Collegiate music department producing graduates of note

By Lin Ferguson

Director of music at Wanganui Collegiate School is Nicholas Grigsby and it's nearly 10 years since he took over the co-educational boarding school's music department.

And he's just as fervent and enthusiastic today as he was at the start.

"Well I just feel so fortunate. I love my work here, I love teaching. This is perfect - I'm staying, I'm certainly not going anywhere."

He's even moving on to the campus for 2013 as a housemaster with his partner and new baby and will be responsible for 60 young boys.

"I'm looking forward to it."

Even though music is his passion ... his forte, he insists his music students must also do well academically and in the sporting arena as well as playing their instrument of choice.

Which includes everything from piano, organ, woodwind, brass, strings, percussion and voice.

"Students need to be motivated to work and achieve academically, in sport and carry this over into their music. Really it gives their learning a whole new dimension."

They don't even see practising as an arduous chore either, he said.

"Absolutely not. These kids are so motivated they practice very early before school, at night till at least 10pm with many coming in on Sundays and devoting the whole day to some serious practice. Marvellous."

The music suite is centre stage of Collegiate next to the 500-seat Prince Edward Auditorium renowned as possibly the best performance venue of any school in the country.

The music department on three levels, features a music technology suite, two large classrooms, chamber music room, band room, percussion studio, three rooms for resident staff and the music administrator, and seven teaching/practice studios of varying sizes.

"It's like a small dedicated conservatory or academy which is why students from all over the world and throughout New Zealand are inspired to come here," Mr Grigsby said.

Music students arrive at the school at varying levels, he said.

"We of course have the very gifted and advanced to young students who have only been learning a year or so."

The progress made by the students in a very short time is phenomenal, he said.

"However, we encourage them to skip ahead as fast as they can ... some students manage to jump two grades in year."

One young student, Hugo Bidwill said being part of the music department was always inspiring.

"Because all of us here love music and it's so good to talk about it with so many people who love it the way you do ... you never feel out of place or anything," he said.

"Well it really is about providing challenging and enjoyable experiences for anyone and everyone with an enthusiasm for, or talent in, music," Mr Grigsby said.

He was adamant that good music encourages moral principles, including confidence, poise and self-esteem.

Collegiate music students were encouraged not only to study instruments but to learn how to compose as well.

Music stimulates a number of emotions and helps to develop character and social skills through self-expression, he said.

Throughout the whole school there are 250 students immersed in music, he said.

"We have numerous choirs, singing groups, chamber music groups, an orchestra and a rock group. We are currently trying to set up a good jazz group."

The compulsory course in Year 9 is diverse in its aims, but essentially sets out to continue to build upon their musical experience.

Students were also encouraged to study at least one musical instrument, including voice, play in group performances as well performing solo.

And of course there are numerous concerts every year because the underlying ethos of the department was to provide musical and performing opportunities for every student while encouraging the highest standard in performance.

There were more than 250 musical instrument lessons each week with the team of Mr Grigsby, a Departmental Administrator, a Graduate Organ Scholar, a Gap-year Choral Scholar and 15 visiting staff.

The school has specialist instruments, including a bass clarinet, three concert grand pianos and the three-manual chapel pipe organ, by Lawton & Osborne (1927).

As well as the Prince Edward Auditorium, the students also have the wonderful acoustics and architecture of the Chapel and Big School for their larger choral and orchestral concerts.

The department also now has its own recording studio and label, Collegian Records.

Three CDs have been released with two in post-production awaiting release. The albums have been recorded in the Chapel featuring the choir and soloists.

Emotions ... A collegiate Year in Music 2012 also features chamber music trios, solo piano and organ.

It was the first time in decades the school had undertaken such a venture and the quality and enthusiasm shown in the exciting project has been mesmerising, Mr Grigsby said.

The next release on Collegian Records will feature a wide range of popular music and singer/songwriters - another strength of the musical heartbeat of the School.

Even if a student needs highly specialised tutoring it can always be arranged nothing is impossible or out of reach, he said.

"Sometimes we have a student receiving special tuition from an overseas teacher through Skype. One girl who was to have an advanced level lesson discovered her teacher was on a cruise. No problem she had her lesson over Skype, cruise and all. It was wonderful it really was."

A recent study of the school has shown that students who receive one-to-one music tuition improved their overall "classroom" academic performance by up to 15 per cent.

"And really that's the beauty of music you see it enhances everything else you do ... I see it over and over again. Its' exciting.

And with the New Zealand Opera School coming in from January 3 followed by the inaugural Organ Academy starting on January 14, a wealth of ongoing music will flow through the school .

"Yeah it goes on, no break , constant music ... great isn't it.'

- Wanganui Chronicle

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