Music

Palm Sunday concert on as choir praises behind face shields

STPAULSB

St. Paul's Choir during a rehearsal led by it's director Richard Njoroge at the chapel along University Way. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • The spirit of Easter is immortalised in some of the greatest classical works of all time and celebrated with performances of music pieces that are associated with the sacred story of this religious festival.
  • As the Holy Week begins, one of Kenya’s most accomplished choral ensembles accompanied by a complete orchestra will perform a powerful classical piece this Palm Sunday.
  • St Paul’s Chapel Choir and the Nairobi Orchestra will perform “Missa Sancti Bernardi von Offida” also known by the German title of “Heiligmesse” by Austrian composer of the Classical era, Joseph Haydn.

The spirit of Easter is immortalised in some of the greatest classical works of all time and celebrated with performances of music pieces that are associated with the sacred story of this religious festival.

As the Holy Week begins, one of Kenya’s most accomplished choral ensembles accompanied by a complete orchestra will perform a powerful classical piece this Palm Sunday.

St Paul’s Chapel Choir and the Nairobi Orchestra will perform “Missa Sancti Bernardi von Offida” also known by the German title of “Heiligmesse” by Austrian composer of the Classical era, Joseph Haydn.

The widely admired work was written in 1796 in honour of St Bernard of Offida, a monk who devoted himself to helping the poor and was beatified a century after his death by Pope Pius VI.

St Paul’s Chapel Choir director Richard Njoroge explains that each Easter the choir alternates between a musical Mass based on the church liturgy and a Passion (marking the short final period in the life of Jesus).

Last year, the Covid-19 pandemic put hold the Easter practice and the choir has been preparing for the performance since January, differently.

The pandemic has transformed the way the choir and orchestra carry out their rehearsals as members are sent the musical scores and instrumental files to rehearse on their own and then meet once a week.

“The singers have also been working in groups so that those that have learned faster can act as mentors and help the others catch up,” says Mr Njoroge.

Even during those rehearsals, the sitting arrangement respects the social-distancing rules of 1.5 meters between the members.

Mr Njoroge says the team has adapted to singing with their face masks on. “A singer is like an athlete and needs to breathe freely which was initially a big challenge but the members have gradually adapted.”

The concert conductor Levi Wataka insisted that the choir and orchestra should also wear visors to shield their faces. “They look like characters out of a science fiction movie,” jokes Mr Wataka.

He says that the wind instruments could pose a danger due to airborne transmission of Covid-19 so every effort has been taken to keep everyone safe.

Mr Wataka who also teaches music and rugby at Peponi School says that his experience working with children means that it is instinctual for him to think health and safety first, then work.


The choir consists 30 singers accompanied by a full orchestra consisting a string section, woodwinds, brass and percussion.

Mr Wataka says the concert has attracted some of the top classical musicians in Nairobi who have not had an opportunity to play in a full ensemble since the beginning of the pandemic. These include accomplished players like violinists David Ralak, Ken Mwiti and Grace Muriithi, one of the country's most experienced classical percussionists. The orchestra will also feature guest cellist Christian Pfeiderer, a German who is based in Tanzania and has played with ensembles around East Africa.

“This has been a tough period for musicians, but music is encouraging and spiritually uplifting,” says Mr Wataka. “Covid-19 has driven people apart but this is a chance to show that we are resilient,” says Mr Wataka.

“This piece was written to be performed in a cathedral so we have to get the right combination of voice and instruments to give its proper resonance,” he adds.

This concert marks a personal milestone for Mr Wataka because his first ever classical performance was at St Paul’s more than two decades ago during a performance of the “Crucifixion” and as fate would have it that piece on the performance programme of this concert. “I am honoured to be back here leading a group that has watched me grow.”

The concert curtain raisers include a performance of “Va pensiero” also known as the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from the opera “Nabucco” composed by Giuseppe Verdi and the hymn “All for Jesus, All for Jesus” originally written as the closing chorus for “The Crucifixion” by John Stainer.

The choir will also add an Africa flavour with “Matsai Ka Yesu” a popular worship song from the Maragoli community in Western Kenya.