A Home with Three Pianos

Hannes Uys moved into “Sonskyn” at 10 Homestead Way with his wife Helga, son Pieter-Dirk and daughter Tessa in 1949. The road was named after the old Uitvlugt Farm homestead which had stood    at numbers 4 and 6 but which had been demolished some seven years earlier. Hannes had grown up in Paarl but studied at the University of Cape Town. While at University he had his own jazz band. It was not long before Hannes started a children’s choir of 17 Pinelands children, Kindersang-kring. Practices took place at 10 Homestead Way standing around one of the three pianos. These were a Bluthner grand and an upright Yamaha in the music room while the Feurich baby grand stood in the lounge. 

In 1958 he produced his first album of the choir called Die Heer is my Herde, with Pieter-Dirk Uys as the soloist while Hannes played the organ. Pieter-Dirk, then 13, was also featured on the cover. Tessa was in the choir as well as another Pinelands resident, Laurike Rauch who was an alto for 10 years. Laurike started playing the piano at the age of five and in 1979 had her first number one hit with the song Kinders van die Wind and went on to perform in Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, London, Czech Republic, New Zealand and Australia.

Hannes released a second album in 1961. During the years 1961 and 1962 he made three albums for Columbia records. His dedication to perfection led to many concerts being performed by the choir and broadcasts on SABC. He was the organist at the Parow NGK church where he conducted the church choir. Giving piano lessons was a sideline for Hannes until he left the employ of the Provincial Administration and worked in the music department of Groote Schuur High School.

Helga grew up in Germany and became a well-known and accomplished pianist. In 1935 she was told that she no longer qualified for membership of the Reich Music Chamber, and she was forbidden to play the piano anywhere in Germany as she was Jew. The Kristallnacht in 1936, resulted in the anti-Jewish laws and pogroms making Berlin life too dangerous. Helga ignored the warning signs. However, in 1936, tipped off by a friend of her fiancé who was a pianist and academic, Helga with a brother, Gerhard, was sent to be with her parents who had moved to Cape Town two years earlier. Among the furniture she was able to bring was her Grand Bluthner piano. In Cape Town she became the music teacher at St Cyprian’s school and later at JJ du Preez High School in Parow. Her first concert in Cape Town was for the troops in 1941 which included a concerto for two pianos. The other pianist was Hannes Uys. Later in the concert Hannes annes asked Helga if she would turn his pages. They were married in 1943.

Helga gave Tessa piano lessons and very soon her ability became evident. She gave her first public performance at age seven. Besides singing alto in her father’s choir, she played solo piano and the cello. She made her concert debut at age 13 with the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra. In 1967 Tessa won a scholarship at age 16 to study at the Royal Academy of Music, where she won many prizes including the top prize in her final year. Later she won the Royal Overseas League Competition and became a fellow of the Royal Academy in 1994. 

On stage in the City Hall performing Mozart’s Concerto for three pianos were Hannes Uys, Helga Uys and Tessa Uys. Sitting in audience was Pieter Dirk Uys. He had been given piano lessons by his father and competed in Cape Town Eisteddfods. At age 14 he had won prizes for Best Boys Voice for four years running. However, his career was not to be in music but to become the most famous and productive South African writer and entertainer which he shares with his alter ego, Mrs. Evita Bezuidenhout. Pieter-Dirk attended Pinelands Primary School (the blue school). After high school at Nassau, he studied drama at The University of Cape Town before joining Tessa in London where he enrolled at a film school. Four years later he was asked to join in the establishment of Athol Fugard’s Space Theatre and so returned to his home in Homestead Way. His plays soon attracted the attention of the Publications Control Board and he was often served with banning notices. He has been awarded honorary doctorates from Rhodes University, University of Cape Town and University of the Western Cape and other awards such as the Reconciliation award in 2001 and the 2018 Hertzog Prize for drama.  

In an article in the New York Times, Tessa said that after Helga’s death in 1969, whenever she returned to Pinelands, she practiced for hours on the Bluthner with great pain and difficulty. Her father could not enter the music room without becoming emotional on hearing the piano being played. After the death of Hannes in 1990, the house was leased but the music room was locked. While performing in Germany in 2004 Tessa searched for her mother’s history. She visited a museum with a display of a typical Jewish home in the 1930s. What she thought was missing from the display was a piano which every Jewish home had at that time. The museum had been unable to locate such a piano. Helga’s Bluthner was one such piano and Tessa offered her mother’s piano to the museum.

Before being sent to the famous Bluthner piano works in Leipzig to be renovated, Tessa played a final concert on the Bluthner for friends invited to 10 Homestead Way. Once the piano was installed in the museum, Tessa marked it’s return with a concert, ending in Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika which she said celebrated an united Germany and a united South Africa.