Chocolate, Wolves, Books, and Beehives

It’s October already and I am sitting here considering myself incredibly grateful for the variety of events I get to be involved with. These last few months have delivered a number of creative firsts that I hope I get to repeat!

August kicked things off with bang. Literally. I helped film a great digital percussion course for the team at Rad Rhythm called The International Pots and Pans Playoff. I love working with this team to produce cutting edge music education courses that teachers from all walks — even those with zero musical experience — can use to bring live music performance into their schools. Do check them out if you know a teacher who might be interested. We know the students absolutely love the courses!

A highlight in August was doing MC work at the NZ Chocolate Festival. I must admit, I do enjoy the odd bit of chocolate, particularly if it has chilli in it. Much to my joy there were many purveyors of this flavour at the festival. I enjoyed ushering people around the different rooms, but of course the constant taste testing was noteworthy!

Busting out a the new orange suit at the Hutt Food Lab challenge.

Busting out a the new orange suit at the Hutt Food Lab challenge.

Continuing with MC’ing food related events, compering at the Hutt Food Challenge for families in Wellington was amazing! This event was part of the annual Wellington On A Plate festival, and was an interactive event that combined fun food with interactive science challenges. Making ice cream using liquid nitrogen was a very popular activity, closely followed by mixing your own edible rainbow goo. Hundreds of families had a ball.

And then August delivered a real life highlight. One that will definitely stay with me for all my days.

I was fortunate to perform one of my all-time favourite pieces of music for children with the New Zealand Symphony OrchestraPeter and the Wolf! The second part of our 2016 tour kicked off in Napier, moved to Gisborne, then took a very special excursion to Ruatoria. If you have no idea where that is, there’s probably a good reason: it’s very, very, VERY remote!

Packing them in like sardines with the NZSO and almost everyone who lived in Ruatoria!

We performed Peter and the Wolf at the local kura (school) there. Most of the children there had never seen any instruments commonly used in an orchestra. It was amazing to bring our world into theirs, and experience theirs in return. For many members of the orchestra it was their first opportunity to partake in a powhiri (traditional Māori welcome). It was fantastic to share it with them.

Our annual Kids For Kids tour began in Oamaru. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was looking forward to conducting the largest choir I had ever worked with in Christchurch. See the video here on my Facebook page to get an idea of the size!

On September 19th I began a new collaboration with the Duffy Books In Homes charity. They approached me to ask if I wanted to be one of their many visiting role models in primary schools; someone who could bestow the virtues of reading to young people and get them excited about books. Of course I said yes, especially when I heard that I got to help hand out free books to every class on behalf of charity! It was a great chance to build on what teachers had already been bestowing in their students already. “Reading is the gateway to so many wonderful experiences in life,” I told them. I even took along a copy of the first book I ever read on my own. 

To speed through some other fun things I got to do in September: 

22nd - I helped out at Tall Poppy in Wellington. Meeting people like Tame Iti was humbling.
25th - I MC’d the Goodtime Music Academy Talent Quest. Amazing to hear such talent!
29-30th - I performed a series of educational music shows at Te Papa with the Goodtime Show Team. Super fun.

Then in October:

2nd - The Funky Monkeys played at Te Papa’s inaugural Teddy Bears Picnic. I got to meet the Play School toys and hang out with Suzy Cato!
18th - I played jazz keys for our Prime Minister at the Beehive!

Phew! And now to take a breath.

'Say cheese!' - with Suzy Cato, Humpty, Manu, and Big Ted.

'Say cheese!' - with Suzy Cato, Humpty, Manu, and Big Ted.

"I've been everywhere, man ... "

... it's true!

In the last 12 weeks I have enjoyed zipping up and down New Zealand, producing and performing events for more than 33,000 young people, their teachers, and families.

It was an absolute honour to perform 89 free shows in schools and childcare centres with the Asthma Champion of NZ, Sailor the Puffer Fish.

