turned to me and asked what the highlight of the trip was for me. I was speechless. Without a doubt we had some incredible opportunities to do really cool things; like swim to the edge of Victoria falls and fly over Lusaka in a private jet. But for me they were just things that we did. If I really think about what made our trip to Zambia amazing, it is the defining moments. Moments like during a workshop where I’d see a shy child come out of their shell and really smile at Christophe acting like a wally to make us all laugh,. Moments like the time in between fundraising at the shopping mall and waiting for the coach when we formed some sort of dance-off – they definitely stood us all up – and when we visited the Mukuni village and I saw all my friends volunteer to learn a dance, really throwing themselves into it. Moment when I’ve woken up with my arms throbbing after a day of lifting children and throwing them around because all they want to do is play and have that physical affection. I’ve never felt such an extreme range of emotions for the people who I was on tour alongside, and the Zambians who have warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes. One of our most pivotal songs was Deep River. It’s a song that is just about those people to whom we became incredibly attached. It will always belong to our Pembroke tour to Zambia.