WATCH: Soweto flautist becomes first African to win international music scholarship

2019-07-31 12:56
Khanyisile Mthetwa. (File)

Khanyisile Mthetwa. (File)

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Khanyisile Mthetwa has a superpower.

She is able to silence a packed auditorium, without saying a word. 

All she needs is her flute.

"I started playing the flute when I was 15 years old," Mthetwa told News24.

Now, nearly two decades since she first picked up the instrument, the talented flautist has won a prestigious award.

"I am the first African to be selected as the recipient of the [2019] Myrna Brown International Scholarship," the 33-year-old said. 

The prize is awarded by the National Flute Association of America.

This the largest flute organisation in the world, with around 5 000 members from more than 50 countries. 

Annually, the association selects a flautist who it feels exemplifies excellence. 

The recipient wins a cash prize and is flown to Salt Lake City in Utah to showcase musical work from their respective country. 

"I feel amazing! I am very excited!" Mthetwa said. 

Her love affair with music started when she was a teenager living in Orlando West, Soweto. 

One Saturday afternoon in the late 90s, the National Symphony Orchestra (which has since morphed into the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra), hosted a free concert in Soweto. 

'Do you guys actually get paid for this?'

Mthetwa attended the showcase with her family. The sweet sounds created by the symphony left her enchanted. 

After their performance, the giddy teenager rushed to meet the musicians. She had a list of questions: 

"Do you guys actually get paid for this?" was her first question. 

She was hooked.

"I was a very active child. I would try everything - tennis, hockey, soccer, you name it." She begged her mother for lessons. 

The mother and daughter spent weeks looking for a place where Mthetwa could hone her skills.

Coincidentally, the late Michael Masote was offering lessons at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.

Masote was a seasoned musician who was renowned in the music community.

Every Saturday, he would use a classroom at the hospital's nursing college to offer lessons to eager musicians. 

At first Mthetwa gravitated towards string instruments, such as the violin or cello, but she found out her age counted against her.

"I was told I was too old [to start a string instrument] and that wind instruments might be better for my age."

A star is born

Not long after she picked up the flute, it became apparent that Mthetwa was a natural and that weekly lessons would no longer suffice. 

In Grade 10, she enrolled at the National School of the Arts (NSA), where she was able to get daily lessons.

After matric, she continued her musical career at the University of Pretoria and, after graduating, she spent two years in Italy and a year in France perfecting her craft.  

Mthetwa topped that off with a diploma from the Trinity College of Music in London. 

It's about more than creating music

Eighteen years after picking up the flute, she is considered one of South Africa's finest musical talents. 

She is a principal flautist for the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra.

Her new passion is ensuring that children from different backgrounds are able to get a chance to play an instrument. 

When she's not practicing, she can be found in a lecture room or classroom. 

Mthetwa offers lessons at the University of the Witwatersrand and at her old school in Soweto - Waverley Girls High School.

She says learning how to play an instrument is important because it stimulates both mind and body.

"When you play an instrument, you use every part of your brain. You have to count and then you have to... take all of that mathematics and turn it into a wonderful painting that someone listens to and says: 'Oh wow, that is beautiful'."

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  good news
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