Poverty does not get young musicians down; winner of prestigious ATKV prize

By November 26, 2018News

Melisizwe Plaatjie was 16 years old when his fingers touched the piano keys for the very first time while trying hard to master a C-major scale. Now, three years later, this young musician from George was named as the winner of the Albert Engel Prize sponsored by the ATKV. This prize gives students from mostly previously disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to receive instrumental and theoretical teaching in music and possibly to enrol themselves later for a BMus degree.

“That was my first and last piano lesson, because there was not a music teacher at my high school,” said Melisizwe. Since only one of his parents worked, there was no money for private piano lessons. “I was broken. To improve, you have to practice piano on a regular basis and take lessons. ”

But where there is a will, there’s a way, and Melisizwe taught himself piano by watching pop and jazz piano lessons on YouTube. Until 2017 the video channel was his only teacher. “It greatly improved my technique and musical vocabulary.”

He dreamed of studying music after matric but struggled to get university admission. “I was very disappointed and felt lost. Music was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I started thinking I’m not good enough.”

But everything changed when he was accepted for the Certificate Programme in Music at Stellenbosch University this year.

“It was a challenge to play classical music, because for the past three years I’ve only played jazz and pop. But under the guidance of my music teacher, Throy Petersen, I feel that anything is possible.”

Melisizwe says it is a great honour for him to receive the Albert Engel Prize. “I’ve heard you’re only nominated if you work hard and your lecturer sees potential in you.”

The Certificate Programme was started by the late Albert Engel, a lecturer in brass instruments and conductor of the Stellenbosch Symphonic Wind Band. After Albert passed away in September 2003, his dream continued when it was decided to dedicate an annual prize in his name. The prize money of R20 000 is awarded to the student who shows the most enthusiasm, who rises above difficult circumstances and makes the best of the opportunity to study music at Stellenbosch University.

Melisizwe says his mantra is “if you don’t sow, you won’t reap”.

“This award proves it: you get out what you put in.”

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