Classical music is not popular music, but when The Muses, the South African string quartet, step on stage with their two violins, viola and cello, the audience instantly gets on its feet, on the dance floor.
That is because this quartet has mastered the art of reworking popular hits into classical masterpieces.
The group was founded in 2011 by former member and the group’s current manager Olivia Kotze. Early on, she learned that their success relied on rearranging popular songs such as Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey, Titanium by David Guetta and Rolling in the Deep by Adele.
“People like to recognize what they hear and what I experienced when we did more original tracks we didn’t get radio play… So we take something that people recognize and give it a twist,” says Kotze.
The current members of the group – Mia Snyman (29), Ruby Ngoasheng (26), Laetitia van Wyk (22) and Ashley Bodill (23) – are like a close-knit family. And like all families, they each bring something different to the table.
Snyman keeps everyone in check, Ngoasheng is the easy-going happy child, van Wyk, the youngest, often forgets to apply lip-gloss and put on heels before they perform, and Bodill is famous for her onstage booty hop.
Performing the way they do requires great technical perfection, they say, one that is acquired through hours of practice, not to mention personal sacrifices.
“When people study engineering or medicine, they start when they are 18 or 19. We’ve started playing since the age of five and building our careers,” says Snyman.
Van Wyk, who is in her final year at university, has had people tell her she should pursue another career because there is no money
But she is determined to prove them wrong.
“I could’ve studied something else… I could make a living with something else but I would never be happy,” she says.
Although the girls teach music on the side for extra cash, none of them have had to struggle, live in their cars or starve in pursuit of their dream. For them, performing isn’t about the parties, the money or designer clothes. It’s about giving the audience a memorable show, even when in sheer physical agony. Bodill recalls one such experience.
“I was at the shops one time and a guy kicked my toe nail off. I was rushed to hospital, got an injection and stitches and then went straight to the venue [for a show],” she says.
A few moments before The Muses took to the stage, Bodill passed out. She then recovered, got up, had a soda and performed as if nothing had happened.
“Our industry has highs and it has lows and the lows can be very dark and very scary… if you set a goal for yourself and you’re in that low, just remember why you started,” says Ngoasheng.
They only know too well that the show must go on, no matter what.