Drakensberg Diaries: The Drakensberg Boys Choir in South Afria

Are you traveling to South Africa? Well, you’re going to Cape Town, right? And you want to see if you can get the big 5? Here’s something that’s better than Cape Town. Better than the Big 5. And it’s the Drakensberg Boys Choir. There are not many things that are unique or world class in South Africa, but the Drakensberg Boys Choir is one of them.

The doors opened in 1965 for the first 20 students, after John Tungay persuaded their parents, Ronald and Gwen, to dedicate 100 acres of their farm to the school he had proposed. The Drakensberg Boys Choir was born.

The dream was a multiracial and multicultural choral school to rival the Vienna Boys. Not in the middle of an old European city rich in history. But on the outskirts. In a beautiful, rural and sparsely populated valley in the Drakensberg Mountains of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. The first and only of its kind on the continent.

Today, the annual income is 100 children between the ages of 9 and 15, and auditions are held across the country.

The Drakensberg Children’s Choir tours abroad every year and is internationally recognized as one of the best in the world. And not only are they holier than brats either: after hours, they like rapids, rappelling, and hikes in their Drakensberg paradise. They work hard and they play hard.

Can you think of anything more sublime than fresh mountain air, majestic mountains, blue skies, and natural beauty as far as the eye can see, complemented by the pure tones of countertenor harmony?

Be prepared for diversity. If you like a good dirge, stay away. The Drakensberg Boys Choir has very Catholic tastes. The first half of the concert is classical. You may hear Bach or Beethoven or Mozart. The second half can be anything. It could be Queen sung in rounds by groups of immaculately trained 12-year-old tenors and bassists. (Freddie Mercury would have loved it.) Or folk, or jazz, or sacred music. Or African harmonies you’ve never heard before that will make you cry.

Come with tissues. And a T-shirt, for goose bumps. But whatever you do, BE HERE. The Drakensberg Boys Choir performs most Wednesdays during the school term at 3.30 pm There is a world-class auditorium on campus.

If you’re in the area on a Wednesday, you have time for an early lunch (or a late breakfast) and a scenic drive along Route R600. Not for nothing is it called the Valley of Champagne. Or if you’re planning December, head to the Drakensberg festival celebration, a four-day music extravaganza, with plenty of guest artists, holiday music, and shopping booths.

So if you come to South Africa, sure Cape Town is good and you need the Big 5. But the Drakensberg is good too. And you really shouldn’t miss this.