East London bids farewell to its oldest choir

END NOTE: Members of the East London Cantata Choir at their final meeting on March 6. Picture: TAMMY FRAY

On March 6, the East London Cantata Choir officially dissolved after 52 years of performances across the city owing to dwindling interest in cantata after Covid-19.

The last performance held by the choir was in 2019 and the group saw a dramatic decrease in membership that never recovered once Covid restrictions were lifted.

Established in 1972, the Cantata Choir kicked off their decades-long success with their first performance of Charles Oxtaby’s Drought, directed by former Selborne Primary music teacher Jean Fowler.

In the years since, led by the expertise and proficiency of music directors such as John Ashton Jones, John Mitchell, Louise Hinsch and Dr Bruce Johnson, the choir has pulled off technically challenging pieces including Handel’s Israel in Eygpt and Messiah and Stainer’s The Crucifixion, among others.

Praised by critics for their mastery of control and vocal synergy, the choir has introduced locals to the talents of f singers Renee Rakin and Sjoerd Beute, among others, who were praised for their emotive solo performances.

Choir members expressed sadness at the end of an era but one member believes this is a reflection of the future of cantata singing in general as more local singers gravitate towards other genres that include bands.

“We had such wonderful singing in different cities across the country and we had the top singers in East London sinhing with us. But times change and the time to move on always comes,” the member said.

Longstanding chair Dave Donkin said: “Our concerts always had regular attendance of 200 people.

“We do hope that perhaps in future the new generation will pick up the thread and revive the choir.

“Singing is unifying across cultures and only singing and sport bring people together effectively in this way. The East London Cantata Choir hopes to be remembered for this.”

“Participation in the arts are crucial for the health of the individual and the vitality of the community,” award-winning director and performer Germaine Gamiet said.

The  choir will be handing over its archival material to Rhodes University to preserve the legacy of their contribution.


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