ComArt marks fond farewell to Prof Virginia Davids
Christine Skinner11/24/2016 08:28:34
Professor Virginia Davids hands over baton as musical director of ComArt Choristers at Elsies River on Sunday, December 4.
Co-founder of Elsies River NPO ComArt, and musical director of the ComArt Choristers since 1998, Professor Virginia Davids is marking the end of an era and handing over her baton to long-standing ComArt member Andre Thomas.
The forthcoming ComArt Festival of Carols on Sunday 4 December will be Mr Thomas’ first concert at the helm of the ComArt Choristers following Professor Davids’ recent departure. Virginia has since taken on the role as musical advisor and patron of the Choristers.
“Virginia has made a significant contribution to the local community by founding ComArt and during her tenure as musical director of the ComArt Choristers,” says John Davids, fellow co-founder and executive director of ComArt. “With her work at ComArt, she has not only helped keep choral music alive in Elsies River, but, through her belief of music being central to human life, and her commitment to addressing the inequalities of our past, she had dedicated herself to unlocking the potential of community members and creating a celebration of heritage, identity and building self-esteem.”
“Despite the extensive acclaim, she has received locally and internationally in her professional career as an opera singer, music academic and singing teacher whose students perform at the world’s best opera houses, Virginia remains approachable, down-to-earth and always has a sense of fun,” adds David Sylvester, chairperson of the ComArt board.
Under Professor Davids’ direction, both the adult choir and youth vocal ensemble, Lady Cape Town, have made a critical contribution to the preservation of choral music in Elsies River. Between them, they have performed extensively at venues such as Artscape, City Hall and the Baxter and participated in a concert for President Thabo Mbeki, Bill Gates and former US President Bill Clinton. They have produced a CD, hosted international choral groups, formed the chorus of Thomas Rajna’s South African premiere of the opera Valley Song and performed Sibisi’s Zulu Mass at St George’s Cathedral.
“The past eighteen years have been an incredible journey and I have had the chance to meet some wonderful people,” says Professor Davids. “Andre is passionate about music and committed to investing in his community and I know I am leaving the ComArt Choir in perfect hands.”
“Professor Davids has nurtured and inspired many choir members, and I am honoured to be taking over the reigns as Musical Director of the ComArt Choir. I'm thankful for having this calling as a conductor and the chance to work with this prestigious choir,” says Mr Thomas. “Professor and Mr Davids have done fantastic work and I am looking forward to continuing their legacy, maintaining the high standard and going from strength to strength.”
Mr Thomas started singing when he was a young boy in the school choir at Eurecon Primary School in Elsies River, Cape Town. He later joined the prestigious ERUB (Elsies River, Ravensmead, Uitsig, Belhar) Children's Choir directed by Ross van Zitters, and went on to study music at the SA College of Music at UCT. He joined ComArt accompanying the children's choir with his sister Arlene Thomas who was choir director at the time and continued to participate in many of their youth development initiatives. Mr Thomas has also studied choir conducting with Hennie Loock, conductor of the Tygerberg Children's Choir and studied vocal techniques and choir conducting with Dr Brad Liebl and Professor Sidwill Hartman, his mentor and voice teacher.
ComArt is an NPO based in Elsies River providing access to creative and performance arts training and resources as vehicle to promote community growth, development and nation building. In addition to the ComArt Choristers, its initiatives over the years have encompassed choral and vocal training and performances; youth development programmes; instrumental music as well as dance and visual arts training as part of Musedi and Elsies Youth Arts Collective; cultural heritage and wellness activities, and international exchange projects.
The ComArt Choristers meet every Monday evening. For information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
ComArt’s Festival of Carols will be presented on Sunday 4 December at 4pm at the Evangelical Lutheran Church, 35th Street Elsies River. Security will be in attendance. Tickets cost R50 each and are available at the door, or through ComArt on email@example.com
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Organisation overview and profile
Established in 1997 by Professor Virginia and John Davids, ComArt is a registered non-profit organisation (NPO) that provides access to arts training and resources as means to promote community growth, development and nation building. The organisation is based in Elsies River, an area of high unemployment, severe socio-economic challenges as well as limited access to arts and resources. ComArt works with other community organisations as well as local and international strategic partners to present sustainable access to a range of skills development activities in the Elsies River community and beyond.
These initiatives have encompassed choral and vocal training and performances; youth development programmes; music instrumental training; dance classes; cultural heritage initiatives; international exchange programmes, four youth theatre productions, and the Elsies Youth Arts Collective, a project aimed at establishing an extra-mural, broad-based arts, culture and creative collective with learners from primary schools in Elsies River, supported by the WCED District North, Artscape, SA Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO), Tygerberg Art Centre, Cape300Foundation and the SA College of Music at UCT.
Under the direction of Professor Virginia Davids, the ComArt adult and youth Choirs have made a critical contribution to the preservation of choral music in the Mother City, and the Choristers have been invited to perform extensively around the Cape and provincially. Their Festival of Carols concert is a popular fixture on the festive season calendar.
In April 2016, Professor Davids handed over the baton of Musical Director of the ComArt Choristers to longstanding ComArt associate, Andre Thomas. Future plans for ComArt include the continued work of the ComArt Choristers, providing a service to the community of Elsies River, as well as performing across the Cape and at popular annual events such as ComArt’s Festival of Carols. Furthermore, ComArt’s strategic repositioning also includes identifying partners and opportunities to offer different skills training and services in the digital space and musical digital technology space in particular aimed at in-school youth.
