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Calgary’s Coetzee sisters a trio of cello prodigies

Mari, Luka and Ine Coetzee, perform with their cellos last August in Pretoria, South Africa, their family’s home country.

Retha Coetzee knows a thing or two (or three) about raising cellists. Her daughters – aged 18, 16 and 10 – are all accomplished cellists, and veterans of the Canadian Music Competition.

All three Coetzee sisters qualified for this year's CMC National Final, now on in Vancouver. While the elder sisters, Ine and Mari , were unable to participate this year because of other commitments, the youngest, Luka, competes on Canada Day. At 10, she has been playing the cello for nine years – beginning at the age of one, using a violin bow and a viola modified with an endpin to play like a cello.

"She approached it with so much joy and she did it because she wanted to be part of what we were doing," says Mari, who helped her learn. The oldest and youngest started performing duets when they were 11 and three. They received a standing ovation after their first performance at a music festival in Medicine Hat, Alta., but Luka's memory of the event is more specific: "I don't remember that I played or anything. I just remember I didn't want to."

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This was back when the family lived in Brooks, Alta., where they moved from South Africa 15 years ago (Retha says one of the benefits of all these years of CMC participation is getting to visit different Canadian cities). They now live in Calgary, closer to the girls' teachers. Life is busy – Luka, for instance, practises cello about 90 minutes a day, piano about an hour a day, though not every day, and will increase her ballet lessons to twice a week next year. She also likes swimming.

Lately, the sisters have been playing a piece together: David Popper's Requiem for three cellos and piano. "When we're performing, it's just great. We interconnect at a deeper level," says Mari, who begins Julliard in the fall. "Through rehearsals … we don't always get along, but then we have so much fun playing together that it makes it worth it."

Asked for advice for parents looking to raise their own prodigies, Retha, who has recently joined the board of the Calgary CMC chapter, says it's important to be involved and encouraging. "Tell them that it's a journey. It's not about winning; it's about what you learn in the process and how you grow as a person – in your character and as a musician."

The CMC National Final is being held at the Vancouver Academy of Music until July 3, most days from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (check for daily schedules). The event is free and open to the public. Luka Coetzee performs July 1 at about 4:15 pm. The CMC Gala Concert is at the Chan Centre July 4 at 7 p.m.

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