Master of harmonies heads to Europe

Chorus master Marvin Kernelle

Marvin Kernelle, chorus master at Cape Town Opera, based at the Artscape is also making his debut as an international jury member of the European Choir Games, held in Latvia, later this month.

Marvin grew up in Bonteheuwel, but spent most of his life in Belhar, which he fondly calls the “musical area”.

He started with music by playing all forms of recorder in church.

“I learnt from a very young age how to read music and, at the age of 13, I started studying the organ until I was 18 years old, when I found the love for choir singing and the voice, and then sang in the church choir.”

He said he was also exposed to opera a lot.

“My dad used to go for voice lessons at the Joseph Stone and I used to sit in on my dad’s voice lessons. I think that if my dad had to go to a ballet class, I would have been exposed to it and that would have maybe sparked my interest in ballet.

“I listened to opera when I was fetched from school or (he was)dropping me somewhere. Then it was in church, where I listened to sacred music. Then I saw the organ, and I wanted to play. I listened to it all the time. If you are not exposed, you are not going to know about it.”

He later joined the Cape Town Opera Choral Training Programme in the city centre where he learnt the basics of German, Italian, French and stagecraft.

“The most wonderful thing about that programme was that we got to perform at least four operas a year with the permanent chorus of Cape Town Opera – the on-the-job experience.”

He went on to study opera at South African College of music at UCT and then returned to Cape Town Opera, where he worked as an accompanist.

“I never studied the piano, but I was good enough to play for voice lessons for a year and then I auditioned for a spot in the Cape Town chorus and was successful.”

Years later he joined the permanent chorus, and subsequently took over Cape Town Opera’s outreach department, and became the assistant to Cape Town Opera’s Chorus Master. In 2014, he was appointed Cape Town Opera’s chorus master. “And the rest is history.”

Marvin said working at Cape Town Opera has allowed him many opportunities, including being on the adjudicating panel of the Varsity Sing Competition, which showed on KykNet for 13 weeks.

“I got to meet many fantastic people and listen to many fantastic voices.

“I didn’t know the university scene was that competitive. I fly all around the country and I experience lights, cameras and things that I don’t get to experience in the office.”

Marvin is also making his debut as an international jury member of the European Choir Games, held in Latvia, until Sunday July 23.

“I’ll be with doctors and professors of music and it is very intimidating, but I got a piece of advice from someone – just be yourself.”

Marvin said what he loves most about opera is that the performer sings with his or her entire body.

“The fact that one person – one instrument – can sing over an orchestra of 60 and it feels as though that person is standing right in front of you is amazing.

“Opera is much more exciting than people think it is. And if people can be exposed to our rehearsal process, they will appreciate it more. Then they will see the work put into it and the end result.

“To perform this type of work you must have something special and something very deep. And you are constantly learning. I always see myself as a student of opera, as a student of music, because every day we learn.”