Choral different language groups present in his/her




Choral singing in a 21st-century
multi-cultural South African setting


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Gerhardus Stephanus Christoffel Scheepers



paper submitted in partial fulfilment

of the requirements for the course

MUS 445

Seminar in Ethnomusicology

Music Enculturation, Transmission and






School of Music

University of Washington




13 December 2017







Choral singing in a 21st-century
multi-cultural South African setting

Gerhardus Stephanus Christoffel Scheepers


and rationale

Africa is embedded with a rich cultural heritage. Culture is the classification
of communal beliefs, principles, traditions, behaviors, and artifacts that the
members of humanity use to cope with their world and with one another, and that
are passed down from generation to generation through the sharing of knowledge.
Music and especially, choral music, plays a fundamental role in South Africa
among the various cultural groups. At any given point in time a teacher would
have between 3-4 ethnic groups or different language groups present in his/her
choir. This raises the question of how the teacher approaches the teaching
methods used in this setting, based on the already exiting national curriculum.
 This has a direct effect on how teaching
takes place.


states in her article Music Education in
a Time of Cultural Transformation that multicultural education is a
metadiscipline of sorts, and it aims for increased educational equity for all
students and for representation of their values and worldviews within the
This statement speaks to the national goal of education and music education in
the South African public school system.

the abolishment of the apartheid government, multiculturalism as practiced
within the school curriculum has been based upon the perceived need to serve a
diverse demographic in the South African public school system.

based on segregation was to be replaced by the implementation of the policy of
the Rainbow nation. The formation of a music education system on a national
level today often necessitates decisions of multiculturalism. As Thorsén
mentions in his article Music Education
in South Africa – Striving for Unity and Diversity; South Africa is one
example where different forms of multicultural standpoints have at times
drastically conditioned the nation’s music education.2


of the paper

the country’s eleven official languages, many others, such as Western European
and Asian languages are spoken. Cultural diversity in schools has steadily
evolved over the past twelve years where a variety of different cultures are
present in one school choir or ensemble. This certainly has an impact on music
education in the choral setting. The aim of this paper is to see how
enculturation, transmission and education lives and/or functions as a means of
transferring information to students in the predisposed setup of the national
curriculum of South African public schools.



In order successfully investigate
the topic of multicultural choral settings the following primary and secondary
research questions are asked to guide the research and reasoning.


research question

effect does a multicultural choral setting have on Enculturation, Transmission
and Education as means of sharing knowledge in the South African public school


research questions

are some cross-cultural complexities of human music learning?

culture-specific facets appear as highly functional in the music learning

part does cultural policy play in determining who teaches, who learns, and what
is taught/learned?


Singing in South Africa

quote by Fred Warren from his book The
Music of Africa: An Introduction so powerfully captures the importance of music in South Africa. “Music follows
the African through his entire day from early in the morning till late at
night, and through all the changes of his life, from the time he came into this
world until after he has long left.”3


throughout the rest of Africa, it is true that in South Africa choral music
plays an important role in almost everything South Africans do. In South
Africa, choral singing has been a tradition amongst ethnic tribes for
centuries. According to Van Wyk choral singing is “without any doubt the most
popular and populous musical endeavor in South Africa at the present time, and
most especially amongst the black communities.”4


singing in the post-apartheid era

cultural group in South Africa adds to the kaleidoscope of sound that is
uniquely South African and because choral singing is at the forefront of
cultural importance, its significance is notable.  Being part of a school, community, youth or
church choir has become somewhat of a tradition in South Africa. Because of
South Africa’s rich cultural heritage, it is impossible to define choral singing
as a single entity. The influence on choral music by foreign powers is
important but it must not be forgotten that even before the influx of
foreigners, music was very much a part of the lives of the inhabitants of the
time. Choral music in a post-apartheid South Africa is largely a mixture of
European and American influence combined with African elements.5


in choral music in South Africa

All cultures in South
Africa use singing as an important tool of worship. Amongst others, the
Afrikaners adopted typical Dutch hymns which are sung in all Sunday services
and the English adopted hymns from the Anglican churches in Europe. Catholic
church in South Africa still sing plainchants and many hymns were adapted by
these cultures to suit the language of the particular church.


in choral music in South Africa

black African population in South Africa is diverse, of which all linguistic
groups fall into one of four main categories. On the other side, white South
Africans can also be divided into two main groups, namely English and
Afrikaans. More than half of white South Africans are Afrikaans speaking, and
are descendants of Dutch, French and German Settlers. The rest consist chiefly
of English speakers who are descended from British colonists. This has a very
interesting effect on what choral music is being performed and even how western
choral music from the standard canon is being performed.

