A Little Harmony Shines Through

Courtesy Kimberly McClelland

When the student a cappella group Talisman traveled to South Africa last summer, it wasn't simply a tour, it was a pilgrimage--the fulfillment of a promise made seven years ago.

In 1993, the group performed at the Memorial Church service for Amy Biehl, '89, who was murdered in South Africa while finishing a year there as a Fulbright scholar. Talisman's founder, Joseph Pigato, '92, promised Biehl's parents, Peter and Linda, that the group would someday sing in the townships where their daughter had registered voters for the first post-apartheid elections. In June, to celebrate Talisman's 10th anniversary, 21 students and alumni, including Pigato, finally made the journey.

Talisman's repertoire includes songs of black South Africans, sung in Zulu. Everywhere the group performed--in restaurants, at schools and on street corners--people stopped and stared and then joined in, clapping along to the familiar rhythms. It is almost unheard of for a white South African to speak Zulu, says Talisman director Kimberly McClelland, '02, so black citizens were stunned to hear a racially mixed group of students singing in their language.

The journey included a trip to Gugulethu, the township where Biehl died, and a performance at the home there where her parents now live part of the year. The Biehls operate a foundation to benefit local residents, continuing the work of their daughter.