The National Institute of Allied Arts (NIAA) 2015 Vocal and Instrumental Eisteddfod made March a month filled with delight for music lovers. It also packed at least the preceding two months with hours of feverish practice, rehearsal time and dedicated musical focus from children of all ages and all their teachers, too. The annual Eisteddfod is a highlight on our country’s musical calendar, and an important milestone for those of every age studying music in its many and varied forms. The genres for which there are entry categories for candidates are thoroughly diverse and have evolved with the times, incorporating a very wide range of the vocal and instrumental options.
There is something for everyone to enjoy, whether they are a performer or an audience member. For $10 you could buy a season ticket and attend any session – or pick and choose from $2 a single entry, while children and pensioners attend free. This event is held in multiple school venues, providing a feast of vocal and instrumental offerings. While parents, families and friends of budding young musicians account for many audience members, there is always an additional audience component from the general public.
The NIAA has a very long history. It set out back in 1913 in Bulawayo to ensure that the arts in this country had a platform and a motivational launching pad for children learning the musical, spoken, dramatic, visual and literary arts in their many forms. Its role has been pivotal and many thousands of children have climbed the ladder of competency, proficiency and creativity in their chosen art through its structures and systems. Many have gone on to make careers from their art, and all have developed a fondness for their chosen art form which lasts a lifetime, bringing them and their audiences pleasure, pride and recreation.
The NIAA, run by energetic volunteers, holds four festivals a year. The March Eisteddfod is the first, and in June and July we can look forward to the Visual Art, Speech and Drama, and Literary Festivals. This year’s Eisteddfod drew over 2,000 entrants from across the spectrum of vocal and instrumental genres. There are entry categories to cater for traditional African, Western classical and modern music of almost every kind, whether performed solo or by an ensemble, orchestra or choir. Annual highlights include the Marimba Challenge, which features the junior and senior marimba ensembles battling it out for the coveted trophies, the Vocal Challenge, at which the audience can enjoy some of the country’s most accomplished singers, and the Bands and Orchestras, on the last day of adjudication. This whole month of musical delights culminates in the exciting Final Concert and Awards, this year held on 28 March. In addition, a welcome innovation was the Junior Highlights Concert, added to the feast the following day. The Eisteddfod went out of the capital, too, holding a day of performances and adjudications for music students of all ages in both Bulawayo and Gweru.
International adjudicators who are musical professionals and experts in their fields are invited to Zimbabwe to assess our candidates. Musical director and pianist Ben Costello from the UK, who conducted Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana at HIFA 2010, made a welcome return to our country as an adjudicator, as did Anthony Caplan from Grahamstown, who also adjudicated at last year’s Eisteddfod. His colleague at Rhodes University, Boudina McConnachie, musician, educator and author of the recently published ‘Listen and Learn – Music Made Easy’, like her fellow adjudicators, won everyone’s hearts with her enthusiasm and the encouragement she gave to candidates and teachers alike. Eren Levendoglu, raised in Zimbabwe and herself a winner over the years of several Eisteddfod trophies, adjudicated the majority of the junior instrumentalists and singers under the age of 14, and provided them with much positive feedback and encouragement. All told – the 2015 Eisteddfod was another great success and an uplifting and delightful experience for all who went along to listen, watch and enjoy!