Pianist Reggie Dreyer

Peta Stewart

At the age of 74, just 56 years after apartheid regulations made it impossible for him to play as a soloist with the symphony orchestra in 1960, Reggie Dreyer of Retreat is set to make his orchestral debut. He will play the first movement of the Mozart Piano Concerto no 23 in A, K 488, in a free Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra concert hosted by Artscape on 7 March at 1 pm.

“His jump of joy nearly reached the ceiling!” – is how Mattie Dreyer describes how Reggie received the news.

Dreyer’s story is one of hope and love, and underscored with a complete lack of anger, bitterness or even despair.  In a word, inspirational. “My teacher, the 83-year-old Ivy Parkin, was my biggest supporter and she thought that I had a future as a concert pianist. While my audition with the CTSO was a success (I played the same Mozart), the laws of the time were to play against me. As the second youngest of 13 children and the one on whom my parents depended, it was not possible for me to go overseas to study. I don’t regret this at all. After all, I might then have never returned to South Africa!  I went to the College of Music, successfully obtained a licentiate from Trinity (Helena van Heerden was his teacher) and a B Mus from UNISA and went into teaching,”  he says.

He also holds an education department teaching certificate and a choir training diploma, and excelled at local eisteddfodau.

He did more than that, for music (apart from Mattie and their 3 children and 7 grandchildren) was and is his love. He became a cornerstone of the church, playing organ in the Methodist Church in Diep River, Heathfield and Bergvliet, writing and setting songs like the school song for the South Peninsula School and Riversdale. He has written a children’s cantata which was performed in the DRC Church in Steenberg. You may have heard him play in FMR programmes. And while others may watch television, he plays the piano every night at home.

He has made two CDs, one is Reminiscences, with works for solo piano

Dreyer has taught at all levels – primary, high and teacher’s training. He has trained choirs and prepared them for huge concerts, played the organ in the City Hall on occasions such as Woman’s World Day of Prayer (although not a trained organist he did have lessons with Patrick Wise) and made two CDs, one called Reminiscences with some of his own works for solo piano, the other of a live recital at the Nassau Centre. And then he also plays jazz!  He still teaches as South Peninsula High School and has the odd private student in his music room, with murals on the wall by his artistic daughter.

He comes from a musical family – his father played the organ, several of his siblings played violin or sang and as his father aged so he took over his father’s organ duties in the church close to their Diep River home. His children are musical, his wife sings, and his grandchildren, living with their parents in the UK and New Zealand, are too.

Last year on the advice of his church minister, he made contact with the CPO, auditioned and was accepted. Says the CPO’s CE1O Louis Heyneman: “After waiting  50 years, not only was he brave enough to audition the same concerto he played then – Mozart K 488 – but for a panel that included the CPO’s resident conductor, Brandon Phillips and UCT’s Franklin Larey. After all these years he could still play his favourite concerto, and well enough to succeed. We soon asked him to make his debut with the CPO! We are grateful to Artscape, which embraced the idea wholeheartedly and made the transport and tuning of a piano possible.

As Artscape CEO Marlene le Roux says: “This is a story about determination and our wonderful country and Louis Heyneman’s belief in Reggie Dreyer. Artscape is a space of ‘endless possibilities’.  Artscape is a space for everybody and one to make dreams come true.”

Franklyn Larey is coaching Dreyer in the nuances of orchestral playing for, although Dreyer has played with school bands, this is the first time he will be playing with a full symphony orchestra.

The concert, which will be conducted by Brandon Phillips, will be one of a kind, offering the chance to an aspirant conductor to conduct a symphony orchestra, featuring a really young pianist at the start of his career, and a work to mark the incredible contribution made by the fire fighters of the City of Cape Town and beyond.

What: Reggie Dreyer in concert
Where: Chandelier Foyer, Artscape Theatre, Cape Town
When: 7 March 7, 1pm
Tickets: Free