Amanda van Zyl – Founder Member
I was one of the charter members of Protea Choral Society together with the Weirs, Rochfords, Tonkins, Greenslades, Tillys, Meyers, Rod Scheepers, Bruce Alexander, Deon Craytor and of course my sisters, Annette and Lizelle van Zyl, to name a few.
It was extremely exciting and at the heart of all this were Andy and Mary Weir. They were the ones who put heads together and formed a committee to run Protea.
As young children we did not care much about the running of the choir, the admin or the hard work that went into the stage productions, the choral performances or anything else. We knew everything would be taken care of – with Mary and Andy being the driving force.
My Mom and Mary were lifelong friends, and I often overheard bits and pieces of conversations about new ideas, or the time we took a trip on a train from Benoni to JHB to cut an LP, ‘On Wings of Song’ , in a studio.
I remember our first Production ‘Bells of Bruges’ (see photo attachment)was put on in the Springs theatre and all our other shows, starting with ‘Wizard of Oz’ (see attachment) were performed in the Benoni Small Town hall (except for Big Band Show which was in the Benoni Big Town Hall)
The tour in 1976 is another highlight for me; the total show was approximately 2 hours long and was a combination on choral performances and extracts from various of the musicals
It was a laugh a minute when we performed in conservative Bloemfontein; the Joseph extract – specifically ‘The song of the king’ – when Pharaoh, played by Graham, started gyrating – quite a few audience members got up and walked out – totally shocked! Yet in tiny little platteland towns they cheered!
I can honestly say that thanks to the Weirs and Protea, I had an experience of a lifetime and I am certain all the generations of kids that followed would agree wholeheartedly.
Amanda van Zyl McCarthy
Bruce Alexander – Professional Actor
My name is Bruce Alexander. I am an actor, singer, restaurateur and property developer.
I joined Protea Choral Society in 1970. What was then solely a choir was started by Andrew and Mary Weir as a vehicle for young people in Benoni who had a desire and a talent to perform. From the get-go it was a disciplined and professionally run outfit where the craft was taken seriously, and we willingly worked hard to reach a high standard of choral performance. To this end the choir recorded an album -this was in the day when recording was not a ‘garage setup’ accessible to everyone; studios had to be hired, producers and technicians engaged and the entire choir had to be transported to Johannesburg daily for many sessions. No mean feat and this was all organised and carried out by Andrew and Mary Weir, almost single-handedly.
They had ambitions for the choir and put their heart and soul into developing and attaining those dreams.
In 1972 they decided that to take the choir to the next level they would stage musical productions. They recognised that many of the members were more than just choristers and had a talent to perform musical theatre productions. And so began annual and then biannual stage productions.
I was fortunate to be featured performer in many Protea productions:
The Lion – The Wizard of Oz – 1973
The Gale Bird – Listen to the Wind 1974
Bertie – The Love Birds – 1977
Vocal Quartet – The Big Band Show – 1977
The Lion – The Wizard of Oz – 1978
Riff – West Side Story – 1979
Arthur Kipps – Half a Sixpence – 1984
I went on to study drama at the Pretoria Technikon and when I finished my studies in 1982 I was awarded a contract with the PACT drama company. I stayed with PACT for 4 years. During my time I was fortunate to work with the top actors and directors in South Africa at the time in a diverse range of productions at The Alexander Theatre, The State Theatre, The Civic Theatre and Windybrow. From Shakespeare and Chekhov to Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller to modern South African writers like Norman Coombes and Ilse van Hemmert. I also had lead roles in Janice Honeyman’s first 4 original pantomimes in the late 1980’s.
