The amazing thing I' ve always found about working in South Africa with South African musicians is that they are the most instinctual and natural musicians that I' ve ever encountered. As a kind of tired old conductor I' ve worked in a great many countries and on a great many continents but there is something particular about South Africa and I' ll tell you what it is. It' s that there' s a virtuosity, the poll is so high in terms of achievement, in terms of possibility, but at the same time there is an immense openness. For instance, some people in West will look at a black South African and say ' oh well, bless them, they are very interesting at what they do, but they haven' t had a formal training' . I don' t know what people mean by that. These are people who' ve been singing in crack choirs since they were two or three years old, which are performing and working and creating music to the very highest level.
So what you get is a spontaneity and freedom. For instance, I can teach a tune to 40 South Africans in about five seconds flat and then as if you' re just flicking a switch they will improvise 40 part harmony around that tune without anyone saying a word to anyone else because that is what they can do. Now you don' t find great and celebrated symphony orchestras capable of that in any part of the world. So that is the given. Frankly if anyone is on a learning curve when working with South Africans it would be me. So when I have the opportunity to actually compose with them, to devise music with them like we did with Christmas Carol, the way I do it is I' m not really a composer, you know, I' m much more of a performer I like interpreting other people' s music. So it' s about going in there with a clear sense of where point a, and where point z is, and then working together like we' re all wet clay. We' re just developing and devising, trying something, throwing away not liking it, trying something else which suddenly becomes a mainstay of our approach. It' s the most intoxicatingly exciting experience and I would urge anyone who has even just the vaguest interface with music to go to South Africa and spend some time experiencing that. Because I swear it is like a damascene moment, your life will never be the same.
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