Concert review: NOCCA season ends in a melding of cultures


Members of Kokopelli, University of Pretoria Youth Choir and Okanagan Indian Band Cultural Immersion School Choir mingle in the Marie Fleming Room at the Performing Arts Centre before their concert — image credit: Christine Pilgrim

Below is a review of the fabulous final concert of NOCCA’s 2015/16 season. Don’t forget you can now reserve your seats and subscribe to the upcoming 2016/17 season “A Grand Year to Hear” at

Review published on April 29th, 2016 by  Christine Pilgrim – Vernon Morning Star

There aren’t enough superlatives in English to describe the North Okanagan Community Concert Association’s offering of African music. So, in Zulu: hle kakhulu!

Three youth choirs, numbering almost 150 members in total, graced the Performing Arts Centre stage and, as one audience member observed, “Every face was beautiful,” in creating a rainbowed feast of united energy, rhythm and song.

It’s rare to see a standing ovation halfway through a program but that’s what we saw when the University of Pretoria Youth Choir  (UPYC) performed We Dance from the musical Once on This Island.

The song tells of the conflict between landowners and peasants who come together through dance because “if the gods move our feet, we dance.”

The gods surely moved UPYC’s feet, and their voices, regardless of which language they used.

It’s also rare to hear applause for an introduction. That, too, was the case when visionary UPYC choir director, Lhente-Mari Pitout, spoke of her South African “born free generation,” choir members who are “at peace with each other in the realization that we are all connected with the same spirit.”

Pitout went on to state what is possible if we forgive.

She rehearses with students from 36 different South African high schools for several hours once a week. The result was an ocean of music and movement that gratified the soul.

We tasted Africa’s sunshine and smelled its warm rain, while Pitout spoke of the choir’s wonder at the still lingering snow at Silver Star.

She thanked Kokopelli Youth Choir’s founder and artistic director, Scott Leithead, for sponsoring UPYC and countless other African choirs over the past 20 years.

Among those choirs was one from Namibia. Its soloist, Nelson Nagenda, was featured in Kokopelli’s outstanding opening segment.

His voice blended sublimely with the young man’s mature interpretation in both the Zulu gospel prayer, Phind’ukhulume, and the North American hit, It’s Almost Like Being in Love, sung back in the 1940s by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland and, later, Gene Kelly in the filmBrigadoon.

But none touched Nagenda’s style nor that of the 11 Kokopelli members who accompanied him, vocally creating musical instruments, percussion and harmonies.

Perhaps it’s unjust to single out favourites. The whole was equal to the sum of its parts, and that sum was beyond measure.

It included pint-sized members of the Okanagan Indian Band Cultural Immersion School’s choir, who gave a prayer and welcome song in the Syilx language. And they observed elder Madeline Gregoire’s instruction before the show, to remember they were not there for themselves.

All three choirs performed “off book.” The resulting freedom of movement and expression paid huge dividends, particularly for UPYC and Kokopelli. Simple but effective choreography, steeped in the essence of Africa, prompted another audience member to say, “It makes you want to go there.”

If unable to do so, we were at least blessed to experience some of the finest choral music produced anywhere.

– Christine Pilgrim is a freelance writer who reviews the North Okanagan Community Concert Association series for The Morning Star.

Reserve your seats and subscribe to the upcoming 2016/17 season “A Grand Year to Hear” at