‘Good morning’, the little prince responded.
for mixed double chorus, a capella
set bilingually on a text from ‘The little Prince’ by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
(Commissioned by the SAMRO Endowment for the National Arts for performance during the ‘New Music Indaba’ at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival 2001 by Musicatreize, Marseille and the University of Pretoria Chorale)
The main challenge in writing a piece for a combined performance of such distinctly diverse ensembles as Musicatreize (Marseille) and the UP Chorale (an African choir from Pretoria) seemed to me to acknowledge and meaningfully use the given diversity.
The differences are numerous and obvious:
The ensembles represent two vastly diverse musical cultures, with regard to voice production, singing style, sense of intonation, perception of time, rhythmic feeling etc. As it were all musical parameters arguably follow distinctly diverging paradigms of musical expression. Furthermore the different native languages already imply different pronunciations, sound inflections and voice colours. Last not least both choirs work with different notation systems (conventional stave notation as opposed to solfeggio) each respectively pertaining certain limitations as well as varying degrees of interpretative freedom.
Impossible, to ignore all this: Not only would it be disrespectful towards both traditions but would miss out on what is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this opportunity: to juxtapose and relate the differences in order to achieve a complexly differentiated mode of expression.
Saint- Exupéry’s famous encounter of the little prince and the fox gives an ideal backdrop for this constellation. Besides relating a spiritual truth about the process of approach and recognition (and most charmingly at that), it metaphorically depicts the actual performance situation as well as the occurring musical process. It is the tale of two strangers, who, however foreign their worlds, wish to communicate, to bridge the gap, even to become friends.
The score intends that the part of the fox is sung in French and in an European idiom (with European voices) and that of the little prince by (black) Africans in English, or even better translated into an African language and obviously in an African style of singing. In the course of the piece – as the mutual understanding grows – each side picks up some influences from the other, for instance ostinati make their appearance in the European part, while harmonic modulations feature in the African parts. However, as there remains a respectful regard for the distinct positions allowing both sides to remain true to themselves, these influences or assimilations are enriching – adding to each other’s scope and mode of expression, without threatening either side’s identity.
Needless to say how much I wish that this sort of differentiated communication would happen more widely in the New South Africa…