Summer 2012

Zimbe!  at Highdown School, Caversham on Saturday 14 July 2012 at 5pm and 8pm

Swahili song is fitting end for African-themed concert

A programme of folk music from around the world culminated in an exciting new work based on African sounds at this year’s South Chiltern Choral Society concert.  The concert at Highdown was performed twice on the same day – Saturday July 14 – however this year the weather put a stop to the picnics in between.

Along with SCCS the concerts featured a boys’ choir from Caversham Primary School and two choirs and a ukelele band from Highdown School and Sixth Form Centre.

The first half took the form of some mood-setting performnances by the band and choirs separately.  The choral society sang folk songs from Mexico, England, New Zealand and Russia.  Then the boys’ choir and the Highdown Senior Singers combined with SCCS for Zimbe!, by Alexander L’Estrange, conducted by Helen Bilkey, head of music at the school.  They were accompanied by piano, alto, saxophone and percussion.

dsc_0520Zimbe!, Swahili for ‘sing them’, is a modern piece aiming to capture the essence of the African spirit through a linked series of folk songs, musical vignettes of simple children’s songs, a lullaby, wedding, protest and drinking songs as well as funeral and worship music.  The singers were accompanied by Gwyn Arch on piano and Quentin Bryar on alto saxophone.

The emotional highlight for many was the South African funeral song with the school choirs’ voices echoing from the lobby of the hall next door.  The ethereal mood contrasted perfectly with the exuberance and energy of the surrounding pieces.  This was an excellent programme to combat the bleakness of the summer and a remarkable tour-de-force from SCCS, the Highdown Senior Singers and the Caversham boys.

Paul Whitehead, Henley Standard



For the summer concert of their 16th anniversary year, South Chiltern Choral Society joined forces with singers and musicians from Highdown School And Sixth Form Centre and the Caversham Boys’ Choir for Zimbe! (Swahali for ‘sing then’) – a mixture of African folk and gospel music joyously blended to form a vibrant mixture capturing the essence of the continent. The combined choirs effortlessly coped with the strong rhythmic tones, musical complexities and many varied changes of tempo presented by the piece that ranged from simple children’s songs through to lullabies, wedding and drinking songs to funeral music and songs of protest.

Earlier, the Choral Society delighted the audience with some Mexican, Maori, Cornish and Russian folksongs – the latter featuring some humorous musical ‘neighing’ as it dynamically gathered pace to represent horsemen approaching a village. The Caversham Boys’ Choir gave us a lively rendition of the S Club 7 hit Reach, although sadly, the young soloists were rather let down by badly placed microphones. The sound system was also against the items performed by the group of ukulele players, the Highdown Jumping Fleas, but, happily, the school’s singers excelled with all their programmed songs, the arrangement of You Raise Me Up showing particularly high vocal ability. This very enjoyable concert was conducted by both Gwyn Arch and Helen Bilkey.

Barrie Theobald, Reading Chronicle

Photographs by courtesy of Dawn Bellamy

For more information about Zimbe!, please see the Zimbe! website:

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