On Sep. 27, at 7:00 pm, When Voices Meet was shown in Carswell Auditorium. The documentary shared the history and impact of Sharon Katz and the Peace Train, a choir performance founded by Sharon Katz, Nonhlanhwa Wanda and Marilyn Cohen during a period of high political turmoil during the Apartheid era in South Africa. Founded in 1992, the goal of the organization was to promote peace and acceptance throughout South Africa by creating a choir of five hundred children from across the segregated districts of South Africa at the time, in a beautiful musical performance.
Katz is from Port Elizabeth, a formerly whites-only community on the coast of South Africa now called Mandela Bay. She describes driving through the Transkei Region and being appalled at the disparity between white and black areas, and not being able to believe that they were even part of the same country. Katz states that she was deeply affected by a performance of The Just Assassins, a play about Russian Socialist-Revolutionaries and the moral issues of murder and terrorism, which pushed her to want to make an impact. This is where she met John Kani, now a Grammy award-winning actor, who often helped to sneak her into black-only areas under blankets in the back of a truck in order to get past police checkpoints. Katz went on to the United States to study Music Therapy, where she met Cohen. Cohen encouraged Katz to return to South Africa to achieve her dream.
Initially, they traveled to all the schools where they were teaching to rehearse separately, as areas were divided based on race. With the help of sponsors, the choir, then called “When Voices Meet,” was able to purchase buses to bring the children to Durban to rehearse all together. When asked about bringing the choir around South Africa to perform, Katz said she’d “like to put them all on a train,” which she would call the “Peace Train.” Sharon Katz and the Peace Train has toured all over South Africa and the world, including the US, Cuba, Mexico and Ghana. Despite a once oppressive government trying to censor them at every turn and frequent bomb threats, the Peace Train continued to spread their message of acceptance and peace through music.
Katz says she uses music as a way to give the children a sense of self worth. Many former choir members spoke about how the Peace Train affected them, giving them a sense of unity and pride in South Africa, and how much they appreciated the experiences that the Peace Train gave them. John Kani described Katz as someone who “cared too much,” and that this drove her to want to make a change. When asked what she wanted people to take away from this documentary, Katz said that “[she] want[s] people to be inspired to be agents of change.” She encouraged people to look for places in their communities where they could make a change, and that people should “take action, and not think so much.” Katz’s story and philosophy resonated well with the audience, who seemed inspired by the documentary and by Katz herself. The Peace Train is a story of how music and courage conjoin to empower a movement and encourage people to participate in good citizenship and push forward in the face of injustice.
By Lola Mestas, Junior Copy Editor
Graphic by Shae-Lynn Henderson, EIC