Sour note in school music

By Lynley Bilby

Western Springs student Noah Rudd turned down a suggestion he should apply for a music scholarship at King's. Photo / Michael Craig
Western Springs student Noah Rudd turned down a suggestion he should apply for a music scholarship at King's. Photo / Michael Craig

There is hope for school swots who for years have watched enviously as well-built sportsmen have been poached by some of Auckland's most prestigious schools - those who have mastered a musical instrument are these days in line for generous scholarships too.

Worried school music teachers are seeing their most talented pupils being targeted by private colleges with thousands of dollars in tuition scholarships on offer.

Up until now, poaching has largely been the domain of the sports field with official body College Sport and secondary school principals imposing strict regulations to protect the fairness of the school rugby competition.

In one instance recently, an oboe player from Western Springs College was targeted by two people linked to King's College within minutes of a performance at the Auckland heats of the secondary schools' New Zealand Community Trust Chamber Music Contest.

Itinerant oboe teacher Alison Jepson says her pupil, Noah Rudd, had just finished performing in his award-winning school chamber music group Zen when she was approached by a senior King's College music pupil who told her the head of the music department recommended Noah apply for a music scholarship. This was followed by a short conversation with the college's head of music who suggested Noah apply for a music scholarship at his school.

Noah's mum Anita Rudd laughed when she heard her son had been shoulder-tapped.

"It's not the paradigm in which we work. We are very much local school people. Going to King's was completely out of the question."

But King's College head of music Paul West rejects the poaching claims and says it was more a throwaway line.

"I could have followed it up and found out who the player was but I didn't. When you see a great player it's not a poach, it's just a comment."

He says the school has limited full scholarships on offer but he would rather invest money on training pupils than cherry-picking from schools.

But King's marketing programme is raising eyebrows. In a week where thousands of Auckland secondary school music students have competed in the KBB Music Festival, King's has taken out on-air ads during a top rating breakfast show promoting the school's music department. And they took out a full page advertisement for scholarships in the Big Sing programme.

West, who recently arrived in New Zealand from teaching stints in Singapore and London, says they were perfect marketing opportunities to let people know about music scholarships on offer at King's and he had "no idea quite how prickly everyone would be about it".

The head of a large Auckland state secondary school, who did not want to be named but has lost several top musicians in recent years to private colleges, says it's disappointing when a school has invested a significant amount of time and money on lessons, instruments and musical opportunities only to have a student lured away when they have reached a high standard.

Auckland itinerant music teacher Bev Brockelbank says some schools seem to have a shopping list of desirable instrumentalists to fill gaps in the competitive chamber music and orchestra environment.

"We all know it's going on but this is not sport, it's arts and culture."

- Herald on Sunday

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