The idea of a choir at Onderstepoort all started with Aileen Pypers, a 2010 OP graduate and currently state veterinarian in Stellenbosch.
In her own words she recalls:
“It all started with this piece of music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lC7V8hG198
Its haunting harmonies captivated me and I used to listen to it while studying in my res room in 2009. I can remember the exact day when I had the really mad idea of performing it for Dean's cultural evening (Onderstepoort’s annual concert in the Aula). We approached Dr Holm to conduct us, put up posters advertising for interested people and ended up with 16 people in total. We had approximately 5 or 6 formal practices and many impromptu practices in tea times and lunch times. We found a piano in a hidden room in the Arnold Theiler Building and would practice there.”
This obscure hidden room with a piano, the origin of which no one was quite sure, would become the practice room and heart of the choir for the next 5 years. After their very successful performance at the Dean’s cultural evening that year, they decided to form an official choir – The Theiler Vocal Ensemble, named after the veterinary faculty’s founder, Sir Arnold Theiler. With the help of Dr Dietmar Holm, Sean Miller and Wilco Botha, they convinced Charlotte Botha, a honours student in choral conducting, to take on the challenge of training a bunch of animal enthusiasts on the northern outskirts of Pretoria. Without any official source of funds, the small group of students and lecturing staff kept the choir alive with donations from their own pockets, and despite not getting paid each month, Charlotte continued driving through to Onderstepoort weekly and allowing the choir to excell in numerous performances that year. The shared will and passion to keep singing kept the choir alive for numerous years. Charlotte would later continue with her exceptional career and is currently a conductor at the esteemed Drakensberg Boys Choir.
Other highlights and changes include:
2011 - Wilco Botha took the lead as manager from Aileen
2012 - Pieter Bezuidenhout appointed as conductor
2013 - Carrie Milton took over as manager
2015 – Prof Dietmar Holm offered his services as conductor, Matthys Uys took over as manager
Near the end of 2015, Prof Holm and Matthys realised the need for more structure and support in order for the choir to continue growing. They dreamed of a choir forming an active part of the Onderstepoort culture, integrating all of its people, and sharing this unique voice with crowds far outside of their campus borders. With this dream in mind, they approached Prof van Wyk and Michael Barrett from UP Arts. And so after months of planning, this dream became a reality, and the Onderstepoort Community Choir was born and officially welcomed into the UP Arts family.
The founder, Dr Aileen Pypers, herself writes this about choral singing: "I have always loved the magic that happens in musical harmony. I love the feeling that you get when each person singing his or her own note together creates something better. The synergy. It's a metaphor for life - even though we are each unique in the things we do, think and say, when we can hold who we are and yet still work together, we can make life beautiful. For just that moment Heaven is a place on earth and God is smiling."