Hawke's Bay singer songwriter Hinewehi Mohi did what she does best as she was honoured with an award for her music therapy centre - she launched into a te reo version of the national anthem.

Mohi won the Arts Access Holdsworth Creative Space Award 2019 at the Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards on Wednesday night in Wellington, for setting up the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre.

"It was a real honour to receive the award. It's thrilling to be able to share music therapy with other people", Mohi said.

Mohi sung the anthem, coinciding with the Māori Language Week, in the closing ceremony of the awards; 20 years after she sang it in te reo only before the All Blacks' quarterfinal against England at Twickenham in the World Rugby Club 1999.

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"It was a very celebratory way to end the awards ceremony", Mohi said.

All of the recipients were on the stage as it was sung in New Zealand's three official languages of te reo Māori, English and New Zealand Sign Language.

Hinewehi Mohi with her daughter Hineraukatauri at the Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards, where Mohi was the recipient of the Arts Access Holdsworth Creative Space Award. Photo/ Supplied.
Hinewehi Mohi with her daughter Hineraukatauri at the Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards, where Mohi was the recipient of the Arts Access Holdsworth Creative Space Award. Photo/ Supplied.

"It was wonderful to have the acknowledgement of the work I started 15 years ago."

In their comments, the judging panel at the awards said the nomination had the "wow factor".

"Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre delivers quality programmes to a wide range of clients and their families with outstanding results.

"It has a clearly articulated vision and policies, responding to need and expanding its services beyond Auckland and into Hawke's Bay and Northland."

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When the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre first opened in 2004 it had just one client, one music therapist and two instruments – a violin and a piano.

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Fifteen years later the centre has more than 270 clients, nine music therapists and more than 500 different instruments.

The Auckland-based centre, which is New Zealand's only music therapy centre, recently set up regional centres in Hawke's Bay and Northland.

It also expanded its Auckland services to include weekly sessions at Starship Children's Hospital and the Mason Clinic, which provides forensic psychiatry services in Auckland.

In August this year, it started a weekly programme at Hawke's Bay Regional Prison.

The centre has one therapist in Hawke's Bay at Tamatea High School three days a week, and Havelock North Community Centre on Saturday.

The therapist also works with young inmates with mental health issues at the Hawke's Bay Regional Prison, Mohi said.

"Music transcends boundaries and connects people. It is a very accepted form of therapy around the world.

"Disability can put a lot of pressure on the family. This service helps people connect, it is very special therapy for people with complex problems."

Centre director Jen Ryckaert said their clients ranged in age from one to 70 but most of them were school-aged and had a variety of developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome.

She said around 75 per cent of clients attended one-on-one sessions with a registered music therapist and the rest attended small-group programmes.

In both cases, participants played instruments, sang, danced and moved around the room.

"Music therapy isn't passive. It's very, very active. "It's about using music to address non-musical goals such as increasing communication, improving social and emotional skills, and improving cognition. It involves both the music and the therapeutic relationship."

Ryckaert said research found that taking part in musical activities could help form new neural pathways in the brain. MRI scans have also showed that singing lights up the brain's pleasure centres.

"It's an incredibly enjoyable and motivating experience."