For Napier woman Winifred Bickerstaff, summing up her devotion to teaching and encouraging music for around half a century is simple.

"Music has been my life," she said as she took in the news of her Queen's Service Medal for services to music education.

"I was a bit dumbfounded when I got the news but it's not really just me — it's everyone who has been involved."

She first became involved in music education in Hawke's Bay in 1962 and through the years has taught, encouraged and played with "thousands" of youngsters.


Her mother's family was musical and her brother was an "outstanding" pianist so music was always going to be in the mix.

During the 1960s and 70s she voluntarily organised community concerts for her students and those who had been taught by other local music teachers.

They were staged at the Municipal Theatre and would involved more than 100 primary and intermediate students who would perform orchestral arrangements, many composed by her to accommodate all levels over skill.

Through the years she also built up a collection of instruments and would loan them to students unable to afford their own.

While she specialised in violin she was involved in encouraging young people to play piano, flute, guitar — anything to spark the enjoyment of music.

In the 1980s she began looking into the Suzuki method of violin teaching and travelled to Australia to learn its finer points.

She went on to establish the Hawke's Bay branch of the Suzuki Institute and was the region's delegate on the national executive from the 1980s through until 2010.

Bickerstaff had also worked with special needs children — one on one — and if they were unable to play she would encourage them to listen to the music, and join in by clapping.

"To participate in some way in music is so valuable."

She has also developed an initiative to print and provide practice books to Suzuki Institute branch members throughout the country and was made a Life Member in 1991.

While now retired from playing through the onset of arthritis she is still very much involved with youngsters - "Listening and encouraging" and attending chamber concert events.

In an article published 10 years ago one man described Bickerstaff as "a remarkable woman" who taught three of his children and "changed our lives".