South African Boy Choir Costumes

Figure 1.--The Drakensberg Boys' Choir School is unique in South Africa. The boys' distictive costume includes a lacey jabot

Many European countries have a long tradition of church boys' choirs dating back to the medevil era. South Africa has inherited both the Dutch and English tradition. Since the end of Apartheid (1994), the African music tradition has been incorporated into the choir repertoires. It is the only country in Africa with an important choral program. It is almost entirely a school based program, but some of the schools have religious affiliations. I have to date, however, acquired little information on the South African choirs. As far as we can tell, the South African choirs are almost entirely school choirs. The only exception we have found at this time is Drakensberg Boys' Choir School. Here the focus of the school is the choir and other music making activities. The other choirs we have found are school choirs. Here the choir is only one of many acivities available to the boys. Unlike many European choir schools, especially British choirs, it is not based at a major cathedral or church. At this time HBC has information on only a few school choirs. We note both single gender and mixed choirs, deopending on the type of school. A Dutch reader tells us that the Cape Malays and an impressive tradition of choral singing.

Cape Malays

A Dutch reader tells us that the Cape Malays and an impressiuve tradition of choral singing. A Dutch reader tells us, "Where you mention "some choirs in South Africa, mostly school choirs", I would like to add the Cape Malays. Their ancestors came to South Africa from the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and settled in and around Cape Town. They have wonderful choirs, performing at wedddings, social gatherings and once a year they organise choral competitions where thousands of supporters are attending. They sing in Dutch, Afrikaans and English. The Cape Malays added many Malayan words to the Afrikaans language. The musical instruments they use are guitar, banjo and some kind of a cello slung over the shoulder, and a ghomma (drum). They sing ghommaliedjies (picnic songs) which are very popular in South Africa. Some of them became even known in Holland when I grew up during the 1930s-40s."

Drakensberg Boys' Choir School

The Drakensberg Boys' Choir School is unique in South Africa. Founded in 1967, the choir has earned local and international fame. The choir school is situated in the heart of the Central Drakensberg in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Drakensberg mountain range near the town of Winterton. The Choir notes that nature and culture are closely interwined in this idyllic surrounding--the majestic peaks of Champagne Castle and Cathkin Peak in harmony with the sweet clear sounds of the young voices of the more than 106 boys enrolled at the school. The Drakensberg Boys' Choir School's Mission is to prepare boys for life and leadership through excellence in music, academics and social enrichment in a Christian environment. Situated

The school

The school boasts a unique, fulfilling and comprehensive educational experience which extends beyond music to include academics, sport, culture and worldwide travel. The school caters for between 100 and 115 boys from Standard 2-7 which is the equivalent to grades 4-9 in America. The choir program is pursued in a compulsory boarding establishment, and offers an excellent pupil/teacher ratio which enables staff to fulfil a caring and personal role in keeping with the school's mission statement. Academic classes are presented as current and challenging opportunities to boys of sound academic background and ability. A skills-based approach is followed and is aimed at the development of personal discipline and leadership. Subjects taught include English, Afrikaans--Language across curriculum, Mathematics, Science, IT, Accounting, Guidance, Divinity, Art, Music, Music Technology, Physical Education and Book Education. Extramural activities include the usual sports such as Rugby, Cricket, Swimming, Athletics, Cross-country and Tennis, and extend to 'Berg Hiking, Horse Riding, Golf and Trout Fishing. Music achievements are based on a rigorous and comprehensive foundation laid at the school.

School uniform

During school time and off time (it being a boarding school), the boys wear black rugby shorts, black shirts and sandals. Ssneakers and jeans are worn during winter.


The number of tests needed to pass has been increased to 18. This includes a manners test for tours. But before a boy is accepted into one of the two choirs, he needs to pass a second audition, held infront of the whole choir with the senior boys controlling the vote! There is also a unique anual audition for the music staff of school for international choir!

