Siblings still hitting the right note
Between the two of them, they have more than a century of experience tickling the ivories – something that has been delighting the members of a brother and sister’s respective churches for many years.
The Houlie siblings – Nathaniel jnr, 83, and his sister Sylvia Walsh, who preferred not to give her age – have a remarkable combined total of 107 years playing the organ in Nelson Mandela Bay.
When their father, Nathaniel Houlie snr, bought the first piano for his eldest son Nichy and daughter Sarah 80 years ago, little did he know the instrument would rekindle and generate a love of choral music within his family long after his death.
“As a young boy of seven, I was inquisitive and used to observe my brother Nichy play. I looked at him all the time. And when he was done, I would jump up to go and play the same thing. I always had a love for music,” Houlie said.
He first got his fingers on a family piano in 1965 in a musical career that would span 53 years while his sister had started a year earlier.
“In fact, music runs deep in the veins of the Houlie household. My late father instilled the love for music in me. My mother was pianist. Our uncle was a school principal who was musically inclined,” Walsh said.
Originally the Houlie family lived in Fairview, but they had to move to the northern areas due to the apartheid government’s forced removals.
Houlie, who is a shoe designer and manufacturer by trade, was later introduced to playing a pipe organ at the Mary Geldenhuys Congregational Church.
In recognition of his efforts, the church honoured him with an award in 1993 for his faithful and loyal service as an organist.
From there he was seconded to play music for another branch of the church, Springdale Union Congregational, where he has been playing for the past 18 years.
“My father never thought I could play in church. I made a determined effort to learn and prove a point. Here I am 53 years later. To me, it was not enough to simply play with my fingers. I concentrated on pedal-point [practising with his feet],” Houlie said.
In November, Houlie will celebrate his 84th birthday and although his hearing and eyesight are weakening, his love for music is stronger than ever.
Walsh, a former Dower College teacher, often plays at weddings and funerals.
She said being an organist required dedication and commitment.
“But it also requires passion. You must have the love and passion. I am fond of music. I feel it’s also a calling from God. I had to reach out to various people through music.”
Walsh began playing at Fairview Congregational Church in 1964 as an assistant organist to Houlie but two years later she became principal organist when her brother left. She is currently full-time organist at Audrey Renecke.