My NYO experience

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Andrew Moroosi, oboist and cor anglais player, is a vibrant and gregarious member of the National Youth Orchestra Alumni Association. This is his story.

Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, in Potchefstroom

Andrew Moroosi and his oboe

Andrew Moroosi and his oboe

“The National Youth Orchestra played a pivotal role in triggering off and nurturing my interest in orchestral music. It is an asset this country could not afford to lose. Look at the talent that the orchestra has helped to produce: Gerard Korsten, Paul van der Merwe, Pieter Schoeman, Michael Snyman, Peter van de Geest, Jeoffrey Cox – even Anton Nel was in the Youth Orchestra for a while, in the percussion section! Gina Beukes, the list continues…”

In 1980 Andrew auditioned for the National Youth Orchestra Course and was placed in the “B” Orchestra. From 1981 to 1983 he was a member of the National Youth Orchestra.

“In 1982 thirty of us were chosen to play a production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro in Potchefstroom. One afternoon all decided to go to the movies. I managed to get a ticket, but somebody had spotted me and the police arrived with a torch and beckoned to me to come with them. I was asked to leave, as black people were not allowed. We had been playing together in the orchestra, and we’d all forgotten that I was the black sheep in the family. In protest, and en masse, my colleagues walked out of the cinema with me.”

In the early eighties, Jos de Groen, the then principal bassoonist of the SABC Orchestra, said about Andrew: “The tragedy of this country is that no matter how good this child becomes, he will never be able to play in a professional orchestra.” How Andrew was to prove him wrong!

Andrew was an oboe and cor anglais tutor at the 2009 Sasol National Youth Orchestra Course.

Piet Swanepoel, diagnostic pathologist and NYO alumnus 1988-1995

N2 (12)!

N2(12)!I had to check it a few times to make sure. Behind my name was written N2(12)! Those were the days that the auditions for the National Youth Symphony Orchestra were held on the first morning of the week-long course. This meant that I finally made the “A” orchestra; second violin section; seat number 12; and I was completely over the moon. This was June 1990; I phoned my friends, family, my teacher, and I phoned my parents – twice! That night I couldn’t sleep.

Prior to this, in 1988 and 1989, when I was in St 6 & 7 I tried out for the NYO, but I didn’t make it. In 1988 they did Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 with Gérard Korsten, and in 1989 they did Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (I think) under the baton of Omri Hadari. For both these auditions I knew the parts off by heart, but I guess my enthusiasm and passion couldn’t at that time make up for the relative lack of good technique. These two years in the “Concert” or “B” orchestra were, however, extremely valuable in learning how to play in an orchestra; together with many equally enthusiastic young friends that I wouldn’t have met if it hadn’t been for the National Youth Orchestra  course (1988 at Wits and 1989 in Bloemfontein).

In 1990 we did Mahler symphony No. 1, with an Austrian conductor, and all of us were convinced that we would tour at the end of the year. The question wasn’t “if?”, but the question was “where to?”. It didn’t happen though, but we still made beautiful music; and I will never forget the double bass solo in the slow movement, played brilliantly by a pretty girl called Collette from Bloemfontein.I finally was member of the South African National Youth Symphony Orchestra – a “membership” I still hold dear.

violin caseFrom then on it became even better – 1991 and 1992 were the years that I moved up in the ranks – eventually into the first violin section, sharing in the joy with my older brother, Jan. The other Swanepoels in the orchestra during those years were Suzanne (who was the leader of the first violin section in 1990), and of course her two interesting and talented brothers – André and Kobus – all of them subsequently doing extremely well professionally.Those two years were busy years in my young life – playing lots of hard rugby, music, exams, girlfriends, etc. It is also in this time that I met Pieter Schoeman in Stellenbosch – leader of the orchestra and brilliant young violinist (who is the present leader of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, probably best known in modern times as the orchestra performing the sound track of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy). He became one of my role models during that time, together with my violin teacher in Potchefstroom – Piet Koornhof.

In 1991 we did the Dvorak New World Symphony, and in 1991 Sibelius Symphony No.2 – absolute magic! This is where I developed a special interest in the music by Sibelius, and the passion with which this music was conducted by Omri Hadari will always stay with me. He taught us that every note, every moment, and every fraction of a second in-between should be intense and deliberate. This – I learnt later – goes for most things in life.

1993 – My first year at varsity; medical school; own flat; own car; own life; girls (!); so many other distractions! I didn’t attend the  course that year. What a bad decision I made… but life is all about choices; one can only learn valuable lessons from even the worst and most stupid choices in life.

In 1994 I received a letter from the Foundation, inviting me to take part in the course and also to tour to Scotland. By this time most of us had given up on any hopes to go overseas with the orchestra. It came as a complete surprise, and of course an opportunity of a life time. So started my best year with the NYO! I can remember the emotion, the passion, the tears, and the overwhelming youthful joy of doing the national anthems at the opening ceremony of the arts festival in Aberdeen, and the incredibly indescribable moment when the Scottish anthem was done by a mass bagpipe band standing in the corridors. I can remember the intensity of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto as played by Nina Schumann in a large beautiful golden dress, and I can remember the amazing meditative solo of the bassoon in the slow movement of Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony, again under the masterful direction of Omri Hadari. Most of all – I can remember that I was part of all of that, sitting in the second row of the second violin section, playing my young heart out; enjoying every second, and the fractions of seconds in-between.

