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Artists in Focus: Casper Hoffmann and Aiden Kempf Reflecting on Their Musical Journey to Africa

By: Julian Duvivier ‘22, Arts and Technology Reporter 10-29-18

There are few things as universal as music. One could venture to any nation and discover a meaningful song. This was the experience of Aiden Kempf ‘21 and Casper Hoffmann ‘21, who tell the story of their musical journey to South Africa. They traveled to there this summer with the Keystone State Boychoir and its counterpart, the Pennsylvania Girlchoir.

Casper has been singing with the choir for five years, and Aiden for four. Neither of the gentlemen had traveled to Africa prior to this trip, though Aiden had gone abroad with the choir to both South America and Europe. Casper and Aiden’s journey began when they flew into the Cape Town via a connecting flight from Frankfurt Germany. Here, the choir, a group of 93 boys and girls, stayed and sang. For them, music was everywhere. They sang in the airport, on the street, and to the wait staff of the restaurants at which they dined. Casper puts it best when he says, “We sang every day. We would finish a song, walk a few feet and begin another.” Casper and Aiden’s first formal performance was with the Tygerberg Kinderkoor, a South African children’s choir. The duo concluded their time in Cape Town with a journey to one of the southernmost points in Africa, the Cape of Good Hope. They took that trip on Casper’s birthday. Casper reflects, “That day we went to the Cape of Good Hope, where we sang. It was amazing spending my birthday at the southernmost point that I will ever reach.”

From Cape Town, the singers travelled to Johannesburg by train, and from there to Soweto. In Soweto, they again meandered from place to place, always singing. Aiden mentions their path was dictated by the whims of their director: “Our choir director is very spontaneous, so we sang at many unplanned spots. He knew a local group and rearranged one of our days around them.” The group also met a local conductor who had come to the States and knew Mr. Fisher from a workshop on African music they attended together.

As a contrast to their typical Western repertoire, the choir enjoyed learning and performing a plethora of South African songs, which Casper and Aiden describe as quite different from our American tunes. Firstly, contrary to the standard of music elsewhere, the melody of these tunes is held in the bass instead of the alto. As Casper explains, “What's cool about South African music is that the basses are the ones who have the melody, while the higher parts build off of the basses.” Additionally, much of South African music is passed down by oral tradition. This means that, though the lyrics are preserved, the melody often is subject to great variation. Despite this, the people to whom the choir sang would always join them in whatever song they were singing, creating one beautiful, united, cross-cultural voice.

Casper and Aiden felt so embraced and welcomed by the communities they encountered when travelling across South Africa. In fact, they were so at home, they decided to cancel their long-awaited appearance at the highly competitive South African 2018 World Choir Games to spend more time with the people of Soweto. Casper recalls their decision to stay in Soweto as opposed to attending the choir event: “Because [we stayed] we got to experience much South African culture.” The two choirs did, however, end up visiting the World Choir Games later, as a surprise visit, to meet and sing with the Lesedi Show Choir, arranged by their director.

Finally, their trip brought them a few hours east to the small town of Hazyview in Kruger National Park. They traveled the park, embracing the natural beauty while continuing to sing at every chance they could get. On safari, they saw wildlife so dissimilar to that which lives in the rest of the world. They describe waking up at four in the morning to watch the sunrise as they drove. Finally, it was time for Casper and Aiden to wave goodbye to this country that had welcomed them with song and open arms. In their final reflections, they reiterated their sense of community, or Ubuntu, as Aiden explains, “Everyone would welcome you into their house and give you what they had.”

Casper and Aiden both feel that they will remember this experience in a hundred forms and for the rest of their lives. Whether it be the culture, the community, the wildlife, or the music, every element brought a lifetime of experience. Their trip was certainly unique and couldn’t have happened without their choir. They both encourage people to join for the travel, the community, and, of course, the music. As Aiden describes, “It’s lots of work, but if you love singing, because of what you do and where you go in the world, it is life changing.”

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