Bill Curry 26 March 1931 – 27 July 2015
Many years before I met Bill Curry I saw him in a play at the Laager in the Market Theatre, Johannesburg. The play was called The Indian Wants the Bronx, a three-hander with Michael Richard, Jonathan Rands, and Bill as the eponymous “Indian” being brutally harassed by two yobs at a bus stop in downmarket New York. A few years later I saw him again in Athol Fugard’s A Lesson from Aloes, with Marius Weyers and Sheila Holliday. On both occasions I was deeply impressed by his fine acting. Market Theatre, Newtown, Johannesburg
It was an unexpected pleasure to find him reading the lessons at the 7.30am service. He and I had arrived at St Andrew’s at about the same time in 1993. I had been appointed as the music director there and after the Nine Lessons and Carol Service he had congratulated me on the choir’s singing. I discovered that he had played the organ in Cape Town many years before my early fumblings on the instrument as a piano-organist. He was always willing to play the organ if I was ill or away. Later still he joined the choir, first as a bass, later as a tenor. He often took the men in the choir for special rehearsals when we were working on something difficult. I do not know how I would have managed without his constant support, kindness and enthusiasm.
I was delighted when he asked me to give him some vocal tuition. He visited me each week at my home in Derby Road, Kensington and he worked diligently at everything I gave him. We played Schubert duets on the piano and often interesting conversation got the better of us and we would find that considerable time had passed without a note of music being played or sung. He told me about an amusing encounter at the Festival Hall when he was studying at the Central School in London in 1956. He had gone to hear a recital by the great contralto, Marian Anderson.The woman next to him assumed that he was Indian and asked what he thought of Western music. Bill replied in his pristine actor’s voice, “Madam, I have known no other!” Marian Anderson (contralto)
St Andrew’s presented a Christmas in July dinner and he gave some infectious performances for the entertainment of the guests with him singing and me accompanying him.
I was very sad when he told me he had decided to sell up in Kensington and return to the Cape where he had been asked to stay in a cottage on the property of Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones who ran the Handspring Puppet Company in Kalk Bay. He had been instrumental in helping them when they were launching their company in the 1980s. In recent years the Handspring Puppet Company have become internationally famous with their creation of the War Horse for the play and film. Before he left Johannesburg he gave me his vast collection of LPs and a number of books and scores.
I missed his warm presence and his life-enhancing personality when he moved to the Cape. He appeared in a play at the Kalk Bay Theatre for Nicholas Ellenbogen and played the grandfather in the film, A Boy Called Twist, a South African adaptation of the Dickens’s book. We exchanged letters and phone calls for a while and I had hoped to visit him in his new home, but that visit did not materialise.
Earlier this month I was sad to hear that he was ill and in the frail care section of a home for the elderly. Yesterday I had news of his death at the age of 84. I will never forget our wonderful friendship. May he rest in peace.
I had a call from Jill in Cape Town to let me know that Bill’s Memorial Service will take place on Tuesday, 4 August at 4pm at Holy Trinity Church, Kalk Bay.
Jean Collen (29 July 2015)