Jan Bouws, accomplished musician, composer, lecturer and author, was born in the Netherlands in Purmerend on 28 July 1902. He trained in Musicology at the University of Amsterdam and on completion of his studies became a lecturer at the Watergraafsmeerse Schoolvereniging in the east of Amsterdam. One of his responsibilities was to conduct a children's choir. During this time he married Juliana van Heijningen, a writer and researcher focused on compiling encyclopaedias. They had two sons, Niels and Jan.
Bouws contributed to the South Africa programme for the Dutch Broadcast Corporation and this exposed him to the country and its music. In 1960, Bouws and his wife immigrated to South Africa and he was appointed lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch music school. He spoke fluent Afrikaans and French and was able to continue his own studies. In 1965, he received his D Phil degree and continued to lecture until 1972.
During his student years in Amsterdam, Bouws developed a simple system to teach piano called “Het eertse Pianoboek, 12 Liedjes voor Piano, Het tweede Pianoboek, Het derde Pianoboek en 20 Speelliedjes van Overal”.
This system is still used today. Bouws' contribution to South African music was also enormous and he made significant additions to the South African Music Encyclopaedia, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart and the Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa. He also published many articles on music history and musicology in international journals from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Hungary and Switzerland.
He distinguished himself as a composer by arranging Afrikaans poems, the most famous being “Op my ou ramkietjie”. The words to this song were written by C. L. Leipoldt and have become a folk song in the Afrikaans culture.
Bouws died on 26 January 1978 in Parow in the Western Cape. He is survived by his wife Juliana currently living in Stellenbosch.