The iconic Conservatory building in Thabo Mbeki Way (R501) turns 60 years old today. It was officially opened by Dr FJ (Frans) du Toit, former chancellor of the university, on 8 April 1960 as the permanent teaching facility for the then Music Department. Since 2003, it has been the home of the School of Music & Conservatory within the Faculty of Humanities.
Music teaching at the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education
Music as an academic discipline officially started at the university in 1945 already when it was offered as a major subject in the BA degree, with Mr Jacques Malan as lecturer. The Conservatory (a separate entity for practical music instruction) was established in 1950. They were merged in 1956 to form the Music Department, and Prof MC (Maarten) Roode was appointed as the first HOD. During all of these years, music classes and lessons had been presented in various buildings, including the old mill (Oude Molen), the old School of Theology, facilities at nearby schools, and even a house that was rented for this purpose.
Since 1952, plans were made for a purpose-built facility to accommodate all music study. Several sites had been considered, but it was eventually decided that the Oude Molen terrain next to the Mooi River would best handle the expected increase in traffic during concerts.
Johan de Ridder of Pretoria was appointed as the architect for the new Conservatory. He was also responsible for several other buildings on the university campus (for pharmacology, physiology, and psychology), as well as the Reformed Church in Walter Sisulu Lane.
His design reflects the Little Brazil style that was popular in the 1950s and 1960s, especially on the Highveld. It is described in architectural terms as a “(D)ramatic cruciform-shaped plan with an expressively shaped auditorium”.
The opening of the Conservatory was celebrated with six concerts in May 1960, including performances by South African composer Arnold van Wyk, and the SABC Concert Orchestra conducted by Anton Hartman.
The original building was expanded in 1974 with the addition of a three-storey wing, consisting of a larger music library, an organ hall, three lecture halls and a number of studios and practice rooms.
During the late 1990s, the old library was converted into the Pretorius Music Studio, housing a bequest of valuable South African art works and a unique white, Baroque-style Steinway grand piano from the estate of the late Dr Francois Johannes Pretorius (1936-1994). His aunt, Thelma Pretorius (née Wiid), had been a lecturer at the Potchefstroom College of Music earlier in the twentieth century. The bequest also serves as a token of gratitude to the W.D. Pretorius family who made outstanding contributions over the years to the spiritual, educational, cultural and social life of Potchefstroom.
To satisfy the demand for more teaching and rehearsal space, a large multi-purpose hall was added on top of the music library in 2006, and appropriately named Oppibib.
The courtyard between the Conservatory Hall and the music library was renovated and developed at the beginning of the 2000s to be used primarily as a social space for music students. Two murals have already been painted by the entrance to the foyer, the first in 2008, and the latest one (below) ten years after.
The current director of the School of Music & Conservatory, Dr Yvonne-Marié Brand, expresses the hope that the building would also be further expanded in the next decade to accommodate the record number of student intakes since 2014. This is mainly due to an expansion of specialisation areas to also include brass instruments, choral conducting and contemporary commercial music (CCM). Community music and ensemble studies have also been added in 2017, hence there are several student ensembles at the Conservatory, each with a very active performance schedule.
Apart from the academic activities within its walls to prepare and educate the performers, composers, music teachers, and researchers of the future, the Conservatory also has a strong link to the community through its community engagement programme, Musikhane, as well as the annual concert series. Members of the public can regularly experience word-class performers in the Conservatory Hall at a fraction of the cost than elsewhere in the country.
Due to the current lockdown situation, a concert to celebrate the Conservatory’s 60 years of existence will be presented at a later date. Please watch this blog or our Facebook page for an announcement, or subscribe to our mailing list.
Certain parts of this post was derived from Conservatory commemorates half a century this year, 17 September 2010.