Although most classically trained musicians start training at an early age, South African born architect Ofentse Pitse played her first instrument at the age of 12. She fell in love with sounds from there and was exposed to a plethora of genres. Pitse believes her musical gift is a calling and credits her grandfather believing she is his reincarnation. He was a trumpet player and an orchestra conductor himself and his legacy pushed her towards her achievements.
“I started playing the English horn and my love for classical music started from there. Then being the overly ambitious young person that I am, I wanted to learn more. So, moving from the classical world and then to the very church-ey type of music then I just merged it into jazz,” she said on the Power Lunch podcast.
In 2017, Pitse started a youth choir for which she handpicked youth that were classically trained from Soweto, Katlehong, Tembisa and Pretoria.
“The common denominator among them was that they wanted to get an education and showcase their talent on the world stage and prove to their peers that they can attain their dreams,” she said to the SowetanLive.
— Ofentse 🦓 (@ofentse__pitse) November 2, 2019
She was then inspired to seek sponsorship and funding to help the children further their education.
“A lot of them thought I was crazy and some of them were like, ‘we are as eager [to work with you]as we definitely see you as a leader and we want to follow what you’re doing.’”
In her research Pitse found that there weren’t any black orchestras on the continent and decided to work towards this by boosting her growing ensemble with established classical musicians in various orchestras. Her ensemble gradually grew from 8 to 19 to a 40-piece symphony orchestra called the ‘Anchored Sounds’.
Her vision for the orchestra is that they contribute in shedding light on African composers and propel other young black youth to excellence. In addition, not only is her orchestra all black, all the profits from its performances go into empowering it members both personally and professionally.
“I’m a believer in the black narrative and a believer in the black child.”
Speaking on her leadership as a female conductor, Pitse said, “Conducting is a whole different ballgame… You have to have a certain kind of confidence to stand on that podium and lift a baton and conduct people who are looking at you saying, ‘but she’s a woman’, because they are used to these old men standing in front of them, conducting. You have to walk in there with a certain kind of reverence and confidence.”
Despite her current success her training has not been conventional or as thorough as many of her peers in that she has no formal musical qualifications. She however credits her mentors for her classical music knowledge and aims to hone her skills however possible.
“The furthest I went in music was grade three or grade four and everything else was basically mentoring… I reached out to two of the best conductors, one being Mr Thami Zungu, the head of music at TUT and Mr Gerben Grooten, the conductor of the UP philharmonic. These are amazing conductors… they have spent a lot of their time teaching and crafting this talent within me,” Pitse said.