Medal for service to music
Queen’s Birthday honours recipients Craig Utting and Elizabeth Sneyd were deemed mad to offer free music tuition in Porirua’s low-decile schools.
Now their Virtuoso Strings Orchestra, based in Cannons Creek, has 130 performers ranging from preschoolers to pensioners.
The Tawa music teachers nearly turned down their Queen’s Service Medals for services to music education.
The couple have donated hundreds of hours of tuition and instruments in the past two years, but seeing pupils’ faces light up had been reward enough, Sneyd said.
Utting and Sneyd run the Music Learning Centre from their Tawa home, where they have taught thousands of youngsters.
Sneyd said they were particularly impressed by the ability of Pacific Island students, which inspired her to approach Porirua schools and see if there was interest in free lessons.
‘‘ There’s a massive gap between opportunity and talent,’’ Sneyd said.
‘‘We saw families that really struggled to pay for lessons – fantastic parents who put every penny aside for music lessons. But it was hard because money only goes so far.’’
Two years ago they donated 17 violins to Cannons Creek and Windley schools and set up a pilot tuition programme.
The programme has grown to include 11 schools and 100 donated instruments, which pupils can keep as long as they’re learning and performing regularly with the Virtuoso Strings Orchestra.
‘‘ The interest has phenomenal,’’ Sneyd said.
‘‘It started off as an experiment and the kids just loved it.
‘‘They were ready to soak up anything I taught them. It’s exciting as a teacher when your students really want to learn.’’
The Virtuoso Strings Chari-
been table Trust has teamed up with Marie Eales, who runs a similar programme offering recorder and guitar lessons in Porirua schools.
The combined programme has increased pupils’ self- esteem levels, resulting in less bullying and increased optimism about their futures. Sneyd is disappointed how few Pacific Islanders made careers out of classical music.
‘‘ New Zealand is a diverse country, but there is little or no diversity in the classical music scene.’’
Through the Virtuoso Strings Orchestra, children have performed at the Michael Fowler Centre, music festivals and museums.
Seeing young musicians’ faces light up has been reward enough for Tawa couple Elizabeth Sneyd and Craig Utting.