NWU, Potchefstroom Campus, News: Conservatory commemorates half a century this year

Conservatory commemorates half a century this year

This year it is exactly fifty years ago that the Conservatory of the North-West University’s Potchefstroom Campus was put into service.  The Conservatory is the home of the School of Music. 
  It was then described as the most modern in the Union and the Potchefstroom University for CHE was the first university in the country to have its own Conservatory, where students could receive practical teaching in music. 

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In spite of its characteristic modern architecture, the conservatory is fifty years old this year.  The building, on the corner of Govan Mbeki Drive and Meyer Street, is a well-known beacon in Potchefstroom.

  However, the music history of Potchefstroom started practically a century beforehand. The first music performance in Potchefstroom of which there is record was on 9 August 1863 when a group named De Harmonie, established by the Netherlander, RA Nispen, and a Scottish teacher, DJ Forbes, held a concert.  The programme boasted an ambitious 21 items.
  In the years to come several music associations and teachers were active in Potchefstroom.  In 1914, MM van der Bent and his wife, Florence, established the Potchefstroom College of Music, housed in a building in Potgieter Street (currently Nelson Mandela Drive).  When the University bought this music school in 1949, it was one of the most important music institutions in Western Transvaal. 
  The University had already offered music classes in the forties.  By 1945 the department of music took in a recognised position in the faculty of Arts and was acknowledged as one of the majors for a B.A. degree.  The full-time lecturer then was Mr. Jacques Malan.

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During the opening of the Conservatory in 1960 it was described as the most modern in the Union and the PU for CHE was at that stage the first university in the country to have its own Conservatory.

    The active interest in music in the community of Potchefstroom was one of the reasons the PU for CHE was persuaded to establish the Conservatory for practical music.  The first head was a well-known and much sought after organist, MC (Maarten) Roode, who, amongst others, appeared as the official organist during the opening of the Voortrekker Monument in December 1949.  Roode assumed office at the Puk in July 1949.
  When teaching commenced at the Conservatory in 1950 there were 307 music students who were instructed by fourteen tutors. Under Roode’s proficient leadership the Conservatory grew constantly. The Conservatory and the Music Department existed separately from one another until 1955 and only merged after the departure of Dr. Jacques Malan. 
  In 1953, Roode became professor and three years later, in 1956, with the merger, also became Head of the Music Department.  He died at the age of sixty, along with his wife, in a motor vehicle accident in Potchefstroom in 1967.
  In 1955 Dr. Jacques Malan established a Collegium Musicum as an extension of the syllabus for Music History. The Collegium Musicum presented numerous concerts by lecturers and students and even had its own choir.  Concerts were held at several venues in town, amongst others in the hall of the main building, the town hall and the Totius Hall.
  The first building used for music training was the “Ou Meule” on the Oude Molen terrain. With the growth of the student numbers venues across town were utilised.  For this, amongst others, the old School of Theology, facilities at nearby located schools and a hired house were used.
  Several possibilities were considered when the building of a Conservatory came up for discussion, amongst others a conservatory in Potgieter Street.  In spite of a lack of funds, planning a building was already initiated in 1952.  In this process even universities abroad were consulted.
  Following thorough counselling it was decided to erect the building on the Oude Molen terrain since the expected increase in motor vehicle traffic could only be dealt with there for performances. 
  The architect of the Conservatory was Johan de Ridder who had a difficult task at hand.

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This artist portrayal shows what the Conservatory looked like after its completion in 1960.  The artist was CMA Hattingh and the architect of the Conservatory was Johan de Ridder.

  The cost for the building from the initial plan exceeded the budget by far and a process of scaling down was started.  Initially the cost was calculated at £192 100, but only £75 000 was available. The Transvaal Department of Education would contribute £10 000 as recognition of music lessons offered to school learners.
  The final plans provided for an audience hall accommodating 1 200 people, 20 small practice rooms, twelve studios, four classrooms and a library which also had to serve as a discothèque, two organ practice rooms, an instrument storage room, three offices, a staff room, kitchen, cloakrooms and toilet facilities.  The total cost of £70 610 (air conditioning and appliances excluded) was, however, too much.
  Following consultation, the orchestra space in the audience hall was excluded and reduced to 350 seats.  The final building cost amounted to £78 000.
  A local organ building firm, R Müller & Son, built the organ for the Conservatory, designed by the Head of the Conservatory, Prof MC Roode, himself.  On 15 January, the Herald reported that this firm also built the organ for the Groote Kerk in Cape Town.  The Conservatory’s organ with its two manuals and 26 stops was later, due to its technical and artistic shortcomings, no longer used. In 1992 it was removed and erected in the Reformed Church, Wapadrant.


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Prof. MC Roode was attached to the PU for CHE from 1949 until his death in 1967.  He was the first Head of the Conservatory.

  The opening of the Conservatory was a huge and important occasion for the University.  It was officially opened by the chancellor of the University, FJ (Frans) du Toit, on 8 April 1960.  Early in May 1960 six concerts were held as part of the opening programme – one of which was a performance by the composer, Arnold van Wyk, in a programme that consisted entirely of his works.  The SABC Concert orchestra, led by Anton Hartman, also held a concert.  Soloists at this concert were the well-known soprano, Cecilia Wessels and Hennie Coetzee (harpsichord). 
  In 1963 another hall was added to the back and in 1974 the organ audience hall and new library/discothèque were attached as part of a three-storey wing. 
  Currently the Conservatory houses the School of Music, as the former Department of Music is known since 2003. After a rationalising process in the nineties it was initially classified as the Music Section of the School of Languages and Arts; later it became part of the School of Arts and in 2003 it became the School of Music.
  Facilities at the Conservatory include the Conservatory Hall which has seating accommodation for 372 people, where most of the concerts are held in the School of Music’s concert series. The organ hall with its Baroque style organ can take approximately 100 people and is used for organ performances, choir performances and smaller chamber music concerts. 
  The Pretorius music studio houses numerous antique pieces and valuable South African works of art and accommodates eighty people.  Apart from the music library there are also two lecture halls and a few studios, roughly thirty practice rooms, mainly equipped with a piano, whilst two have practice organs. 
  During the course of the past fifty years the Conservatory was not only privileged to present concerts of a variety of world-known musicians, but  the past and present staff corps of the School of Music and its predecessors have the foremost musicians in South-Africa.



Published by Kiewiet Scheppel on 17 September 2010.