Sunday, April 2, 2023

Versatile Choral Music Conductor that is Michelle Polokelo

Whistles reach tumultuous volumes as the choir ascends the stage. A young man arranges the choristers according to their heights and voices before taking his rightful position at the back row.

From there, the well-built lady in her mid-thirties comes forward courteously; face gleaming and all smiles. She then bows to acknowledge judges, then warms the choir with body signals.

After the Master of Ceremonies gives her the go ahead, and her melodic sounds give choristers the key, tension engulfs the hall as her choir raises voices, reduces them, speeds up the song, slows it down – all in an instant response to her body language…

That is the presentation style of Dimakatso Michelle Polokelo and her Sacred Heart Choir, a Catholic Church choir from Kopong Village in Kweneng District. And this approach is re-created whenever they ascend a stage; it has earned her victory at various levels, including in what is called ‘interdiocesan festival’- that is, competition between Catholic choirs from Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland.

The competition features more than eighty choirs.
“My wish is to enable people to create the best out of the music – for the music to move and bring people together;┬áalso, to help young choristers learn the Church’s Sacred Music, understand it and be able to use it to bring God’s people closer to Him,” explains Polokelo of what motivates her conductorship.

She was 19 years when she first conducted a choir.

Fifteen years down the line, she can raise her head high and confidently say positive attitude and enthusiasm make the secret of the uniqueness of her conductorship.

To her, she says enthusiasm is extremely infectious.

When she puts all her effort into her conducting, it motivates the choir to give the best of themselves; further, that way, both the Choir and her even manage to sail through the stormy waters. 

“Music is organized sound that I just enjoy hearing and making. It is a part of me, my life and something I’d feel so incomplete and lost without,” says Polokelo, the 34 ÔÇôyear-old Marketing Manager at Retail Group for Debonairs Pizza and Milky Lane. “It speaks and appeals to my inner being and there’s just a lot one can do to bring out the beauty in it. Music provides humanity with some of the most sublime musical and emotional experiences.”┬á

Of her journey in the world of music, she said: “I started singing at a tender age at St. Conrad’s Mission School as we used to prepare for Holy Mass every Friday and Sunday and we were expected to lead in singing. Our class was chosen to lead singing during Friday Masses. I was 11 years old then doing Std 5. This is where my interest in Church music developed. I then grew up singing in the School Choir, but took a break when I went to Secondary School as I was interested in Chess and Debate then.”

She says she continued singing again in 1998 when doing Tirelo Sechaba and joined KTM Choir – a community choir that has interdenominational membership and also started singing at Holy Cross Parish in Mogoditshane. It was that same year that she┬á started learning how to conduct by understudying different conductors and going around with them to assist school choirs, Police choirs and Government departmental choirs.

“When I went away to further my studies in the United States, I joined the University Chorus at Creighton University and later at DePaul University where I transferred to do my 2nd year. I then joined the University Chamber Choir and sang along renowned choirs and the popular Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I then returned home in 2003 and rejoined the KTM Choir which I later quit due to demanding schedule when I joined the Christ the King Cathedral Choir early 2004 and was appointed Assistant Conductor later in the year. I sang in the Choir as a Soprano and a soloist in some instances. I was then appointed Conductor in 2006. I also took up to conducting Sacred Heart Catholic Church Choir in March 2010 until now,” she says.

While conducting the choir, she got a number of trophies. She got overall position one in Botswana in 2010. The same year she and her choir got position one in two music pieces during the interdiocesan competition. In 2011 she again got overall victory of position one and went further to win two position ones and one position two during the interdiocesan competition.

On what she considers the best qualities of a conductor, Polokelo says, “Simple passion, commitment and discipline. One has to also be teachable. A conductor is not just a teacher but a student of music, who should always be willing to learn from his/her choristers, fellow-conductors, musicians and even people who don’t know a thing about conducting but understand the art of music.┬áOne should be able to motivate, inspire the choir, be firm and creative. And above all else, one should be patient.”

Her word of advice to young and aspiring Conductors is that: “If the choir sings poorly, do not blame them, blame yourself.┬á When conducting a choir, you must always be at least to some degree in an inspired, enthusiastic state.┬áTry to bring liveliness and interest to everything you do. Maintain strict demands on yourself, both as a conductor and as a person as this will guarantee a great relationship with the choir. If you don’t yourself experience delight, and don’t find joy in what you do, then you won’t give anything to the choristers. ┬áValue and respect the choristers if you want to be valued and respected by them as mutual respect and goodwill are a necessary underpinning for artistic work.”

Conductorship brings a lot into Polokelo’s social status. “It draws attention, sometimes ‘unwanted’ attention to me as a person, what I do, how I do things, where I go, who I hang out with and it sometimes makes life somewhat difficult because a lot of people out there look at and analyze every little thing I do. I can’t just hang out and do simple things that simple people do because someone is always looking and saying, hee, wa mo itse, ke Conductor mo Kerekeng ya Roma (you know her she is a Conductor in the Catholic Church). In a positive way though, it helps nurture my personality and general behaviour because I know that a lot of young and upcoming choristers and aspiring conductors look up to me. Every time I do anything or say anything in public, I know that it will also be taken as what we, as Catholics do, so, I make sure to always portray a good image of the Church.”


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