Our messages about how children can help themselves and others in their day to day living and big asthma emergencies were well received. We read many emails with glowing feedback about the show, including this one from a school in Palmerston North: 

"We thoroughly enjoyed your talk about asthma and what is more we had to use your strategies to help a boy having an attack two days later. You were captivating ... informative and held the children's attention - thanks for coming along and you are welcome to return any time as your message was great."

It is wonderful to know our show has helped someone positively this year.

One of the more colourful school stages I have performed on.

One of the more colourful school stages I have performed on.

It was also a great honour to be the Event Producer for 10 National Young Leaders Day events around the country. I enjoyed working with a committed team of leadership superheroes, and making some new friends along the way. Check out the great highlights vid from one of our Auckland events and see a snippet of the fun I helped orchestrate!

Speaking of orchestrating, I recently had a dream performance opportunity come true. 

In 1999, when I began studying as a young composer at university, I dreamed of being on stage with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Thanks to a buddy of mine putting my name forward to the powers that be, I was surprised to get an invitation to compere and perform in 3 of their free family concerts in Auckland last month!

It was a fantastic chance to apply my score reading skills once more ... and boy did I need them! The piece I was asked to narrate and sing in was 100 pages long! To date, Tane and the Kiwi is the longest single continuous piece of notated music I have ever performed live ... approximately half an hour!

I had a wonderful time working with 52 amazing musicians. I came away with a greater understanding and appreciation of just how much time and effort they put into their craft. 

And today it gets better because I can officially announce ... (!drumroll please!) ... they've just asked me to come back and perform Peter and the Wolf next month!

We will be playing 5 free shows for school children and families in Napier, Gisborne, and waaaaaay out in the remote town of Ruatoria. 

Of course, I said yes!

Performing 'Tane and the Kiwi' with the NZSO.

Performing 'Tane and the Kiwi' with the NZSO.

Finally, earlier this year I began a fun little project using Google Maps to record every place in the world I know I have performed for an audience. I have been able to add gold stars to places in Australia, Hawaii, and Denmark - but perhaps obviously, nowhere in the world has more stars than in my beloved home of New Zealand. 

As you can see, I have a bit of 'filling in' to do on the West Coast of the South Island, and also the central North. I am looking forward to performing one day in Stewart Island, right at the bottom.

I think anyone considering a career as a stage performer in this country would benefit from seeing this map. In New Zealand, one must be prepared to travel in order to follow their dream.

And what a lot of lovely following I have done!

In the coming months we kick off our annual Kids For Kids tour. I'm particularly looking forward to conducting the choir of 1,300 children in Christchurch soon!

My map showing a star for every place I have performed. 

My map showing a star for every place I have performed. 

Show Time!

Working as Spark Digital's 'Cody Cloud'

Working as Spark Digital's 'Cody Cloud'

Busy season has officially arrived!

After a few months of solid prep, the floodgates of performance opportunities have swung wide open. In the last few weeks I have been fortunate to present the first 11 of 88 Sailor The Puffer Fish Shows I have been commissioned to perform this year. Over 2,250 Wellington students and staff were able to learn about asthma and what they can do in an asthma emergency.

The first school Sailor and I performed in was particularly poignant; in October last year they lost a 7yo student to asthma. It was a privilege to help them regain some confidence in dealing with a health issue that had so recently devastated their community. 

In other asthma related news, I am happy to announce I have been booked as Master Of Ceremonies for the 2016 New Zealand Respiratory Conference being held in Auckland, Nov 24-25! I am looking forward to working with nurses, educators, and researchers who are doing their best to combat asthma and respiratory diseases that cause so much trouble for kiwi's each year.

I also had the fortune of performing two exciting school shows with Goodtime Music Academy. I enjoy playing in these shows as they encourage students to consider getting involved with music lessons for the first time. As a result, these two shows saw more than 100 students sign up for lessons, boosting our total number of students past the 900 mark!

Coming up soon I will be working as the Event Producer for National Young Leaders Days. I enjoy helping co-ordinate these inspirational events, and seeing first hand the impact they can have on our next generation of young leaders from primary, intermediate, and high schools. I even learn things myself!

