Return to Eternal Echoes

This article, written by John Woodland, was originally published in the August 2023 edition of Fine Music Radio’s Opus Newsletter.

Fine Music Radio and local choral collective VOX Cape Town have much in common – including four musician-broadcasters who can be heard on both the stage and the air. I was interested in exploring the musical motifs that bind FMR and VOX together.

FMR’s three other “voices of VOX” – Dirk Binneman, Lesley Jennings and Kyle Paulssen – are represented across the station’s broadcasting schedule, from the specialist evening programmes (Collage, Music Among Friends and Symphony at Seven) to Saturday Matinee (Dirk) and Sunday morning’s Reflections (Lesley). Appropriately, Lesley and I used to share presentations of Simply Choral before it evolved into The Choral Life!

Although VOX, born in 2015, is a youngster compared with 28-year-old FMR (although we do share the same birthday month!) we all have a lengthy history with our favourite radio station. Lesley was asked to help out in 2005 when James Patrick had to go overseas and someone was needed to step in for Winding Down, as the Classic Drive was then known. Lesley remembers that time. “There was no formal training other than sitting with James for six consecutive Tuesdays, literally learning to drive from the passenger seat! Once he’d gone, I found it adrenaline-pumping stuff, even though dear Wesley held my hand for the first two weeks.”

Kyle’s involvement, meanwhile, started a decade ago while he was at university, having become intrigued by the stories behind the music. He wanted to present those stories in interesting ways for new listeners who, like himself, didn’t have a background in classical music. Dirk jokes that he started broadcasting 20 years ago after “feeling guilty” about being a listener but not a member, and so volunteering with FMR allowed him to give back by sharing his love for classical music!

Our collective experiences in choral music go back even further. Lesley grew up in a musical family; her mother was a professional pianist, choral trainer and music educator and her father was a baritone. “Family singing (including two sisters) was part of our routine, and I very quickly learned how to listen, harmonise and sing whichever part was allocated to me.” Lesley was subsequently a founder member of several choirs in the Mother City, including the St George’s Singers with Barry Smith, the six-part True Voices and our own VOX.

Kyle is also a founder member of VOX and coordinates our performance logistics. He started his choral singing career under Barry Smith as well – and although the most recent one of us to join the singing world, he loves how he has grown musically over the past decade. Dirk has sung in many university choirs, from the Free State to Stellenbosch, and has also been on stage with the CAPAB and Cape Town Opera choruses. We were very pleased to welcome him to VOX earlier this year as one of our newest recruits.

What is it that brought this trio of presenters to VOX? Perhaps it is the musical vision of VOX, which is a little different from other choirs: we enjoy singing seldom-heard music in unconventional spaces. “People also expect a lot more from a performance these days,” Kyle says. “We have to compete for their attention against television, movies, video games and theatre productions that are getting bigger and better. We like to enhance our listening experience with extra-musical elements such as atmospheric lighting and interesting projections or by offering drinks that are linked to the music we are singing – such as steaming glühwein when we took our listeners on a musical voyage to the northern lights.”

What do singing in a choir and broadcasting have in common? For Dirk, besides the obvious answer of the voice (“No, that is a joke!” he confesses), it is all about the wonder of sound, telling a story and engaging your audience – “making our listeners feel and think”. Lesley emphasises the importance of listening as a fundamental requirement of both ensemble singing and broadcasting; for the latter, a presenter needs to “select music with a listener’s ear”. Kyle adds that, although radio can be a solitary medium relying on the “theatre of the mind”, live choral music is about teamwork and enriching the senses beyond the ears. “My programmes are a bit like our VOX performances in the sense that I plan both a playlist and a script so that listeners leave with a cohesive memory of something that was special for them.”

You can experience one of our immersive VOX recitals yourself on 12 August at 8 pm. Entitled Eternal Echoes, this concert comprises a programme of exquisite choral music ranging from the sonorous textures of the Vespers by Rachmaninov to masterpieces by Tchaikovsky, Sir John Tavener and William Byrd. The spacious grandeur of the Memorial Chapel at Bishops will be illuminated with candlelight, and we will be joining forces with the Johannesburg-based Chanticleer Singers and Richard Cock.

When asked what she is most looking forward to about our next performance, Lesley replies, “The rich sounds of the Vespers in that building and the privilege of having the Chanticleer Singers and Richard Cock with us.” For Dirk, “Oh, the music! The most sumptuous and meticulously curated pieces.” And Kyle promises that “you will not leave without having your heart and soul touched”!

Like FMR, VOX is a community organisation that supports and promotes the world’s most beautiful classical music. And while VOX does this in person, FMR reaches much larger audiences via the airwaves – meaning that our beloved station also plays an important role when VOX advertises its performances.

These are some of the musical themes that bring FMR and VOX together. Above all, it is surely the love of beautiful music and the privilege of sharing it with diverse audiences – and providing meaningful moments for them (and us) to pause and listen deeply… Moments that are best shared with the finest of friends.

Standing (L to R) John Woodland, Dirk Binneman
Sitting (L to R) Kyle Paulssen, Lesley Jennings