Organ in need of help

2018-10-09 15:45
The KZN Philharmonic Orchestra and Pietermaritzburg Proms Choir conducted by Richard Cock in front of the pipe organ in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall.

The KZN Philharmonic Orchestra and Pietermaritzburg Proms Choir conducted by Richard Cock in front of the pipe organ in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall. (Music revival)

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Concerns have been raised about the condition of the iconic pipe organ in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall following the death of Colin Hele, the man tasked with keeping it playable, last year.

Matthew Hoffman, an organist, pianist and choral trainer of several high school choirs, told The Witness that the organ has received no attention in the past year and that considerable problems have emerged.

Hele had been taking care of the beautiful musical instrument since 1976.

Originally part of the British organ building firm of Hele & Co. Plymouth, founded by his great grandfather in 1860, he came to South Africa in 1971 to join Cooper, Gill & Tomkins.

After starting his own business in Pieter­maritzburg in 1974, he was asked to undertake the work of rebuilding the city hall organ as a sub-contractor, a job he continued to do until his death.

Without his attention, however, the majestic instrument has become virtually unplayable.

Hele said in an interview in 2016 that the organ embodied all that was best in the late Victorian, romantic style of organ building and delivered music-lovers a visual and aural feast.

It was installed in the city hall 116 years ago and is considered one of the city’s greatest assets.

Ordered as a replacement for an organ destroyed when fire gutted the old city hall on July 12, 1898, the pipe organ could cost the city as much as R60 million to replace.

To try and prevent this scenario, Hoffman is hoping to encourage young musicians in the city, and the surrounding KZN Midlands, to do their bit to help save the instrument from falling into total disrepair.

“A leading Pretoria organ builder, Werner Hurter, has quoted R6 000 to provide a report on the condition of the organ and a service plan,” he added.

“Werner has also quoted R2 300 to tune the reed pipes of the organ for the Christmas concerts [featuring the Drakensberg Boys Choir on November 27 and the Drakondale Girls Choir on December 6], provided we can raise the necessary funds in time.

“The reed pipes include the trumpets, trombones, clarinets, oboes and vox humana stops of the organ and these should have a regular tuning every three months.”

Hoffman’s first fund-raising concert will be held in the Grace College school hall (opposite the new Life Hilton Hospital complex) at 7 pm on Saturday, October 13. Tickets are R50.

“It is important that we can raise R9 300 ...” Hoffman said. “This magnificent organ will also be included as a prime asset in our 2019 application to Unesco for our capital to become a ‘City of Music’.”

At the time of going to press, The Witness had not received any response to the questions sent to Msunduzi Municipality.


Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  organ music

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