Southland Tour with Duffy Books in Homes

Driving SH99 was a highlight!

Driving SH99 was a highlight!

On April 9th I hopped on a plane and flew to Invercargill to begin a 10-stop tour of Southland schools with Duffy Books in Homes - a charity that partners with generous donors to put four brand new books in the hands of school children from low decile schools each year.

My job is to visit the schools, speak about how reading has been super important in making my dreams come true, and hand out hundreds of books to excited kids!

So to the following schools ... St Teresa's, Bluff, Fernworth, Takitimu, St Patrick's (Nightcaps), Tisbury, Waiau Area, Newfield Park, St Joseph's, and New River ... thank you for hosting me this week! 

Back from London!

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On Feb 26th I flew to London with my wonderful illustrator Angela Keoghan, and her hubby Jayden to release our first children's picture book: Inspector Brunswick - The Case of the Missing Eyebrow

I had never been to the UK before, or Hong Kong where we stayed a few days to break up the big plane trips over.

We had a wonderful time working with our publisher TATE (of the TATE museums!) and spent many days performing book readings and illustration workshops with children. 

A highlight was being able to meet a few people I admired on the way, namely Gareth Malone from the BBC's 'The Choir' TV show, and at the London Bookfiar, Mr Klaus Flugge from Andersen Press, who was responsible for publishing one of my all time favourite children's books, Not Now, Bernard.

Another highlight was being able to experience many of the various museums there, including the V&A Children's, the British, the TATE Modern and Britain, and the Natural History museum. There's nothing quite like standing next to a life-size replica of a blue whale and realising just how tiny you are!

A big thank you to all the wonderful bookshops that hosted us. We look forward to coming back soon with Brunswick #2!

Click on the photos below to see the captions ...

2016 Wrap Up!

PHEW! 

Time for a break after a hec-tastic (hectic+fantastic) end to the 2016! Here's how it went ...

OCTOBER
29th: I was fortunate to be able to MC a concert for the Manukau Concert Band in Auckland. It was great for two reasons - one, because I was able to perform as the narrator/singer for 'The Devil Went Down To Georgia' with a live band ... and two, because I got to perform with my little sister who plays tenor saxophone in the band! We Lam Sam's are definitely a musical bunch!

31st: A lovely Kids For Kids concert in Gisborne. I really enjoyed working with the kids, and marvelling at the newly renovated War Memorial foyer inside the theatre. An poignant sea of red poppies adorns the ceiling there. I also found the world's smallest ironing board in my accommodation, plus a wonderful tiny picture frame to use as a prop in our upcoming Inspector Brunswick release in London!

NOVEMBER
3rd-4th: Two Kids For Kids shows in Napier. Always love working (and shopping) in this city. So much to see and do, and the theatre staff are always so friendly!

7th-8th: We then moved Kids For Kids north to the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna. What a great venue to work in! Amazing choirs and super fun as always.

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9th: For the second year in a row I performed at the annual Remuera New World Christmas Party which was a HOOT! I get to dress up in silly costumes (that's not like me, right?) and perform Christmas and opera music with my good friend and collaborator, Greg Ward. This year we put a Swiss slant on the show, and as you can see, the accordion fit right in!

12th: Continuing in Auckland, I played the Giltrap Motors 50th Anniversary party with Late 80’s Mercedes. Due to a comedy of errors I accidentally locked my regular suit in the car at the gig, so I had to borrow a fantastic blue pinstripe from my good and skinny friend, Jono. Thanks to my efforts in shedding about 28kgs this year I actually fit his suit perfectly!

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14th-16th: I wrapped up this 11-night stay in Auckland with two more Kids For Kids shows in South Auckland. Performing in the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau is always a pleasure. The choirs were great and the audiences happy.

18th: Our Christmas tree went up at home. Too early? Pfft. What are you ... Scrooge?!

20th: Back in Wellington, I was Master of Ceremonies for the Hutt City Council's Big Backyard event. This was a free outdoor showcase of local businesses and organisations which proved a hit with community on such a fine day.

24th-25th: Back to Auckland to compere the two day NZ Respiratory and Allergy Conference at the Pullman Hotel. I learned so much about a subject I speak a lot about in schools. It was truly eye opening to see how much good research was being done by doctors, scientists, and specialists in this field. On the morning of the 25th we all woke up to headline news about 'Thunderstorm Asthma' in Australia. Having expert people in the room who could speak about that upsetting phenomenon was very informative.

27th: Back to Wellington, I was the MC for the New Zealand Defence Force Christmas Party in Trentham! This was a great family event, and the military vehicles they had on display were very popular with the kids!

29th: I then flew up to Tauranga for the final Kids For Kids show for 2016 which went swimmingly. I was also fortunate to appear in a new music video by children's music legends, Itty Bitty Beats. Check out their video at the bottom of this post!

And then it was ... DECEMBER!
1st: As part of a year long promotion with the main children's show on Radio Rhema, The Funky Monkeys got together to perform one show for one lucky school in Auckland! It was a grand opportunity to hang out with Neil and Joe once more and work our entertainment magic!

2nd: Back to Wellington for a refresher rehearsal of Peter and the Wolf with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, then ...

3rd: I performed MC'd 'Christmas at Te Papa with the NZSO'! We snuck Peter and the Wolf in there for good measure too. Working with the community choir who turned up on the day to sing carols with us was a hoot!

5th: And then I finished my normally busy season early with some semi-urgent surgery! Nothing life threatening, but certainly life improving! It kept me off my feet for three long weeks which I will admit was very difficult! But I was determined to heal because ...

31st: I performed with The Funky Monkeys at New Year in the Square! It was a very big show (5,000 people watching) with two sets and the full cast including Dizzy Dog. We had a fun time, and we're pretty sure the families did too!

And that was the end of 2016. Happy new year to everyone out there, and I hope you're all getting some rest!

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.