Deborah Wai Kapohe’s Musicians for the Sarjeant concert
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Deborah Wai Kapohe’s Musicians for the Sarjeant concert

Deborah Wai Kapohe’s Musicians for the Sarjeant concert

Deborah Wai Kapohe has long been a friend and supporter of the Sarjeant Gallery and the Sarjeant’s redevelopment project. In fact, she is the brains behind the very successful Musicians for the Sarjeant series of concerts held at the gallery which have raised significant funds for the redevelopment over the past four years. Two years ago Deborah relocated from Whanganui to Franschhoek in South Africa but has returned several times to visit friends and family in Whanganui and to perform at the Sarjeant.

Experience Deborah Wai Kaphohe’s Musicians for the Sarjeant concert recorded April 2020

Deborah was scheduled to be in New Zealand again in July and a Musicians for the Sarjeant concert was scheduled, but due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions Deborah’s visit has been cancelled.

So, although we don’t have the pleasure of hosting an actual concert at Sarjeant on the Quay with Deborah, her accompanist and (gulp!) an audience, we are delighted to have the Deborah Wai Kapohe Musicians for the Sarjeant concert here for you to enjoy virtually.

From her lockdown bubble in Franschhoek, South Africa, Deborah has recorded the songs and arias she was anticipating performing for us in person along with explanations of the pieces and a tour of the art gallery at the Grande Provence Heritage Wine Estate . Also she has included a stunning Qantas video which shows beautiful Franschhoek.

To access the Deborah Wai Kapohe Musicians for the Sarjeant concert online click here

We had a chat with Debora about her life in South Africa and what lockdown is like for her there.

Hi Deborah, you live in South Africa now, where exactly and what’s it like there at the moment – are you in lockdown?

South Africa is in full Lockdown. I live in Franschhoek, Western Cape.

To begin answering this, I have to remind people that South Africa is the size of Europe. Some areas of SA have no Covid-19. We live in the premium tourist destination province of the Western Cape. The Western Cape has the largest  amount of Covid-19 cases. However, we have no Covid-19 in our village of Franschhoek. We are very happy with our curve but concerned about the winter that is approaching.

How limited is your movement? Are you able to go out at all? Who is in your bubble with you?

At the moment, our movement in SA is more restricted than NZ. We are not allowed to go out except for essentials (supermarket, emergency visits to the doctor and vet etc). There is a curfew overnight. The army has been deployed. Strict measures have been taken to free up hospital beds, for example, no alcohol or cigarettes are allowed to be sold or distributed (alcohol causes a lot of crime and people share tobacco) . However, as of May 1st, lockdown restrictions can slightly ease to begin the cautious opening up of the economy.

We live on a farm. Therefore, we have a few different families here. We mix only at a distance of 2 metres but we would consider our bubble to be the farm boundary. Workers come onto the farm because agriculture is an essential business that may continue to operate in terms of tending the land and the wine vats. But not selling or distributing to the local market. Because the farm is operating, we maintain strict procedures of social distancing and hygiene.

I walk the farm daily but many South Africans have not been able to go for a walk. On May 1st the lockdown will ease slightly to allow people to exercise outdoors alone between 6am and 9am.

You have recorded a Musicians for the Sarjeant concert for us from a beautiful art gallery on a vineyard in Franschhoek. It looks so beautiful there. What sort of gallery is it? What sort of vineyard is it?

This vineyard has three brands, TPG ( Top of the range. Amazing!) AND Grande Provence which is premium AND Angels’ Tears which is a brand that people would drink with friends over dinner etc. The vineyard is a major producer of wine as well as having one of SA’s top fine dining restaurants and Art Gallery.  There is also a bistro for families and now we are busy opening a deli to sell essentials like bread, cheese and veges.

