The combination all added up to the most amazing show, in which the children sang, often moving simultaneously, of the five carnivores of our region, namely the lion, leopard, hyena, painted dog and cheetah. This powerful combination of music, movement and conservation message, will stay with the young performers, the accompanists and audiences, etched indelibly in their minds — what better way to get an important environmental message across, than by singing, making music, having fun, and learning, all at the same time?
Protection of endangered species central to the song
The idea of a choral production was first proposed during the last Bulawayo Music Festival in 2010, for which Richard Sisson composed another amazing work, performed primarily by over 200 children, also with an environmental theme, The Mukamba Tree, about a real tree found in the Gwaai Forest, and based on the book by June Farquar of the same name.
Environmentalist Netty Purchase, inspired by this work, approached Sisson afterwards, and referring to St Saëns’ famous work, The Carnival of the Animals, an excerpt on the elephant from which had been performed by double bassist Leon Bosch at that festival, asked if he were aware of any such similar work having been written around an animal theme, since.
Netty proposed focusing on the carnivores, which are both misunderstood, and endangered, through being in constant conflict with man. Carnivore numbers have shrunk to a fraction of their former levels in the last 100 years, as a result of wholesale killing by people, yet their role in ecology is absolutely critical. The work aimed to shed light on these amazing creatures, promote better understanding, and overcome some of the fear they evoke in people, instead, creating both empathy and awe.
Soon, the details of the project were formulated, and included a nationwide competition to write some of the words, with entry sections for both adults and children. Words drawn from winning entries by Peggy Lundrum, Edgar Langeveldt and Jordan Edwards were later incorporated into the final work by Sisson, who completed most of the words himself. Enthusiastic sponsorship of the ambitious project was secured from the British Council, also much inspired by the idea.
St Saëns’ brilliant Carnival of the Animals, was actually performed in full at this year’s festival as part of the final orchestral concert, compèred by Sisson, and included in between the movements about different animals, his own hilariously funny rhymes, into which he had cleverly injected much local humour, which he had swiftly scribed earlier that day.