Iona Stewart
4 minute read
18 Aug 2021

A tribute to Maritzburg’s ‘Mother of Music’, Natalie Fish

Iona Stewart

Pietermaritzburg has lost a music doyenne when Natalie Fish (99) passed away on May 20. Pietermaritzburg Amateur Music Society (PAMS) member, IONA STEWART, remembers this remarkable woman with great fondness.

Pietermaritzburg has lost a music doyenne when Natalie Fish (99) passed away on May 20. Pietermaritzburg Amateur Music Society (PAMS) member, IONA STEWART, remembers this remarkable woman with great fondness.

Sadly, Natalie Fish passed away recently. She was Maritzburg’s Mother of Music, a legend.

She was known and loved by many for her intense kindness, her generosity of spirit and her talent at nurturing a love of music through her teaching.

The Dickens’ Singers

Many old timers will remember Natalie’s’ choir, the Dickens Singers. The choir regularly performed at the annual Christmas concerts of the Pietermaritzburg Philharmonic Society (PPS). Her singers were all so quaintly chosen.

During the final rehearsals for Messiah, Natalie would hand out little invitations, requesting the recipient of the notice, to sing with the Dickens’ Singers. The Singers also sang through the wards at Grey’s Hospital, spreading joy and good cheer to the sick and dying.

In the days when the (PPS) existed, she was our repetiteur. She practised with the various voice groups separately,and when called upon, even prepared the choir for upcoming concerts, always with utmost patience. We would learn a passage of music and she would say, “That was good, but in case that was just a fluke, you’ll do it again, and again” until it was nearly perfect.

Pietermaritzburg Amateur Music Society

When the PPS folded, Natalie was approached to help start PAMS, the Pietermaritzburg Amateur Music Society. At that time, Handel’s Messiah had been performed in PMB for the past 130 odd years. Music lovers wanted the tradition to continue. Natalie came to the rescue. She approached a musician from Wartburg to conduct the final performance. From there, PAMS was launched in 1997.

Natalie continued to train the choir for the forth coming concerts. For many years, she either played the spinneret during the performance of Messiah, which demanded constant concentration for the full two and a half hours.

Or, when there was someone else to play, she augmented the altos. Natalie’s musical skills were beyond belief.

We were all so fortunate; she seemed to love sharing it with us, and always with unbelievable patience. She was particularly kind to the tenors, who usually had the fewest numbers in their group and the most difficult parts.

Her musical talents did not stop there. She, with her beloved Ray’s support, was instrumental in helping Joshua Hadebe and his Choral Society reach great heights at various singing competitions, including overseas when many accolades were brought home.

Farewell parties

As the years went by, Natalie would feel it was time to retire and make way for someone else. Of course, there would be a great farewell party to honour and thank her.

However, then a crisis would arise, and Natalie would be called (begged) to come back again. This happened more than once. Thus, there were many farewell parties, songs written for her, and collections made for a gift.

It was very difficult to let her go!

Natalie’s talents did not stop at music. She was a great tennis player, in which she participated well into her 70s. She was also a keen and gifted need­lewoman. Ray confided in me on one occasion that the two of them were about to embark on an impromptu visit to friends in the Cape.

Natalie was not one to go empty handed, and just buying a gift was not good enough. The evening before they left, she quickly sewed a garment for her upcoming host. She was also very generous with her time.

Her home was always open to help singers individually with their singing. At one stage, I had the privilege of giving her a lift to choir practice on a Tuesday night. When I lost my husband, she insisted I come a little earlier and share dinner with her and Ray. I cherish those times.

Natalie made our lives richer. Those who knew her will remember her for her gentle nature and good humour. How honoured are we to have known her!

Conductor of several church choirs

Natalie Nero was born in 1922 in Durban. She matriculated in Marburg on the South Coast and qualified as a music teacher at the Natal Teachers Training College in Pietermaritzburg. Natalie met her husband, Geography teacher Ray Fish, at her first post at Durban Preparatory Boys’ School.

Their marriage was blessed with two children (Nigel and Rosalind). The couple taught for four years in Wartburg and thereafter at various schools in Pietermaritzburg, church choirs (alongside her work with the Pietermaritzburg Philharmonic Society, Pietermaritzburg Amateur Music close to Natalie’s heart, and she was a conductor of several church choirs.