Ofentse Pitse views barriers not as hurdles, but as challenges. That is probably one of the reasons she keeps breaking them.
As the first black South African woman to conduct and own an all-black orchestra, the 31-year-old has become a beacon of hope and inspiration for aspiring artists from diverse backgrounds.
Ofentse is however not only a remarkable and influential figure in the world of music – she’s also a Candidate Architect, infusing her musical interpretations with the precision and creativity of her background in the built environment.
“As a teenager, I used to love watching Top Billing on TV,” she recalls, referring to the popular South African lifestyle television programme that aired on the national broadcaster. “They would always feature a magnificent house, and the presenter would do a walkabout with the architect of the residence. I started dreaming of designing homes myself.”
Harmonizing Arts: The Connection Between Music and Architecture
She entered the Wits University Architecture Department in 2012 to pursue her degree, which she then followed with an honours program and a master’s – of which she recently submitted her thesis.
All of this was accomplished while also actively pursuing a musical career.
Earlier this year, Netflix released a music video of an instrumental version of one of the songs used in the series Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story. The song “If I Ain’t Got You” is performed by the superstar Alicia Keys in the video with a 74-piece worldwide orchestra made up solely of women of colour. The conductor of this ensemble is none other than Ofentse.
She acknowledges that balancing music and architecture is difficult.
“Music demands of you to analyze scores; you need a deep understanding of its intricate dynamics. It’s quite time-consuming,” she explains. “And then the architecture requires research, to be well versed with the context and the concepts.”
Because Ofentse has to spend hours in the studio or at rehearsals for her music, it would be challenging to work a “nine to five” job in architecture.
“Fortunately, I currently have the option of working as a freelance architect, which is fantastic since it keeps the dream alive,” she says, adding that she also firmly believes the two disciplines complement each other.
“The architecture background enables me to express myself musically. The very same principles that I was taught in architecture, are the same ones used in music – principles such as technique, balance, structure, harmony,” she explains. “When I analyze a musical score, I always think about those principles that I learned in architecture.
“When I’m rehearsing, I picture the musical piece the same way I would design a building. I decide what to view as the ‘habitable’ part of the score. Then I look at what the ‘private areas’ are, then the public areas. Where I would pause in the score, and where I’d move.”
She believes the reason why she is physically very dynamic as a conductor is because she puts her architecture training into it. “And that’s my secret to success!”
A Fusion of Belief, Talent, and Unwavering Effort
Her advice to people in the built environment who want to combine their career with creative outlet or passion is to look at the world as a limitless place.
“It’s an endless canvas, and they should imagine that they’re able to just take any colour they feel like on any given day. My family has taught me from a young age that anything is possible, and because I have always believed it, it became my truth.”
She does however add that greatness is not only the product of belief and talent.
“The other thing that got me here is the fact that I’m a very hard worker,” she explains. “In exploring all these various things, I dedicated myself to wanting to learn.”
Ofentse also supports industry associations like ASAQS and always encourages young architects to become members.
“The importance of these institutions is that they keep our field regulated and protect us from those who are practising illegitimately and giving the industry a bad name. Being part of an establishment like ASAQS empowers us to actively contribute to elevating the architecture and design domain, ensuring that the standards by which we design and create are always at the highest level.”
And the pinnacle of excellence is where Ofentse has already proven herself to perform at her best.
With her passion, dedication, and unwavering pursuit of excellence, she continues to craft a musical and architectural legacy that transcends disciplines and touches the hearts of audiences worldwide.