But before that, I have another event performing as Spark Digital's Cody Cloud character in Christchurch next week. He's a cross between Willy Wonka and the Mad Hatter - both characters I know rather well! Spark Digital present a fantastic invitation-only family day with exciting activities like drone racing, DJ lessons, virtual reality showcases, robotics programming stations and more! I get to welcome everyone and host them at my 'digital factory'. 

After that, it's back on the road with Sailor, and once this school term is over I'm into Kids For Kids season. Exciting times ahead!



Preppin' For The Big Time!

All of the fun with Late 80's Mercedes @ Festival One 2016. Instagram credit: jackson_j_w

All of the fun with Late 80's Mercedes @ Festival One 2016. Instagram credit: jackson_j_w

As you can probably tell by looking at the picture above, I have been having a very fun-filled month!

This photo of me was snapped while I performed at Festival One, which is held each year at Hamilton's Mystery Creek Events Centre. We were fortunate to have a few thousand rabble-rousing young people flock to see us play for an hour on the enormous Arena Stage. It was a memorable night in which the ten of us were able to perform with great gusto and leave everything on stage. I'm looking forward to performing more shows with Late 80's in the coming months, but before those happen, I have a LOT of prep work to do for some equally exciting events coming up!

Between now and May, the majority of my time will be spent preparing an 88-show tour of Auckland and lower North Island schools with my good pal, Sailor The Puffer Fish. The Asthma Foundation of NZ, and Asthma Wellington have commissioned us to reach out to needy school communities and offer them the chance to host our informative musical show about asthma, completely free of charge. The show continues to be a great vehicle for raising awareness about what to do to help someone in an asthma attack, and ultimately, save lives. This tour will mean that in the coming months I will be able to perform my 200th show with Sailor! I am incredibly grateful that I get to continue working with him in such an impacting way.

In addition to the prep work for our school tour, I am currently head-down-tail-up in my role as Conference Manager for the 2016 NZ Educators' Neuroscience Conference, being held at Waikato University on April 2nd. Laying the foundations for this one-day event has been a hugely rewarding experience. We will host some of the world's leading experts in educational and neuroscience research, along with 400 delegates from the education sector who will come to learn cutting-edge teaching techniques that can help them improve the learning of the children they work with. It really is shaping up to be a fantastic day.

In amongst these two mammoth projects, I am also working with Goodtime Music Academy to help boost student enrolments in our Music Bus programme! This means I get to perform our fun and interactive half-hour show in many schools around the greater Wellington region in the coming months. 

And to fill in all my working-hours gaps not already occupied, I have had a great rehearsal for an upcoming Opera Opera show in Auckland with my good buddy, Greg Ward, I have been producing and recording our new Kids For Kids show content, and I've also been working on four different children's stories with illustrator superstar, Angela Keoghan, from The Picture Garden!

All of this preparation is leading to an extremely full Term 2 and 3 this year!

Time to go and hang up my creative hats for the day. First thing tomorrow I'm hopping on a plane to Auckland for a fleeting recording session. In fact, it's so fleeting that I will get to fly home again in the same day. Phew!


Goodtime Music Academy

Today I finished work at Avalon Studios with the Goodtime Music Academy crew! I was helping them produce a sequel to their fantastic online percussion course for schools, 'Rad Rhythm'. Directing twelve energetic kids armed with drum sticks and giant plastic bin drums was a mammoth-but-fun six day task. As Disney were filming pick ups for their 'Pete’s Dragon’ remake, we were instructed not to talk to any celebrities if we saw them walking down the hall. At one point, Karl Urban (‘Bones’ in the new Star Trek films) was walking directly towards me. Remembering the rules, but not wanting to seem impolite, I managed to say hello to him without actually saying anything. In New Zealand, if you raise your eyebrows to a very high height, and tilt your head back, that means ‘hello'. He said an eyebrows ‘hello' back to me, which technically means that Karl Urban thinks I am an extraordinary communicator. Here’s a photo of me with my eyebrows raised at two thirds of capacity.