ComArt’s footprint includes:
- ComArt Choirs: Under the direction of eminent professor and soprano, Virginia Davids, both the adult choir and youth vocal ensemble, Lady Cape Town trained by Janel Speelman, made a critical contribution to the preservation of choral music in Elsies River. Between them, they have performed extensively at venues such as Artscape, City Hall and Baxter Theatre and participated in a concert for President Thabo Mbeki, Bill Gates and former US President Bill Clinton. The Choristers have among others produced a CD, hosted international choral groups, formed the chorus of Thomas Rajna’s South African premiere of the opera Valley Song and performed Sibisi’sZulu Mass at St George’s Cathedral. Major works performed with orchestra include Faure’s Requiem Mass, Gounod’s St Cecelia Mass and Rutter’s,Feel the Spirit. Highlights of the youth vocal ensemble include staging an original music theatre production, Shapes of Me at Artscape and featuring in the recording for the international ARTE TV, The Great Voices of South Africa. Both choirs also participated in the millennium celebrations 1999-2000 as part of the VLAM I project, a collaboration between Jazzart and SEA from Australia.
- Elsies Youth Arts Collective: An extra-mural project initiated in 2011 with the aim of establishing a broad-based arts, culture and creative collective with learners from schools in Elsies River supported by the WCED District North, SA College of Music at UCT and ArtsCape. The inaugural showcase in October 2012 featured more than one hundred learners from nine primary schools in choral and instrumental music as well as dance. In 2013 and 2014, the EYAC culminated in a showcase on stage at Artscape Theatre featuring more than 350 learners, including a visual arts display. The 2014 production was part of Artscape’s 20 years of democracy celebrations honouring ComArt, together with various other community-based arts and culture organisations for outstanding service in the community.
- Festival of Carols: Since being initiated in December 1998 this event has become a hallmark feature on the community calendar; the perfect setting for families and friends to gather and share in an uplifting musical experience. Presented in collaboration with one of our local Xmas Bands, the event not only captures, but also keeps alive the essence of how we best express our identities and share cultural experiences over the festive season. Part of the proceeds of the festival is donated to local charities and senior citizens are given complimentary tickets.
- Musedi: An extra-mural instrumental, choral and music literacy programme which was primarily for in-school children and youth. In instrumental music the focus was primarily on strings in collaboration with local Christmas bands supported by the SA College of Music at UCT. Children hired instruments from the Musedi Instrument Bank and learners entered for external exams at accredited examining bodies. Over time a youth vocal ensemble developed, staging a vibrant new music theatre work Shapes of Me at Artscape in collaboration with the Austrian Consulate General in 2009 and in March 2010 participated in an international music recording The Great Voices of South Africa for Arte TV in Europe to name but a few. They re-invented themselves as an all-female ensemble Lady Cape Town and regularly performed at the Artscape Youth Festival ensuring that Elsies River features on a public platform.
- Wellness: Line-dancing and yoga were presented twice every week at the Multi-Purpose Centre, primarily for adults of all ages.
- Cultural heritage: Cultural heritage is woven into the life of ComArt because of it being such an integral part of our identity and social fabric. Projects include memory development through storytelling; creative writing; oral history; indigenous music; historical site tours; photographic archiving; cultural photography. Programmes have included working with the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s Memory Project, Songs worth singing (2007) and the Living Legends oral history and photographic exhibition at District Six Museum. Heritage month celebrations have been done since 2005. In 2010 the annual Heritage Festival being of a more communal nature has been initiated in collaboration with the District Six Museum. The festival included a series of events involving local community institutions, also featuring high profile personalities in the arts & culture industry that hail from Elsies River. Community Dialogues was a new initiative in collaboration with the Elsies River library focusing on youth with the theme, Ons Kom Vandaan facilitated by Diana Ferrus.
- Youth development and international initiatives: Youth development programmes included e.g. life skills; IT resources; creative writing; leadership capacity building; career guidance; educational and theatre excursions. In 2005 we were introduced to the visiting Wren Music Hocus youth group from the UK by Artscape. This resulted in a youth cultural exchange project Leap Boundaries with a group of ComArt youth going to Wren Music in Devon, England in 2008. The second leg of the exchange project was completed with us hosting Wren Music’s Roots Exchange group in August 2011. Another project was with William Rasdell, a cultural photographer from Indianapolis, US conducting photographic workshops with Elsies River youth. The outcome of the project My City, My World was a digital cyber-exchange with his “Indy Kidz” and our “Elsies Kidz”. A creative writing project with the Western Cape Language Committee was successfully completed and triggered phase 1 of the Elsies Living Heritage project, which culminated in a photographic and oral history display at the District Six Museum. The Spanish Dance project, discontinued due to the lack of a suitable venue, enabled five young people to matriculate with dance as a subject. They then joined La Rosa Spanish Dance Theatre, qualified as dance teachers and were employed by La Rosa. Furthermore, we have hosted many international bands e.g. Brass Band Schoonhofen and choirs, e.g. Sharing a New Song (SANS) Choir from Boston, USA over the years.
- Stage productions and performances: Regular performances take place throughout the year at venues in Elsies River and in the broader environment. Several youth theatre productions have already been staged including Wa Was Djy (cultural heritage), Sentenced for Life-Living with Death (HIV Aids, a human rights production supported by the WCED Safe Schools) and Shapes of Me, in collaboration with Artscape and the Austrian Consulate General. The Choristers also present an annual benefit concert, the Festival of Carols, in aid of local charities, a cantata over the Easter period as well as a mid-year concert entitled, Music from the Musicals that features selections of a lighter nature. In addition, ComArt organises regular theatre excursions, mainly in collaboration with Baxter Theatre and Artscape.
Current donors include: National Lotteries Board and ComArt Club 100.
Past donors include: SA Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO), Music is a Great Investment (MIAGI) and Cape300Foundation.
Supporting institutions: Artscape, SA College of Music at UCT, Tygerberg Art Centre, District Six Museum, Elsies River Library, and the WCED District North as well as local schools.
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