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Choir conductor brings South African spirit to North Texas

Choir conductor brings South African spirit to North Texas

September 13
15:35 2017

The new conductor of the UNT Women’s Chorus arrived in Denton a little over three weeks ago and settled into her new home, but her heritage still hung from her earlobes in the form of two gold earrings in the shape of Africa.

Charlotte Botha moved to Denton from South Africa to pursue a doctorate of musical arts in choral conducting at UNT. She has conducted many choirs before coming to UNT, including Pretoria High School for Girls Choir, Singkronies Chamber Choir and the Drakensberg Boys Choir.

Her new role as conductor includes working with an ensemble made of 96 girls from many different backgrounds.

“It’s an interesting ensemble because it is a non-auditioned ensemble,” Botha said. “[That] means that anyone who has a bit of background can sing. So you have opera singers whose voices are too big to be in one of the smaller ensembles, but you also have girls who show up who just love music. It’s a very wide range, and what I really like about this women’s chorus is there is already a sense of family and community.”

While Botha’s passion is conducting, she began her eventual career as a pianist, percussionist, chorister and vocal soloist at 6 years old.

Botha adores giving instruction while sharing her ideas, focusing on a specific art, claiming nothing suits her personality better.

“I think that most of us who sit in this office started singing the moment that we opened our mouths,” Botha said. “I think that’s how it works for us. We all studied music, [but] at some stage you need to make a decision about what your specialization will be. I’ve just had the most amazing experience singing with incredible conductors everywhere, so it was an easy decision for me to go into choral conducting.”

Although Denton is almost 9,000 miles away from South Africa, the option to move came easily to Botha.

Luckily, she had people in Denton to help push and motivate her to make this change.

“I auditioned in many places everywhere around the world, [but] I might be biased because my best friend from South Africa is in Denton,” Botha said. 

Hentus van Rooyen, a candidate for the DMA program in organ performance, is one of Botha’s closest friends as well as a fellow musician at UNT.

“Charlotte and I have known each other for almost 10 years,” Rooyen said. “We were seated across from each other [at a dinner party], and I told Charlotte that I had decided that we were going to be friends. She didn’t object, and we’ve been best friends ever since.”

Rooyen is hoping to pursue UNT’s DMA program in organ performance after completing his bachelor’s this semester. While he was an incentive for Botha to move to Denton, the young conductor had other reasons why she wanted to come to UNT.

“Charlotte was investigating different options for graduate work a couple of years ago,” Rooyen said. “One day I gave her an assignment to research at least three doctoral programs and conductors that she would like to study with in the U.S. At the top of the list of conductors was Allen Hightower. It was announced that week that Hightower would be coming to UNT as the director of choral studies.”

Even though Botha received multiple offers, UNT’s benefits stood out above everything else.

“She applied to [a lot] of schools and got offers from all, but she decided on UNT and Hightower in the end,” Rooyen said.

Although Hightower is a new addition to UNT, Botha said she had been “professional-stalking” him for a while prior to his move.

The stars seemed to align in Botha’s favor as she now works as Hightower’s assistant and helps him with the logistical aspects of the choral program.

For Hightower, Botha’s positive attitude and her willingness to positively represent the program is a great addition to UNT’s choir program.

“It’s a unique opportunity for the conductor to somehow bring together the aspirations of many people and sort of take them to musical mountaintops and help them to achieve their goals,” Hightower said. “We do that sort of corporately, like a football team would, except that the difference between a coach and a conductor is that in the heat of the moment, the conductor is also creating that with them.”

Botha’s “team” will have their first performance of the semester at Choralfest at 8 p.m. on Oct. 3 in the Winspear Performance Hall at the Murchinson Performing Arts Center.

While Botha has been busy preparing her ensemble, she has also spent a lot of time preparing herself.

“There is a difference between being a leader and being an achiever,” Botha said. “A leader inspires other people to do the music in the best way that they can, and an achiever does everything themselves. As a choral conductor, you get to deal with peoplenot instruments. You must be really careful if you criticize because you are not criticizing an instrument, but the body making that sound.”

Featured Image: Graduate and conductor of women’s chorus Charlotte Botha discusses her interest in the program. Botha came to UNT from South Africa for the graduate program. Kelsey Shoemaker

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Slade Meadows

Slade Meadows

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