Priest: Why I Sang At Bishop Mvemve’s Funeral
He never planned on singing at Bishop Zithulele Patrick Mvemve’s funeral, but when Fr Lawrence Mduduzi Ndlovu noticed that a pianist had been arranged but there were no singers, he decided to sing for the man who was so important to him growing up and in his vocation journey.
Having just recovered from Covid-19, Fr Ndlovu knew that his chest and voice were not in the best shape, but he cherished the late bishop of Klerksdorp, and wanted his send-off in Johannesburg’s Christ the King cathedral to be special.
“When I arrived I noticed that a pianist was arranged — but there were no singers. So I stood up and went to the pianist” to offer vocal accompaniment, said Fr Ndlovu.
“We rehearsed 20 minutes before the Requiem Mass. I wish we’d had more time because I had not done any vocal exercises or maybe looked at the music properly,” said the parish priest of Our Lady of Peace church in Roodepoort.
He sang anyway and led the music at the Mass.
“As I sang, I kept on thinking to myself that my breathing is not too good and my low notes are not good and my high notes are shaky and sometimes flat. But I had to continue so that Bishop Mvemve’s funeral may receive the solemnity it deserved,” he said.
Fr Ndlovu has been singing all his life, starting in primary school.
“My family, and especially my grandmother, sang all the time, every day. So we sang at home,” he recalled.
“When I was about age 13, if not younger, I joined the youth choir in my home parish at St Margaret’s in Diepkloof. He would later conduct that choir for more than ten years.”
Growing up in Soweto in those days was a musical feast, the priest said. “There were choir festivals, competitions, concerts etc. Choral music was and is our greatest love. I have fond memories of attending the Mass Choir Festival with my grandmother as well.”
Later he sang in the choir of St John Vianney Seminary in Pretoria, and was house music conductor at some point.
When asked what music he loves, Fr Ndlovu said: “I am a great fan of choral music because that’s where I participated and sang for many years. I love classical music and opera.” He was friends with the late American soprano Jessye Norman, who wrote the foreword to his 2018 poetry anthology, In Quiet Realm.
His favourite South African composer is Prof Mzilikazi Khumalo. “His work is almost the soundtrack of my childhood. I also love Richard Wagner. He was a genius.”
If Fr Ndlovu wants to kickstart his creative process before he writes or has a big speech or talk to give, he listens to the German composer Richard Strauss (1864-1949), especially his four last songs. “They are absolutely transcendent,” he said.
He also loves sacred music like Gregorian chant and some of the Mass settings, such as that dedicated to St Anne.
“I consume everything musically. I believe in what the jazz musician Duke Ellington had to say: ‘There are only two kinds of music: good music or bad music,’” Fr Ndlovu said.
For him, “the human voice is the best musical instrument ever”.
“I love to hear different voices. I love that no voice is the same. I spend a lot of days listening to Jessye
Norman, Leontyne Price, Monserrat Caballe, Sibongile Khumalo and many other singers,” he said.
Fr Ndlovu also enjoys singing hymns and other songs from his childhood.
“I love the structure in hymns and I think hymn-like music is suitable for my voice because my voice is classical-ish; so it is most suitable for formal music—although I am not classically trained and my reading of music is very rudimentary,” he explained.
People have always asked him to record a CD, but according to Fr Ndlovu, he’s never been one to do a half-baked job.
“I have always been put off by the fact that I would have to promote the CD and have concerts and the like, and I just don’t have the time because of the work I do as a priest, lecturer, writer, poet and speaker, with parish work taking most if not all the time,” he said.
But after his bout with Covid-19, “I feel differently about it and am now open to doing it,” he said.
With a twinkle in his eye, Fr Ndlovu added: “Those in the music business should get in touch with me before I change my mind.”