To celebrate its centenary the South African College of Music (SACM) is presenting a series of concerts at the Baxter Concert Hall, Chisholm Room and City Hall. Running from August 21 until a gala concert on September 7, what patrons can enjoy include Mike Campbell and UCT Big Band, UCT String Quartet and an organ recital by Mario Nell. Dizu Plaatjies’ African Music studio and a workshop production of Mozart’s Le Nozze Di Figaro directed by Angelo Gobbato with Kamal Khan at the piano are also festival offerings. As is illustrious past student Francois du Toit who winds up anniversary festivities at the City Hall playing Mozart’s D Minor Piano Concerto with the UCT Orchestra conducted by Bernhard Gueller.
The SACM’s journey began when Madame Apolline Niay-Darroll, leading a group of enthusiastic musicians, opened doors in Strand Street to six students. Two years later numbers warranted Henry William Bell’s appointment as principal. In1920, the University of Cape Town (UCT) awarded him a professorship.
London born Bell, was the right man in the right place at the right time. He oversaw the College’s first degree courses and its expansion in 1925, to Strubenholm in Rosebank where - despite superstitions about a turret ghost - the SACM has remained and flourished.
Back in 1931 when Bell saw how UCT’s vacant chemistry lab on the Hiddingh campus could be turned into a theatre, he supervised renovations into what became known as The Little Theatre. 1933 saw Bell conducting Cimarosa’s opera Matrimonio Segreto. A year later after his historical invitation to Dulcie Howes to join the College she, using her ballet students and teachers, choreographed The Enchanted Well to Bell’s own composition, (in time the UCT Ballet Company made up the core when the Cape Performing Arts Board (CAPAB) Ballet Company formed).
Bell’s retirement in 1935 and on-going staff problems during World War 2 left the College suffering a hiatus, until in 1946 - like a musical whirlwind - Glaswegian Erik Chisholm arrived. Tossing out what he described "as old wood" he, by appointing renowned international pedagogues of piano/singing/strings to the staff, Chisholm set the SACM on its path to international recognition. As Albie Louw, one of Chisholm’s most famous students, said "Chisholm took on his new job with a firm hand insisting students gave regular concerts at the Hiddingh Hall, and yearly opera performances at The Little Theatre." Another celebrated student is soprano/teacher Nellie du Toit. She remembers Chisholm as "enterprising with enormous drive. He lived long enough to see his opera school, of which I was part, grow into the CAPAB opera company in 1965"
Chisholm’s death brought changes in leadership. With those came curriculum changes, and in 1999 the College became part of the Department of Humanities presently headed by Dean Paula Ensor.
Professor Gerrit Bon introduced Jazz Studies and burgeoning under Mike Campbell (future) celebrities such as Jimmy Dludlu and Judith Sephuma were Jazz graduates. Another innovative move came under Professor James May. He drawing upon Deirdre Hansen and Paul Rommelaere's expertise introduced degree and diploma courses in African music. The College now offers specialist degrees and diplomas in Opera, Western Classical Music, Jazz and African music.
Composer Hendrik Hofmeyer, remembers "We had a galaxy of marvellous teachers guiding me and fellow students Leon Bosch, John Theodore and Marika Hofmeyer into music careers. At that time Andrea Catzel and Sidwell Hartman were our opera stars under Gigi (Gregorio Fiasconaro)" On the opera front Gobbato took the helm over in 1982. His monumental influence in turning SACM’s Operatic Studies around is one of South Africa’s great success stories.
In fact the list of the SACM’s triumphs is long enough to fill tomes.
Sheila Chisholm, Cape Argus, August 2010