From there I went freelance and some of my highlights were
Coxie – Boo to the Moon (Paul Slabolepsky)
Prince Richard – The Lion in Winter
Mordred – Camelot
Snoopy – Charlie Brown
MC and duet singer to Annabel Linder’s Funny Ladies
Tobias – Sweeny Todd
Not The Midnight Mass – Southern Africa and UK Tour 1995
I can honestly say that had it not been for Andrew and Mary Weir, I and many other actors who hailed from Benoni would not have had the experience and developed talent that we were equipped with. In the 1980’s it was acknowledged in the professional theatre world that Benoni was supplying an extraordinary amount of people that were both behind the scenes and on stage. This was in no small part due to Andrew and Mary Weir. They pretty much single-handedly provided a platform where young people could nurture and develop their love of theatre and the performing arts. At a time when there was no TV in South Africa they created a space where young people learnt the dedication and discipline that is required to achieve a standard that is acknowledged and admired. In fact, Manny Mannim came to see Protea’s production of West Side Story and was so impressed that he offered a 3 week season at the Market Theatre. Unfortunately, at that stage only amateur rights were available in SA and professional rights would have been required for the Market Theatre so we couldn’t take up the offer.
This aptly demonstrates the level of achievement that Protea attained and this was in no small part, and in fact I believe was very much due to the tireless and passionate dedication that Andrew and Mary Weir gave to developing and nurturing what Protea came to represent.
Also the simple fact that 51 years later, it is still going strong as an organisation attests to the solid and true foundation that Protea was built on. Andrew and Mary Weir laid and developed that foundation and deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated for that.
I thank you for your attention in this regard.
As a youngster, growing up in an Afrikaans speaking environment in Rynfield Benoni, I joined the Protea Choral Society (which was started by the Weir’s, a Scottish family that emigrated years before) at the age of 12 (+- 1971). I was introduced to the choir by my then Rynfield Primary School crush whom I used to go and serenade at night.
As far as I know it was one of the few platforms at that stage, not only in Benoni, but throughout the country that introduced and promoted a platform for interaction between English and Afrikaans speaking kids, all through music.
I will to today, never forget how Christine, her brothers Graham and Gavin transformed my outlook on life, mainly because their parents (Mary and Andy) welcomed me in as part of their family. Did I mention their parents started the choir! I fondly remember evenings at the Weir family, being introduced to all sorts of “English” cultures, reading English comics for the first time (Beano, Dandy etc.) and of course the sing-a-long led by Andy, that opened a whole new world to me/us.
Some of the highlights during my time with the choir was my first ever stage performance in the “Bells of Bruges” at the Springs theatre, the tours to the Drakensberg Boys Choir and our performances with them, the LP our choir recorded “On wings of Song”. This was all through the efforts of these unsung heroes, Mary and Andy Weir. What they exposed me to, the personal growth/confidence I experienced during the time with the choir stood me in good stead throughout my life and I will never forget them, nor should South Africa.
I was a member of Protea Choir from 1974 until 1979.
What wonderful times and my grateful thanks to the Founders Andy and Mary Weir – what a difference you made Andy and Mary in the lives of young people by creating this choir!
I learned so much; made friends in my new country (I was an immigrant from the UK) ; we even saw the country when we did a tour of the Garden Route and Cape Town in 1976!
I was in the choir when we went on TV where we sang excerpts from ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ .Our very talented musical director was Lydia Van Rooyen . In their production of The Wizard of Oz I played ‘The Sorceress of the North ‘.
The Protea Teenage Theatre Club was formed and we spent many an evening at Andrew and Mary Weir’s house rehearsing for the show – our first show was a farce which went down so well, (for the life of me I can’t remember the name of it) , but it was loads of fun. I remember I was Penny playing opposite Bruce Alexander who was Bertie, and Christine Weir, Graham Weir were also involved. I still know every note and word of The Hallelujah Chorus today and so many others!
The Protea choir gave me my introduction to theatre and the confidence to be involved in other adult productions later in life. My mom Marianne Dawkins spent hours at her sewing machine making costumes for various shows. My sisters Gail and Celia were also involved in the Protea choir .
RIP Founders Mary and Andy Weir , thanks for the wonderful memories!
From my memory, I joined the Choral Society in the winter holidays of 1972, where they were practicing for their play production of that year “The Bells of Bruges”.
The Protea Choral Society was the brain-child of Mary and Andrew Weir…. Andrew was the Chairman and Mary the Secretary and Treasurer, with an able committee of Meyer’s, Tonkin’s,Greenslade and Wood’s. …I am sure there are others, but those names I do not distinctly remember…
My mother was always prepared to assist and was promptly co-opted onto the committee. Our musical director was Lydia van Rooyen, who was brilliant in her ability to create harmonious contrast and using her skills to coordinate the choral effects from the young voices… undoubtedly the core of the amazing voices was that of Graham Weir, whom I had crossed swords with at the National Eisteddfod where I thought I had given an amazing performance and achieved an A+grading – only to be beaten into second place by an A++ from a brilliant Graham!
