Wits Choir is now in its 59th year of existence!
Wits Choir is unlike any choir you have ever experienced: it is vibrant, young, and colourful! Membership is open to all, resulting in a fully representative choir drawn from diverse national and international cultures.
The Wits Choir motto is 'Excellence through diversity' and this manifests itself in everything the Choir does, be it repertoire, membership of the choir, performances. An example of this diversity is the fact that Wits Choir must be the only choir in the world who has sung for over 20 Heads of State both in Africa and abroad, and also, at the opening of a sewage plant in Mpumalanga!
During the last 27 years of the newly constituted Wits Choir there have been many highlights. To mention a few:
The Wits Choirs bring the music of South Africa and of our continent to audiences everywhere. It is our task to show the beauty, intricacies, diversity, and complexity of the music of our world.
It was originally called The Witwatersrand University Choir and was founded by students from two diverse student bodies. The first was The University Choral Society and they decided to use the profits from their 1961 production of Oklahoma to buy choral music and start a choir. On the other hand, and at the same time, a group of students on the Students’ Engineering Council also decided to form a choir. Towards the end of that year the two groups combined and the Wits Choir was formed.
Dr John Blacking, who was then a lecturer in social anthropology, became the first conductor of the choir and he held this position until 1966. He was well known as a musicologist, composer, pianist and conductor.
The choir presented a short Christmas carol season in 1961, but their first public inaugural concert was given on 3 October 1962 and it included Three Nsenga Melodies which had been recorded and transcribed by John Blacking. And so the foundation was laid early in its formative years for Wits Choir to represent the cultures and music of South Africa.
Many conductors followed John Blacking, amongst them Prof Douglas Reid, Jimmy van Tonder, Richard Cock and Willem Vogel.
During the time Willem Vogel was with the Choir around 1991, the choir was registered as a society under the SRC, but it was also under the control of the School of Music and it was a requirement for all voice students to be members of the choir. This led to many clashes and unhappiness and the Wits Choir became a dilemma for the School of Music. Professor Walter Mony, the then Head of Music, was forced to disband the choir.
In 1993 a group of students and staff petitioned for and established a newly constituted Wits Choir. They approached Dalene Hoogenhout to take on the position of conductor and trainer. Stronger ties with the University structures including the School of Music were developed and the grounds for a new era of Wits Choir were laid.
Dalene Hoogenhout is the Trainer and Conductor of Wits Choir - the official choir of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg. This is her 27th year as conductor since being appointed to reconstitute the Choir as an independent and representative ensemble of high musical standard at the University.
Under her direction, the Choir has become one of the leading choirs in South Africa, specialising in music of the African continent and particularly South Africa. She and the Choir bring the music of this continent to many audiences and other choirs both locally and internationally on the numerous tours and outreach projects that Wits Choir undertakes.
It is Dalene's dedication to her aim with regards to the traditional music of South Africa and the African continent that motivates her choices as a choir conductor and this drives her to instil respect and appreciation for our choral heritage. "Some people think that African traditional songs are simplistic and thus require less rehearsal time and less attention to detail compared to other genres of choral music. I want to show that this is not the case, that African traditional music is not only fun to sing, but that it can be as complex, in its own right, as other choral pieces and that it has a place on the world's stages."
Dalene studied music at Wits, where she received her Bachelor of Music degree, specialising in Education. After teaching at various schools and colleges, she pursued her studies further and completed her Honours degree in Education cum laude at the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg).
At the age of 18, Dalene conducted her first choir and has since worked with many choirs over the years; among them the Kingsmead Girls' Choir, Parktown Girls' Choir, the Raucall Choir, The Duke of Cornwall Singers and the Boys' College Choir of St Stithians College, the Standard Bank Gallery Singers, and the Johannesburg Chamber Choir.
She is often invited to adjudicate at choir festivals and competitions and is on the panel of adjudicators of the National Eisteddfod Academy. She presents workshops and master classes both locally and abroad and has been invited as guest conductor to conduct many choirs.
Dalene in partnership with a group of choral music specialists from the USA facilitated and presented workshops in Choral Conducting on an annual basis at Wits. The Path to the Podium: Effective and Expressive Choral Conducting Courses are presented by IPCME - the International Partnership for Choral Music Education.
Dalene has arranged a number of African Folksongs which were published in three collections by Wingate University Press, USA edited by Kenney Potter.
She lectures in the Music Department at the Wits University School of the Arts on a part-time basis. She also trains the Young Wits Choir and the Jeppe Boys' Choir.
Dalene has set herself several new challenges for the immediate future. She has a vision of establishing the Johannesburg Youth Choir, and also a Wits/Braamfontein Community Choir.