I experienced the sweep of diversity that this country represents in a quite specific way this past Sunday. As part of an organized tour of the Langa township in the morning, 10 of us (representing 3 other continents incidentally) stopped in for a half hour or so (of what is scheduled as a 3-1/2 hour service) at the Salvation Army Full Restoration Church, and in the afternoon I conducted the choir in Evensong at the Cathedral of St. George’s. Both were genuine expressions of faith, both were filled with energized music-making. Styles differed, but God was praised.
I asked our morning guide why it was in any way appropriate to tour an area of poverty and gawk at poor people. To sum up the lenthy, impassioned reply about the place and people he himself had grown up with, he said that our interest and presence as visitors in this community was seen as a blessing by those living there. That they felt honored to have us there as their guests and that it is the obligation of tourism, as South Africa’s second largest industry after agriculture, to show all parts of his country.
Every American visitor in Cape Town seemed to come out for the recital I played at the Cathedral last Friday. The Cathedral’s organ is a gorgeous instrument from 1908, moved to South Africa from St. Margaret’s, Westminster (the parish church right next to a large and famous abbey church in London!), and it has been wonderful to share music by some American composers while here.
Why try to have a traditional Anglican music program in a country with such a wealth of musical traditions of its own? What might have begun as a transplanted faith from a colonizing power, is now part of a reconcilation of all the cultures that have taken root here. There is a hunger to explore all kinds of music, including a real interest in opera by young singers, and it is clear to me that music of the body, mind and heart can be drawn from traditions of all kinds.
My husband returned home a few weeks ago, and my daughter, a pianist in New York City, joined me here for the last ten days of my time away. We’ve enjoyed a perfect mix of music and scenery, making the obligatory tourist stops on Table Mountain and Robben Island, hearing two local jazz bands, having her connect with music students at the University of Cape Town, and absorbing the sights of flora and fauna that come straight from the pages of coffee table books as we drive into the countryside for a few days before leaving on Friday.
True, there’s no place like home and I’ll be most happy to be back, but there’s no place like South Africa either. Though South African hospitality might say that they have been blessed by my visit, the world has been blessed to be part of, to witness, and to learn from the struggles and triumphs of this rainbow nation. God bless Africa. guard her children. Guide her leaders and give her peace. For Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen. I have the same prayer for my own country.