Choir program

Boys are auditioned at venues throughout South Africa and, if successful, are accepted into the school after further academic evaluation. A further 17 music tests have to be passed before pupils form one of the school's two equal choirs as fully-fledged choristers, with the inherent rights to touring locally and internationally. Individual instruments and voice lessons are offered at the school, and many of the boys enter and excel in their annual Unisa and Royal School examinations. All boys study Unisa music theory and write the relevant examinations.

Concert music and costuming

The African Music repetoire has been a part of the school since its inception, not 1992 and the fall of apartheid. It was, however, only in 1986 that the school received an application and accepted its first black applicant. The concerts comprise of a first half of western music. The blues and jabots are worn for this part over grey pants and black shoes. (Sometimes, according to one of the choristers "also with a frog behind one's back.") The second half is what makes it truely unique. A former chorister explains, "We lose not only inhibitions when it comes to boys' choir traditions, but our blues and jabots and even our conductor (who we call maestro). In our second half we wear African-styled shirts over our jeans, barefooted with antelope-skin shakers around our ankles. Some of the front dancers may wear gumboots. (Yes, African incorporated from colonial mining attire.)


The Drakensberg Boys' Choir School has been awarded many accolades for its musical achievements since its inception in 1967. These have included: 1981 Freedom of the cities of Jacksonville and Spartanburg, United States conferred on the Choir with a special award from Disneyland. 1983 By special Papal request a performance to 25,000 people at the Vatican. 1987 An eight-minute ovation in St Jeronimo's Cathedral, Portugal--and a performance with the Vienna Boys’ Choir. 1989 Participation in the Philip McLachlan Workshop in Namibia. 1991 Highly successful tour of Greece. 1992 In its 25th year the Choir was acclaimed one of the best in the world at the triennial World Boys’ Choir Festival in Poland. 1993 Highly successful tour of the USA. Four soloists took top honours in an international compeition in Des Moines, Iowa USA. 1994 Ground-breaking tour to Egypt, Kenya and Zimbabwe. 1995 Singing of the National Anthems of South Africa and Australia for the opening match of the Rugby World Cup. 1996 Tours to Western Australia, Zimbabwe and the eastern seaboard of the United States. 1997 A record-breaking seven-week, two-choir tour of Japan.

Laerskool Stephanus Roos

We notice the senior choir of Laerskool Stephanus Roos. This is a public primary school in Sinoville (Pretoria), South Africa. We know very little about the school and its choir at this time. The children wear their school uniform. Choir seems most popular with the girls. From the school web-site we know that the school has a Christian origin. The school is public because the state pays the salaries of teachers. However the families must pay the school fees for the other cost. As many South African schools, Laerskool Stephanus Roos allows the children to go to school barefoot.

Laerskool Eversdal Primary School

Laerskool Eversdal Primary School is another of several South African schools that have important choral programs. It is rather unusual for public schools to have such an extensive choral program, but we see it in South Africa. This school is a bilingual English-Akrikaan school in Durbanville near Cape Town. The school has a Junior Choir, a Senior Choir, and also a Speech Choir (Spreek Koor). This may be a musical theater choir.

Figure 2.--We are not sure what South African school this choir is from. Notice the khaki shorts and kneesocks which are common at South African schools.

Other School Choirs

Many other South African schools have choirs. We dop not have a lot of information about these choirs. Most seem to be minor school activities and primarily perform at school functions. None offer the kind of sophisticated training of the Drakensberg Boys' Choir School.

J.H. Palmer and His Singing Boys

We notice an advertisement for J.H. Palmer and His Singing Boys during the 1910s or 20s. From the way the boys are dressed it surely must be a roup of South African boys. We do not know, however,m where they performed or what music was in their repetoire. One would think it woukd be African music. It looks like a small commercial choir. It was amall group of only five boys, al least five boys are shown in the one available image. One source suggests thst they were Zulu boys.


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Created: November 2, 1998
Last updated: 11:00 PM 10/31/2010