Then in 1995, as a more senior and respected member of the orchestra I can remember standing in front of the audition results notice board, reading my seating, then realizing that as a non-music student I have arrived somewhere very special – N2(1) – leader of the second violin section. I took it upon myself to lead that second violin section proudly and as professionally as I could. We did Saint Saens’s Symphony No. 3, the “Organ Symphony”. My time with the NYO ended in a heavenly Finale. That was my last year.Hard work, anticipation, early disappointment, eventual satisfaction, more hard work, friendship, lots of emotion, responsibility, independence, passion, intensity – all of this and much more is what the National Youth Orchestra meant to me when I was a young man, and somehow this has remained with me throughout my career, and I guess I still practice my art of Diagnostic Pathology with the same intensity and attention to detail.

Now, 15 years later, I find myself starting to think about those times again, as my son is almost two years old, and I come to realize my purpose in life – to raise my children to have the same opportunities and even better experiences as I was given by my parents and by the system in which I grew up. And the first thing I can think of is my life in the National Youth Orchestra. My NYO experience consists of lasting memories of a fantastic time centered on beautiful, heavenly music!


Peta Ann Holdcroft (nee Richardson), cello, and Judi Richardson, viola

First tour with the NYO in 1974 to Aberdeen

It is amazing that even after thirty five years, the memories of the South African Youth Orchestra courses are so vivid! Every July we eagerly anticipated our annual sojourn to cities in South Africa that were yet to be explored. Yellowing scrap books still display newspaper pictures of happy faces peering from train windows off on their musical adventure. And there was many a tale to tell! For it was at these courses that lifelong friendships were forged and fleeting flirtations explored. No-one begrudged the hours of rehearsal, in fact, everyone loved them and the sounds of music emulating from every practice room was the norm.

Some of our happiest memories are sleeping in university dormitories and feeling ever-so grown up, and, the cherry on top, going overseas. How special it was to play in the Royal Albert Hall, what fun to sit in an outdoor plaza in Barcelona, with out music pegged to stop the wind from blowing the sheets away, or playing the Tchaikovsky 5 in a pop concert in Israel. When our concert was cancelled due to rain in Paris, we had no worries, we just went down to the metro train station in our concert garb and busked, earning enough money to buy pizzas. Then of course there was the amazing concert in Aberdeen, where twelve year old Pietie Koornhof, genius that he was, was playing the Max Bruch violin concerto with the maturity of a professional, and outside the crowds were demonstrating and chanting “we shall overcome!”

So over thiry years later, it is a very different South Africa! It’s not only the privileged few that have the opportunity to play in a grand orchestra, but what will never change is the universality of music that brings people together from all walks of life and makes them appreciate their differences through the glory of music! Some, from those years, have gone on to pursue successful careers in music, whilst other have explored different paths, but no-one will forget those special years where we learned to play together.

Stephen Phillips, conductor of the National Youth String Orchestra 2009

A transformative experience

carmina-webPeople speak (from time to time) of “transformative experiences”, moments of “rare clarity” — sometimes even invoking cosmic influence, with talk of “planetary alignment” and such like. Probably the most over-worked — and thus ‘popular’ — phrase in talk of this kind is “life-changing” — one we are more than well acquainted with and have perhaps all, at one time or another, taken recourse in when searching for adjectives to assist in the description of particularly significant events or moments in that silken (or not-so-silken) thread of which our ‘time here below’ consists.

Through a series of (in retrospect) particularly-fateful developments I found myself, in late 2008, having come to the attention of the SA NYO — at the very least as a ‘viable’ Australian contact who might prove of worth in establishing similar useful alliances in the event of an international tour to my country transpiring at some future point. As usual (I like to think), giving of my best, I was happy to discuss plans and objectives with the young (though not inexperienced) new management team, particularly with respect to the renewed focus on the String Orchestra program — an area close to my heart and one I had expended a good deal of intellectual and emotional energy across (now that I think about it) a frightening number of years.

In light of this (what turned out to be) rather deep and passionate involvement with the Course (as I would learn to call it), an invitation to observe proceedings would have seemed perfectly natural; what eventuated — the offer to conduct the group — was an honour which I confess took me by total surprise. Certainly I had not ‘pitched’ myself as suitable to the role — but evidence of ‘nous’ (I prefer to think) on the part of the Foundation; I leave it to the public and general sentiment to verify or denounce that claim.

For my part I have the following to report: a sequence of days of activities, interactions and memories of the most intense and indelible variety; faces, voices, conversations and locations I cannot forget (even should I wish it) and the personal thrill and achievement of sharing my music with talented and inspiring youngsters who would ‘progress’ from (in many cases) unpronouncable names to (very welcome) ‘adopted children’ as we cast our collective barque across waters only genuine enthusiasm — and genuinely collective purpose — can cross with any prospect of safety. A forum this brief cannot hope to do justice to the wonder of this thing — and I wonder at it still. “The Nationals ’09” will stand forever as a ‘Great Divide’ (a term familiar to us Aussies) in a life already rich (I had thought) with variety and privilege — since June/July 2009, such notions have been obliged to undergo a rather drastic recalibration. More power to ‘the Team’ and ‘the Gang’! May I remain worthy of their trust, and their friendship.

Footnote: I remain available for consultation etc. should the need arise……