The Visual University

Kirby collection

After extensive conservation, the instruments now occupy a refurbished, climate-controlled exhibition space in the South African College of Music, UCT. They are in open storage, and are ideally presented for teaching and research work; at the same time they catch the imagination of the non-specialist visitor.

The southern African instruments are the core of the collection of over a thousand artefacts, and represent the most important such historic collection from the region. While every other continent is represented, no other region is represented so systematically or exhaustively.

Trained as a musician in Edwardian Aberdeen and London, Kirby became a pioneering investigator of southern African indigenous music, rivalled only by Hugh Tracey, his contemporary. The instrument collection reflects Kirby’s evolutionist understanding: he saw music cultures as passing through similar stages of development through millennia. His numerous interests included a strong interest in South African history, to which he devoted much of his latter writing. Besides teaching, composition, performance, lecture tours and academic administration, Kirby was very active in the South African Museums Association and scientific societies. These activities and his ideas can be traced through his papers, photographs, sketches and publications forming a numerous archive housed in several locations. The core of Kirby papers are at the Manuscripts and Archives, section of UCT Libraries.

The Percival R Kirby collection is registered with the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). The work on the instrument collection is funded by a National Lottery Distribution Fund grant.

The collection is open to the public by appointment. Enquiries to Lisa Diamond or 021 6502631 (afternoons only).

Kirby Collection
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