It was the pure and angelic sounds of unbroken voices at the Drakensberg Boys Choir concert that triggered Lionel van Zyl’s love of children’s voices.
Fifty years on, Van Zyl, of Summerstrand, still has a deep fascination with these angelic voices – a good thing for a man who has been the conductor of the Eastern Cape Children’s Choir (ECCC) for three decades.
“When I heard that first chord of Heilig Ist Der Herr by Franz Schubert, my eyes filled with tears and it was the most beautiful sound that I have ever heard,” he said.
“When they opened their mouths, it was an emotional experience – like love at first sight and I knew that this [conducting] is what I wanted to do.”
Although Van Zyl holds a master’s degree in music from NMMU, his musical journey truly began when he was asked to conduct the De Villiers Graaff High School hostel choir in Villiersdorp for a competition.
“When I arrived at the school, I told the principal that I didn’t want to be involved in any choir work because I know how disorganised it can get. You can imagine how reluctant I was when they asked,” he said.
This was turned around when Van Zyl began working with the young male sopranos and altos and was moved by the sound.
After two years of directing the De Villiers Graaff High School choir, he joined the Drakensberg Boys Choir as conductor and later moved to the then-small Eastern Cape Children’s Choir while he lectured at NMMU.
“After working with a well-known choir in the country for 10 years I was reluctant to work with a smaller and less wellknown choir but, because I had the time, I thought why not?”
With his experience with choirs and in-depth knowledge of music, Van Zyl took the ECCC to new heights – with the choir now going on an international tour every two years.
The choir comprises more than 50 boys and girls aged from 12 to 14. A visit to Estonia, Europe, struck a nerve and Van Zyl established the Eastern Cape Junior Children’s Choir (ECJC) – a feeder choir – in 2008.
The feeder choir comprises more than 60 children between the ages of seven and 12. ECJC members are taught music, concentration and breathing, preparing them for the ECCC.
The ECJC is conducted by Hanlie Young. Van Zyl said the years he had spent with the choir had been wonderful.
“This is a journey that has taken me all over the world. It’s the best feeling in the world when I meet former ECCC members who say the one thing they left with is good musical taste,” the part-time NMMU music lecturer said.
The ECCC will perform alongside the Camerata Academica Orchestra from Freiburg, Germany, in the Feather Market Centre next Saturday at 5pm.
Tickets are available at Computicket.