Enculturation in choral settings

is defined as the gradual acquisition of the characteristics and norms of a
culture or group by a person or another culture. Thorsén mentions that “the
enculturation of music within a traditional culture is brought about through a
combination of formal and informal education.”6
This certainly is the case in most public schools throughout South Africa where
students will be exposed to music from their own culture both at home as well
as in the choral setting. However, it might be through another lens of
perspective which brings interesting points of discussion to the table. This
also holds true for monoculture school where music of other cultures is not
intended to be taught but nevertheless exists naturally.  As part of this process, the influences that
limit, direct or shape the individual include the teacher as well as the peers.
Enculturation in the South African choral music setting does not readily lend
itself to distinctions enjoyed by Western choral music. For example, whereas in
the European or American context the arts are distilled into separate
disciplines – music, dance, drama, theatre, etc. African choral music often
combines all of these forms. In various African languages and South African
languages like Zulu, the word ‘ngoma’
is used interchangeably to represent musical activity. This is because the act
of music making encompasses a broad range of disciplines. Therefore, in a South
African context, music making is a multidisciplinary occasion. Students in the
choir learn by watching their teacher or even their peers perform a choir song.
All their senses are activated because not only are their listening to the
words and notes but they are also watching attentively to the movement being
performed with the singing.

enculturation has other life lessons as well like learning a variety of
music-related behaviors as well as general lessons about cultural knowledge and
social behavior. Being exposed to this since a very young age equip students
with a deep understanding of different cultures in their geographical area.7


Transmission in choral settings

as a means of teaching or learning is quite a common practice amongst the
traditional indigenous musics of South Africa. Many times, choirs in the public-school
setting will invite a conductor/singer from a specific culture to come teach a
song by rote. Many times, this could be and is a student from the choir
itself.  Essentially these people are culture
bearers in a way – preserving their own culture.


good example is the conductor from the University of Johannesburg Kingsway
Choir, Sidumo Jacobs. He serves as clinician for many South African public
school with a predominantly white demographic. He workshops two or three songs
with the choir per program. The style of the workshop entails complete oral
transmission. He would speak the text of the song and the singers would repeat
after him. When they show a solid grasp on the pronunciation he would either
move to teaching the rhythms or notes or both. He does this by singing a vocal
part and having the singers echo it back to him. Once they get it he will have
them repeat it and then layer voice part by voice part until everyone has
joined in.



in choral settings

discussed the nature of enculturation and transmission in the choral setting it
is clear that it directly influences how education takes place in the choral
setting. Teacher need to negotiate a fine balance between music taught orally
versus visually (reading from a score).


most black Africans had no access to quality music education during the
previous government they had no formal training and many of them can’t read
music. Music in those cultural were kept alive by oral/aural tradition. However,
in the hopes to get them more literate in music reading – at least in some way
– the solfège system was introduce. This has an implication on how choral music
is taught in public schools. Even western pieces with formal notation will many
times be taught with solfège. Whether it is written under the standard music
notation or even under the text of a piece as shown in figure 1 on the
following page.


In some extreme
circumstances, standard repertoire from the choral canon will even be taught by
rote. This way it is accessible to singers that might not have the means
otherwise to be exposed to Western classical music.





























Figure 1: Example of Solfège notation under


is obvious that choral singing creates an adhesive that binds people together
no matter what their race, mother tongue, age or social status. Through choral
singing, a multicultural society is slowly being united and through this,
students rely on each other for support, advice, and friendship and they share
their beliefs, striving towards a united country. This is enculturation at its

has been illuminating by the discussion that even though South Africa has been
run by a democratic government for almost twenty-four years now, it is still
facing issues if inequality that manifests itself even in education. Fortunately,
teachers utilize many ways of teaching to expose students to the rich cultural
heritage that South Africa has.

possible recommendation for further research is to see how the public-school
system in South Africa compares with the private school system. What is
included or excluded in the curriculum and why? Does enculturation,
transmission and education live differently in the private schooling system
than in the public schooling system and why?





Total word count: 1927





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