There's always one person at school whose musical gift stands out.
Nadia Reid, among our very best singer-songwriters at a time when New Zealand is replete with superb singer-songwriters, was not that person.
She's still bitter about it.
"I auditioned for the special choir when I was in year 10 and I didn't make it in. It's something I've never been able to forget," she says, laughing. She laughs a lot, belying the image of the tortured, lovelorn figure you might expect from listening to her two exquisite albums, Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs and Preservation.
But then, Reid, who performs on June 11 with Anna Coddington and Liam Finn in Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's NZ Mix Tape concert, has every reason to be upbeat. Her next album is in the can and due either late this year or early next, and she is recently married.
She once said that anyone who dates a songwriter is f***ed. Does new husband Angus know what he's in for?
"I married someone who really fits well with my life and my lifestyle, so he'll be fine," she says. "Most of my romantic songs are about the ends of relationships."
Is it difficult re-living long-dead relationships every night?
"I think we have to reinvent meanings for songs that were so potent in the beginning. Both of the records I've put out, all of those songs were emotionally potent when they were written and then by the time you're in the studio and you've played them over and over again, it's like hearing a word 20 times; the emotional potency starts to fade. But I also think there's something special in that because you have to dig a little deeper when you sing them, or you just go through the motions."
Reid, it seems, never just goes through the motions. She recently introduced a few cover songs into her own set, simply because she can find it hard to sing other people's music.
"I wanted to do something that wakes me up a bit. [Friend and fellow musician] Anthonie Tonnon says you should do one thing in your set that scares you a little."
For the NZ Mix Tape, which is an orchestrally accompanied survey of beloved Kiwi songs, she's elected to cover three tunes by iconic Kiwis of a certain age: Four Seasons in One Day, written by Neil and Tim Finn for Crowded House; Andy, originally performed by Don McGlashan's pre-Mutton Birds outfit The Front Lawn; and Dave Dobbyn's lovely Beside You.
Dobbyn is a long-time Nadia Reid fan - and the feeling is mutual - but McGlashan's Andy feels the better fit. When he wrote this intimate letter to his dead brother, McGlashan was about the same age as Reid is now (she turns 28 in a few months, he sings 'I turned 28 last night/If you were still alive you'd be just short of 33').
She also shares with McGlashan a sense of place; both songwriters constantly namecheck locations. Reid confirms that place is important both to her lyrics and her writing process.
"I'm not even sure how to talk about it, but often when I'm performing a song I have a very strong connection to the place I was when I wrote it. I'm very sensitive to my environment when I'm writing. For the new album I went to a little town in Italy for a week on my own and wrote a few songs. It would be nice to write here in my house but it doesn't work like that for me."
Structurally and emotionally, Andy is the right song for Reid, too; its opening verse has the uncertain rhythm common to some of Reid's early work, like the give and take rubato of a Chopin nocturne, while McGlashan expresses his own sadness as powerfully as any New Zealand songwriter has managed.
"[Andy] is the most beautiful thing to do with grief," Reid agrees. "It's grief poured into art."
The part of Reid that chronicles ended relationships would appreciate that. She doesn't necessarily appreciate it when people mistake the singer for the song, though. Reid says her music shouldn't be taken literally but she recognises that the apparently confessional nature of her writing means that it inevitably is. It leaves her in the uncomfortable position that everyone she meets thinks they know her.
"I can't really think about that. I don't dare, because it would be too much. I love to know that people have enjoyed themselves but I don't want anything more than that. I used to get anxious about being asked what songs mean; I just want to write music and play and put records out."
And sing, too, with that astonishing, sinuous voice?
"I still don't feel like a proper singer," she says, briefly becoming again that rejected choirgirl. "I mean, I am a singer but I'm still working it out."
Who: Nadia Reid with Anna Coddington and Liam Finn
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra presents The NZ Mix Tape
Where: The Civic
When: Tuesday, June 11