University of Johannesburg Choir

University of Johannesburg logo

University of Johannesburg Choir

University of Johannesburg Choir, UJ Choir was formed in 2005 by the amalgamation of two former Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit choirs, one singing western music, the other African music.

Chris Avant-Smith, the production manager of UJ Arts and the UJ Choir, says he believes the secret of the success of the UJ Choir is the perfect blending of African and western voices. “African voices are more free-flowing. [Bouwer] has been able to take the western voices and give them the African feel, and vice versa, a bit like mixing classical ballet with modern dancing.”

Bouwer has been choir conductor at UJ since 1998.

The 48-member choir recorded an African music selection CD, called The Sounds of the Rainbow, its fifth CD, prior to its departure

Against great odds, the UJ choir went from almost only white to completely integrated – and globally recognised – in a few years. For these 63 talented people both African and Western music is home, a beautiful diverse comfort zone. Singing together, the UJ choir members build bridges between the cultures in South Africa.

In 2005, the year of the academic merger, the UJ choirmaster’s worst nightmare came true. For years she had trained the almost all-white RAU Choir to sing mostly Western music. At the time another choir associated with the university, the RAU Chorale, sang mostly African music.

The thinking was then, and still is, that a choir can sing either Western or African music well, but not both. It is impossible to coach a truly African and truly Western sound out of the same people, said academics and lay people alike, citing lots of technical musical problems. One would end up with a sound that would never blend really smoothly, went the reasoning.

Then came the bombshell.

“Would you be prepared to merge the two choirs?,” asked her boss, Rita van den Heever, the Cultural Officer.

Choirmaster Renette Bouwer, well known as a conductor of choirs winning international competitions and a solo singer herself, was faced with a dilemma.