CALGARY - Luka Coetzee doesn't say much, but her music speaks volumes.
The six-year-old cellist who began taking lessons before she turned two was literally speechless during an interview with The Canadian Press, smiling shyly and looking to her mother Retha for guidance after each question. But she never said a word.
It was only when she started playing, under the tutelage of her instructor, John Kadz, that she truly emerged — blocking out the world around her and drifting off into a space of her own.
"When Luka was born she got a viola to play with as a toy," Retha said. "For her it's a very natural thing. She just loves the sound and is exposed to a lot of classical music. She has perfect pitch, which really helps her. She loves the music. She would cry, the music is so beautiful. She'd really feel it in her heart."
Luka was scheduled to join other young performers Sunday for the 20th Annual Feast of Sound and Song at the Academy of Music at Mount Royal University's Conservatory.
Perhaps it's not a surprise that Luka has command of the cello at such a young age. Both her sisters, Mari, 14, and Ine, 12, play the instrument.
The family immigrated to Canada 11 years ago from South Africa and settled in Brooks, Alta., about two hours east of Calgary. Father Maarten Coetzee is a doctor.
Mari, who has been playing for over nine years, was more than happy to help her little sister during her initial lessons.
"I remember she even had some trouble sitting up because she was one," Mari recalled. "We had to hold her and we were doing that for fun and I thought it was really cute."
Luka joined the Academy of Music program when she was three. It is an enrichment program specifically developed to provide musical training for young instrumentalists and singers.
All three girls are now taking lessons from Kadz, who has been teaching and performing for 40 years.
"Why did I choose them? You detect a certain discipline, a determination and intelligence," Kadz said. "If you play the cello at the level that these kids do you have to be disciplined and smart."
He said he has seen six-year-old prodigies before but it's rare.
"It's unusual. Luka started when she was one and that doesn't happen very often. It's really rare."
The reason all three sisters play the cello is simple.
"It's the sound," Ine says. "It sings and it's beautiful."
Note to readers: Fixes spelling of girl's surname