The Protea production that year, Bells of Bruges, was presented at the Springs Theatre and although it was a phenomenal venue, the costs were prohibitive and thereafter our productions were presented in the Benoni Small Town Hall.
I think that all our young voices complemented and challenged each other under Lydia’s direction to produce some spectacular results over the years, whether they were live stage productions, a concert for some charity, or merely as a presentation for a school, an old age home or church group….
She always brought out the best in us all…. she had the patience to get it right – or kept us practicing until we did…. she was phenomenal!!
Around this time, it was decided that we needed a record of our abilities… and a recording studio was booked for a day in the school holidays in Johannesburg . There was great excitement as we all traveled by train in our “step-outs” to Johannesburg… the girls in white frocks with the distinctive blue blazer… the boys with traditional grey flannels, white shirt and a red tie and the same blue blazer…. We had photographs taken of the choir on a staircase of the Johannesburg station gardens (see photo attachment)… and then all walked to the studio….. how Lydia was able to control us and still record 10
odd cuts on that day still bewilders me – 34 energetic and excited children in a foreign environment…it must have been a nightmare…and I do not specifically remember any Moms being there to assist…although I am sure that there would have been the usual surnames… Tonkin, Woods, Meyer and of course Weir.
We were all extremely proud of the result at the end of the day… with some great memories kept on vinyl…. it still enables me to escape back to my childhood…albeit only for an instant!!
In 1973 the ‘Wizard of Oz’ was the Annual production…and was a wonderful presentation of the old Classic…we received rave reviews from far and wide for this production….and I think most of the participants maintain fond memories of this show…
1974 brought new challenges as the older boys were now losing their voices, breaking at the onset of puberty, so a new brigade of stars were emerging as the new production “Listen to the Wind” was rehearsed.
1975 brought the Christmas Carol to have our little bit of Protea magic woven into it…and Graham really came to the fore…and presented his undoubted talent in a way that only he could… I stood and watched in awe as he took control and captivated the audience with a superb rendition of Scrooge… That was my final outing with Protea… my voice was still in the throes of breaking and I was entering matric… it was time for the new crop of youngsters to come forward, which they did… testament to this is that Protea is still active today.
My thanks to Mary and Andrew, who had the foresight to start a movement for young talent to be showcased…(to be honest, they had three talented children) and that I was able to be included in the number and members of the Protea Choral Society…..it taught me a great deal and enabled me to experience being on the stage without any fear… without their constant efforts, this would not have been possible. In the annual productions, while we were on stage…there were a myriad of other tasks to be completed… stage sets and props, costumes, food, teas and drinks, selling of tickets, back and front of stage crews…. Tasks which were ably completed off by the committee, headed by Andrew and Mary…. Their enthusiasm was contagious, they were able to instill the same in all who assisted. They have left an impression on myself and many other children who proceeded through the ranks of Protea… an indelible mark on most people that stayed in Benoni during the 70’s and 80’s…
Corrie van Zyl – parent of the Van Zyl girls
Andrew and Mary Weir realized their vision and dreams when they established Protea Choral Society late 60s or early 70s.
They started off with some 20 children and the first choir mistress was Mavis Meyer.
The first uniforms were designed by Mary and design and manufacture of Stage scenery were done by Andy and Mary Weir, together With their support team.
Protea, apart from numerous choral performances produced some 20 stage productions – Wizard of Oz, Bells of Bruge, Chtistmas Carol etc.
The choir appeared on TV in the early days of SA.TV on Dag 14 presented by Heinrich Marnitz and even toured the country in 1976.
The Weirs – with hands on guidance and assistance – over some 15 years+, left behind a pride legacy
On behalf of my late wife Wilma and myself and our 3 daughters who were founder choir members, we convey our deepest appreciation of the legacy they left behind
Corrie van Zyl