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Music in her genes

Born a De Villiers, Theresa remembers various excellent musicians in her father’s extended family.

Musicians like Elise de Villiers, a world-renowned violinist, and ML de Villiers, the composer who wrote the music for CJ Langenhoven’s “The Call of South Africa” that is still part of our national anthem.

“I was only four years old, but I still remember touching the white keys of that piano and deciding there and then that the only thing in life I would like to do is to play the piano, and that is what I still do today,” Theresa says.

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“Later on, I also dreamt of playing my own harp, but it still took quite a while before I learnt to master the harp during my studies at the University of Pretoria.”

Theresa is well-known in Mbombela as a wonderful virtuoso pianist as well as an excellent harpist and music teacher.

She has a lot of musical students from various schools in Mbombela and at this year’s eisteddfod, like previous years, hers excelled.

She and two of her students, playing a harp trio, bowled the judges over and received 100% for their performance.

Although she always wanted to become a concert pianist, things didn’t go as planned. She had quite an exciting life being an air hostess, flying to Paris very often to study at a Parisian conservatory.

Theresa was later married, but things didn’t work out as planned and she divorced, after which she started teaching.

She then got promoted to a position of Inspector of Music, a job she really loved, but eventually got tired of all the stress, and returned to teaching.

One day, while sitting in her office in Pretoria, she received a call from Gerrit Haarhoff. Theresa had been at school with his sisters and so knew him.

He asked her on a date, which was quite a surprise, as she knew Gerrit was practising medicine in Ireland.

He told her that he was returning to enrol his daughter at the university, adding that he had waited 29 years for the opportunity to take her on a date.

The date went well, and the rest is history. For a certain period, Gerrit only saw her when he returned to South Africa during holidays, but in 2011 he told her that he was moving back to Mbombela and opening a practice. Their relationship blossomed and a few years ago they were married.

“Gerrit had to work hard to build his own practice in Mbombela, but people soon started to respect him. When he started his research for his book, Forgotten Tracks and Trails of the Escarpment and the Lowveld, I loved to go with him on all his searches.

“I would pack a picnic basket, take a bottle of wine and we drove for many kilometres along the escarp-ment to find the old transport routes of more than 100 years ago.

“It was quite an adventure and we were delighted when the book was published in 2018.

“When I moved to Mbombela, I decided to continue teaching and was quite excited by the wonderful talent that I found here. I started off with classes in the afternoon at Laerskool Laeveld, and ever since I have had a waiting list of pupils who would like to come for piano and harp classes. I enjoy every minute of my work,” she says.

The moment that Theresa enters a room, it is as if the whole place comes alive. She is always dressed beautifully and confesses that she loves the beautiful things in life.

The children at Curro Nelspruit, where she teaches music as an outdoor activity, think she is quite funky. She also loves to perform and often gets a chance with events like the Wakkerstroom Musical Festival, our local Innibos National Arts Festival or even small home concerts.

After chatting to Theresa, it is clear why she lights up the darkest day: she loves what she does, and even a career as a concert pianist wouldn’t have been as rewarding.

“The other day I read something that the conductor Benjamin Zander said,” Theresa says.

”’I have a definition of success. For me, it’s very simple. It’s not about wealth and fame and power. It’s about how many shining eyes I have around me.’ When I read these words, I immediately realised that it is exactly how I feel.

“When a student of mine is sitting behind the piano or playing the harp, and I see how his or her eyes light up after I have made a positive remark; it gives me tremendous joy!

“It is wonderful to know that by doing something, like playing the piano or harp, or painting a picture, I manage to brighten someone’s day. That is a wonderful gift that I will always treasure.”

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