I included a Qantas video featuring the wine estate because it dates back to 1694, making it one of the three oldest in South Africa. The wine estate is in a  village  called Franschhoek. It means French Corner because the Huguenots came here when they fled Europe. However, it wasn’t the French who brought wine making to SA. It was the Dutch. A fact which mortifies French visitors when they come here!

The Art Gallery sells the top SA artists. The garden of the estate exhibits sculpture. The estate is a beauty.

Have you been singing and playing music a lot during lockdown?

I have been working full days on my music, including research. I work from 10am until 6pm six days a week. I was supposed to start my music school in the township. Therefore, I am concentrating on developing my website and focus so that when the lockdown ends the nuts and bolts are there not just to teach the children in the township but to also extend my voice studio to advanced singers. I am also writing my Doctorate Proposal which will enable me to teach at University level.

What else have you been able to do in lockdown, have you developed any new skills or done something you haven’t done before?

The focus during lockdown has been on my music. Mainly, developing my more ‘florid’ repertoire. (This repertoire is music that has lots of runs and high notes in it.)  Florid repertoire tests technique. Therefore, this concert showcases some of my first experiments into repertoire like Donizetti and Bellini. This repertoire is not about loudness and drama, it is about beauty and fireworks. It requires a refinement of the voice. In this respect, the guitar has been a good rehearsal accompaniment for this repertoire. Sometimes the piano is too loud. The florid repertoire doesn’t need to be loud because the sound frequencies carry much further and are at a different frequency than the orchestra. The voice lasts a lot longer in the type of singing I am doing now. I have no problem practicing for hours and hours a day with no tiring of the voice.

Have you been doing any concerts in South Africa prior to COVID19?

Yes. I am beginning a music school here so I am gradually increasing my visibility.  This includes concerts with the children from the township. You briefly see the township in the video about the chefs that I included in the concert. Last year we did a concert in the wine cellar for about 150 people.

What’s surprised you about being stuck at home 24/7?

I am much more grateful.

I am grateful for every meal. I am grateful for every progress I make on my music. I am grateful for the outstanding beauty of South Africa. I feel very privileged to be a guest in this amazing country during such a difficult time.

What’s the one item or items you wished you’d acquired / purchased to keep you occupied during lockdown?

I realised we would enter a situation like this 6 weeks before lockdown. I planned everything and we even planted a bigger garden. Therefore, there was nothing we didn’t have.

What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened since you’ve been in lockdown?

I discovered I am probably a coloratura soprano rather than a lyric with coloratura. The difference is huge when it comes to career direction. Too late for that now but it will influence my teaching. I am now determined to focus on the Old Italian School technique that I was taught.

Have  you developed a new routine that’s helping you stay focused on either making music or just staying sane?

Yes, I use my iPhone to record myself all the time now. I audio record my singing for 30 seconds or so and then listen back.

The video of the MFS concert helped me eliminate some of the bad habits I have when I sing. In this respect, the Musicians for the Sarjeant Concert taught me a lot.

I will now use video weekly to check my mouth position, facial expressions etc.

Read any good books, listened to any good podcasts?

Yes, I have read many, many technique books. This research is then uploaded onto my voice studio blog on my website,,  and is put onto social media.

My favs are Lilli Lehmann’s ‘How to Sing’ written at the turn of the 20th Century and Oskar Guttmann’s book ‘Gymnastics for the Voice’ written at the end of the 19th Century.

Would you like to share your favourite song of the lockdown so far?

Definitely, the aria from ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’. The aria consists of a slow and fast section. I will re-record this to fix the problem I had with the microphone and a couple of onsets to the notes that I am not happy with but I loved learning the aria. It is a taxing aria, especially to self-accompany. I felt really happy to make it to the end of the piece and to begin to take the voice up constantly above a top C.


Finally, I would like to say that South Africans are a resilient people.

My experience here in our village of Franschhoek is that South Africans are calm and cheerful.

When the borders closed, I felt absolutely no hesitation to be in South Africa with no way of going home.

I would like to say to South Africans who live in NZ: You have a wonderful country.