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Klein Karoo serenade
by Kenneth Heath
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Klein Karoo Serenade

The music rose in cadence into a crescendo and then retreated in diminuendo into a deafening silence that echoed around the walls of the beautiful church. We sat spellbound, mesmerized, trying frantically to assimilate what we had just experienced. We had been lifted out of our mundane lives onto a plateau high above the heavens. The river of music carried us higher and higher imploding as the sun in all its fiery coloured hues retreated below the Swartberg Mountains surrounding the picturesque town of Calitzdorp.

Like all good stories, I have raced on ahead and perhaps before I go too far I should backtrack so that you can share this journey with me. Travel articles suggested trying Route 62 as an alternative to the garden route, so with our annual holiday approaching, my wife and I decided to explore the road less travelled. The musical “Mama Mia!” was on in Cape Town, so we included it in our itinerary on our way to the West coast, splitting our long journey at Calitzdorp.

Departing on an icy June morning, we arrived in the early afternoon at “The Rose of the Karoo”. Our gracious hostess, Sandy, showed us to our rooms, and with time to spare before supper, she gave us a historical map, suggesting we take a stroll through the town. She also suggested that we visit the local Dutch Reform church for an organ recital.

By the time the walk-about was finished, I was tired and more interested in supper than an organ recital. However at my wife’s request, I grudgingly agreed.

On entering the beautiful sandstone church, we admired the magnificent yellow and stinkwood pulpit and the solid oak pews. Curved wooden beams raise up to support the beautiful steel ceilings. Noel the organist, welcomed us and seated us where we could “truly appreciate the music.” Richard, a geologist arrived and we turned out to be the only audience in this church that seats 1050.

Noel with his flushed round smiling face was an enigma. He wore a priest’s frock yet here he was playing the organ in the Dutch Reform Church. He gave us a brief history of the Church and the magnificent organ with its’ 113 pipes. He then proceeded to enlighten us about each piece he was about to play, covering such aspects as the composer, theme or history of the music.

He then proceeded to play, and from the very first notes we were captivated. He played with such passion and skill, it was apparent that we were in for the concert of a lifetime. There were only three of us yet he played as if he was playing to a packed house.

His final piece was an excerpt from Handel’s “The Messiah” and one could say the heavens opened to receive this magnificent musical offering. The recital ended just as the setting sun retreated behind the Swartberg Mountains.

We were spell bound, unwilling to leave, and the peace that had settled in that building transcended all our thoughts. It washed away life’s heavy burdens and instilled a warm glow in our very souls. Wow! Who wants to leave when you feel that you have entered into the very throne room of God? More! Just one more song, a few more minutes please, but it was time to go and to be perfectly honest I don’t believe that anything could surpass what we had just experienced.

Richard invited Noel to join us for supper and when we returned, Sandy with her knowing smile did not have to ask if we had enjoyed the performance. The enraptured expressions on our faces said it all.

A fire was roaring in the hearth, as we sat down to Sandy’s delicious supper. Dennis a local artist joined us and so began one of the most entertaining evenings we have ever had. With a glass of red wine and gourmet food filling our bellies, all was well with the world.

Noel grew up in East London and at the tender age of fourteen was the official organist for the Methodist Church. He then went to seminary and then on to study music at the Sorbonne in Paris. Filled to the brim with many interesting anecdotes and experiences, Noel, Richard, Dennis and Sandy enriched our lives beyond belief.

I delight in spending time with the older generation. They have a plethora of life’s experiences stored away, just waiting for the right opportunity to share. Herman Charles Bosmans, “Voorkamer Stories” pale into insignificance compared to richness of lives well lived as these wonderful friends shared their varied and interesting experiences with us.

Soon it was over, and it was off to bed with a tot of port to keep us warm. Back in our room as we reflected on this wonderful day it occurred to me that, I too would be able to impart from my rich and full life someday.

The tapestry of our lives is rich in color, each thread painstakingly woven by a loving God who knows that each experience down life’s pathway is a learning curve no matter how painful or beautiful that will enrich us, but most importantly be there to share with others. To encourage and to strengthen them as we all journey through this wonderful gift called life. As I drifted off to sleep I reflected on the fact that for the first time in my life, I could truly say, “ I too have lived.”

A year later as I write this article, the memories of that wonderful evening continue to bubble just below the surface. Yes, Route 62 was amazing, “Mama Mia” was spectacular and the West Coast was beautiful, however, in my life’s journey of fifty years there has never been such a defining moment as that wonderful organ recital, meal and companionship that we experienced that cold June evening. It truly is the little things in life that can return the greatest blessings.

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