“We sing to touch hearts”: Choral musical culture in Pretoria East, South Africa

Sarah J. Bartolome*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to explore the culture of choral singing among children and youth in Pretoria East, South Africa. The philosophical underpinnings of the choirs, the roles of choirs within local and national communities, and the perceived values and benefits of participation were examined. This collective case study required the integration of standard ethnographic strategies employed over the course of a month-long period of fieldwork and two shorter follow-up visits. I observed approximately 40 hours of rehearsal and 25 hours of performance, focusing on five choirs in and around the University of Pretoria. I also conducted 22 semi-structured interviews with choristers, directors, staff members, and parents. Participants identified a philosophy of “message bearing” as the primary goal of choral performance. Innovation and diversity in programming and competition were additional emergent themes related to this philosophy. Choirs were found to have multiple roles, including recruiting and marketing, promoting diverse South African musical cultures, and cultivating a national, South African identity. Participants described a wide range of musical, social, educational, and personal benefits associated with participation, with choristers most commonly alluding to choir as a means of “relaxing.” Choir emerged as a source of bridging social capital, encouraging cooperation among participants from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds, promoting intercultural understanding and trust, and cultivating a broadened sense of national South African identity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-285
Number of pages21
JournalResearch Studies in Music Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


  • South African choir
  • bridging social capital
  • choral and national identity
  • choral culture
  • music participation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Music


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