Meet Ofenste Pitse, the director of an all-black orchestra

There is something close to God in classical music. In its truest form, Ofentse Pitse, believes it’s the closest link to a power greater than ourselves. Pitse is the first black South African woman to own and conduct an all-black orchestra. 

“I believe there is something about the harmonies and melodies in classical music that are so transcendent and heavenly. That is what makes me love it so much,” she says.  

Pitse, who was born and bred in Mabopane, Pretoria, is the first conductor of an all-black South African  orchestra, Anchored Sound, which consists of 20 choir members, and a 45 instrumental ensemble. She is also currently pursuing her masters in architecture. 

The idea to form an orchestra was sparked when Pitse was attending choir competitions back in 2015.

It took two years for the idea to finally actualise. In 2017, when she turned 27, Pitse wanted to sink her teeth into something groundbreaking: she wanted to create a legacy. That was when the plan hit gold.

“There was a time when I realised, I am spending so much of my time and resources in this classical music space. And I did not understand why I had the heart for it,” Pitse says. 

Whether she liked it or not, the idea to start her own music ensemble would linger in her mind until she did just that.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, Pitse admits that Anchored Sound started in quite an unstructured way. However, today it consists of a choir that includes several of her fellow congregants at the Salvation Army and other colleagues she met along the choral music journey.  

Pitse said she began with the choir and, as they were practising, she thought to include different instruments to accompany the melodies. 

The more instruments she added, the larger the group grew and it is now made up of young and old musicians from Katlehong, Benoni, Soweto, Tembisa, Pretoria and a new recruit from Cape Town. 

As the ensemble grew, Pitse took up the baton to become the conductor. However, she only did training in music up until grade three. Classical music training is made up of grades, which assess pupils’ levels in learning musical instruments. Grades one to three are targeted at beginners. To deal with her ineptitude, Pitse headhunted revered conductors to mentor her and assist in bringing the group’s symphonies to life. 

“There was a form of gatekeeping that could have stopped me”, Pitse says, but she kept on knocking on doors until they opened,and it was the Dutch conductor, Gerben Grooten who agreed to help her. Pitse says Grooten has encouraged her to further her classical music training so that she can future proof her existence in the classical music space. 

Talking about her future plans for the group, Pitse said that she wants to create an African orchestra. She wants the next sound for the group to include African instruments such as the dunda drums and umakweyana, which is a gourd instrument. 

Although her dreams are coming true, PItse admits it has not been an easy process. 

“You would think with what I am doing, I would garner support from different people to either collaborate, partner or fund this, but that has not been the case and it has been difficult,” she says 

The conductor says even though she has grand plans  for the group, these are difficult to execute, because having and running an orchestra is very expensive. “I believe we would have been further than where we are today if we had access to capital,” she says. 

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Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe is a financial trainee journalist at the Mail & Guardian.

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