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From Dallas to Capetown: Sabbatical 1998 Reflections

Presentation for Rector's Forum at All Saints Church

From Dallas to Capetown: Sabbatical 1998 Reflections
Sunday, November 29, 1998 James Walker

South Africa

In a couple weeks, Marty will be leading Adult Education discussions on South Africa, coming out of our experiences and numerous interviews in Capetown and Johannesburg. So I’m going to leave the major discussions of the tremendous issues and challenges of South Africa until that time. Today, I do want to share some personal thoughts and images.

It is impossible to describe the elation I felt, with my first footsteps in South Africa. I truly felt that I should take my shoes off, for I was walking on Holy Ground. Simply being in that country that is so heroically rebuilding itself was so inspiring.

Images flood my mind — the incredible beauty of the land; the majestic meeting of two oceans at Cape Point; baboons, whales, African penguins; listening to the unique sounds of South African Jazz; eating crocodile while listening to the intense sounds of marimbas, bells, whistles and drums.

Then there was time spent in the townships — Khayelitsha, in Capetown, and Soweto, in Johannesburg. I was not prepared, emotionally, for the unspeakable poverty that we witnessed … mile, after mile, after mile. It was overwhelming.

We hooked-​up with an Anglican priest, Rachel Mash, at her parish of St. Michael and All Angels in the township of Khayelitsha.

That Sunday worship experience in the township was something else. In Pasadena, it was Homecoming Sunday. In Khayelitsha, we had four hours of church that day, beginning with an hour-​and-​a-​half pilgrimage through the township streets — about 40 of us singing and clapping, then stopping every 50 yards or so for one of the members to evangelize. Then, when we reached the church, 2½ more hours of preaching and witnessing and singing — mostly in Khoso, some in English.

It was amazing. The most poignant part of the experience for me, though, was sitting in church next to this most beautiful 3-​year-​old girl with her mother. My imagination allowed me to picture this precious girl as an 18-​year-​old, in college, with a bright future in front of her. And, I prayed mightily for that vision to become reality.

Later in the week I did connect with a couple South African musicians. Garmon Ashby is choirmaster at Diocesan College, and he is very involved with teaching in the township and presenting choral concerts, with massed choirs from all over Capetown, sometimes with a total of 1500 singers.

Choral music has a long history in South Africa, crossing racial and socio-​economic lines, and at these massed choir concerts, they perform a wide variety of music — from traditional Zulu music to oratorios by Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn. This is important work, bringing communities together.

I spent a wonderful morning with a 30-​year-​old musician, Vukile Ndudane, who is studying music at the University of Cape Town. Vukile is a singer, and he definitely has his feet in both worlds of South African music — African and European.

He has done extensive study of South African vocal music (in Khoso and Zulu) by black composers, none of which has ever been published. Vukile told me about one such composer, Mjekula, a prolific and important composer, who lived around the turn of the 19th century.

Then, Vukile told me about Mozart, in ways that I shall never forget. “Mozart is my brother,” he said. On the bulletin board in his room are excerpts, photo-​copied from music textbooks, about Mozart’s life. Vukile spoke eloquently and passionately about Mozart’s physical poverty, and that so much of his music was simply pushed into a drawer somewhere — in the same way as these South African composers — because he was poor.

Struggle, creativity, beauty, passion — linking human experience across continents and across centuries.

Vukile has a dream of studying in Paris. He told me that music is his life. I told him to stand still for a picture, cause one day when he’s an opera star, I will remember this day.

With such energy, depth and passion, I just wouldn’t be surprised.

Spark … Beauty … Perspective — big-​time.


I am so grateful that this community gave me this marvelous opportunity for sabbatical, and I have been overwhelmed by your graciousness in welcoming me back.

I must admit that getting back-​in-​the-​saddle at All Saints has been hard work, even as I’ve tried to maintain my sabbatical soul. But it has been exciting, gratifying work.

Do I have a clear vision of where All Saints is headed, liturgically, in the next 5, 10, 20 years?

Well, I certainly don’t know the exact shape, but I have high hopes that we will continue to remain firmly rooted in our tradition while having the courage to risk, to change, and to grow.

I’m really very confident that we can creatively make our way. And, my sabbatical experiences have surely given me greater vision and perspective, as well as knowledge and information, to be a leader in that journey together up the mountain.

A nationally-​recognized conductor and concert organist, James Walker entertains and enlightens audiences throughout the United States, and his solo recitals are broadcast on National Public Radio. Winner of the prestigious Mader National Organ-​Playing Competition in 1986, he is a featured soloist at Bach festivals and regional and national music conventions. Currently James is Director of Music at All Saints Church, Pasadena, California.