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The COVID-19 pandemic brought about devastating consequences and caused much disruption to our daily routines. Many lives are lost daily and those remaining are left broken and in search of hope. The following is a story of people who refused to give up hope, a story of artists with an unsurprisingly bitter-ender attitude. 

With a repertoire spanning across four centuries, including works of Bach & Mozart, Strauss & Grieg featuring alongside homegrown composers Franco Prinsloo & Matthijs van Dijk, soprano and producer Magdalene Minnaar and conductor, Alexander Fokkens, in collaboration with the newly formed Ensemble 528, seek to bring a sense of comfort and restoration to all listeners around the world with their new album, Songs of Hope.

Minnaar is known in the music industry as someone who continuously sets new trends and challenges conventional boundaries. It is her mission to reinvent the face of classical music in South Africa. This objective has inspired her to become involved in the conceptualisation and production of various original projects, for which she has received numerous awards. 

Fokkens is one of the most sought-after conductors in South Africa with extensive experience, on various local and international podiums. He has spent the last 20 years exploring ways to make music with people from all walks of life and a variety of backgrounds. He believes it is his responsibility to help people on their individual journeys.

Minnaar and the production team have been dreaming about creating an orchestra album for a long time.  “The idea is to bring some hope not only for the audiences but also for the artists,” Minnaar said who vulnerably admits that the recording sessions were extremely emotional experiences. “[Since] COVID-19 happened, we have been going hungry basically.” 

It is a devastating time for classical music. However, it persisted through a steady and slow decline in terms of audiences, available funding, and performance opportunities. Minnaar states that they had to learn how to adapt with regard to what and how they present music at the moment. “We all know audiences won’t be back in the concert halls for quite a long time.” 

Nevertheless, Minnaar and Fokkens believe that “there is also a lot of hope”. With the financial support from the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture’s COVID-19 Digital Solutions Fund this project has created work for twenty-four musicians and a full sound and production team. The songs aim to bring healing as it has to all those involved in the making of this project during these turbulent times. They hope that the project will grow to provide more work for musicians – many of whom have no other source of income during this pandemic. 

“Classical music is a more emotional art form than other types of music and that is why people have this strong connection with it.” This is proven by recent studies and at the very core of this project. The influence of particular frequencies on our moods extends far beyond the superficial, to the chemicals within our bodies. From a frequency of 528 hertz, also known as the ‘Healing Tone’, the accompanying ‘Ensemble 528’ was born.  The frequency is proven to alleviate anxiety and promote healthier, happier behaviour. 

The eight-track album, Songs of Hope, thus alters our mental state through its phenomenal effect on the human body. The extraordinary capacity of music to assist in healing and reviving is an experience appreciated by all.The repertoire has been carefully chosen to curate a listening experience that will simultaneously calm down and uplift the listener.

“Our art is alive, and it is actually still thriving even though it’s behind closed doors and even though people have to wear masks and stand a meter and a half apart,” Minnaar says proudly. “We will not stop, and we will continue to perform, and live on. Classical music will not end.”

The production team decided to make this album as accessible as possible, available for download for as much as the audience is able to contribute towards the project. Future plans include a documentary film, creating more albums and to perform as far and wide as possible. By downloading this album, you are not only supporting the music industry of South Africa, but also playing a part in the journey of hope.

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