Today Stellenbosch's university choir is a leading instrument both in a national and international context.
Its origin is nevertheless as humble as those of most choirs in South Africa: the choir was founded in 1936 by a group of music lovers under the direction of William Morris.
The choir quickly became an institution and under the baton of Prof. Gawie Cillié it achieved national recognition, thanks to concert tours and radio broadcasts that were undertaken by the choir. The choir's membership fluctuated between 150 and 200 members.
Prof. Philip McLachlan, who took over in 1956, limited the choir's membership to 60 people given the demanding standard of the repertoire. The evidence of this high standard was the praise the choir garnered with performances in West-Germany, Belgium and Portugal, where they took part in a festival for university choirs. In 1976 the choir represented South Africa in the twelfth congress of the International Society of Music Education in Switzerland with a number of performances in England, France, Belgium and West-Germany.
Prof. Johan de Villiers became the university choir's fourth conductor in 1977. Under his leadership the choir toured overseas regularly. Per invitation the choir took part in the European Week concert series in Passau in 1983. In the same year they were appointed the overall winners of the national SABC-TV Choir competition.
Acáma Fick became the university choir's fifth conductor in 1985. In 1991 they undertook an European tour with concerts in Luzern, Bonn, Paris, Antwerp, Den Haag, St Alban and London. The following year a CD of their overseas tour was released. This was a first for any South African university choir.
Sonja van der Walt took over leadership of the choir in 1993 and under her guidance the choir mainly focussed on a cappella works. Concerts were held nationally but particularly in the Western Cape. The choir was also regularly featured on radio during this time. I
In July 1996 another tour to Europe was undertaken. Concerts were held in Vienna, Salzburg, Munich and Prague, where after the choir took part in an international choir festival in Tabor in the Czech Republic. Three new CDs were released, in 1996, 1998 and 2000.
The ATKV 'Lier' award for Best Group in 1999 was awarded to the choir for their performance of two arrangements by Niel Pauw.
In 1999 the university choir was disbanded by the University Council. Following strident criticism from choir members, past members, students, and the public, the Council temporarily suspended its decision. Pressure from the media and key donors to the University, amongst others, eventually forced the Council to convene an emergency meeting at which the Council rescinded its decision. By the end of 2000, a new constitution for the choir was presented to Council, as required by its final decision.
Since 2003, André van der Merwe has been the seventh conductor of the university choir of Stellenbosch. Under his leadership the choir continues to develop and to excel at a higher level every year and it has earned a number of awards from its participation in major international choir competitions.