Key Points:

Russell Garcia has composed music for Hollywood movies and even befriended the stars.

He has also been awarded an honorary doctorate by Changchun University in China.

But the expat American, who calls Kerikeri home, and his wife, former Hollywood professional singer Gina Garcia, feel that teaching children is one of their "greatest gifts".

The couple have been given Queen's Service Medals for their services to music.

Photos of Professor Garcia working alongside Charlie Chaplin and jazz musicians Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Oscar Peterson grace the studio at their home on the outskirts of Kerikeri but he and Mrs Garcia remain extremely humble.

"It's us trying to do some good," she said of their work.

The couple, who follow the Baha'i faith, teach a course called Life Skills and as well as giving their time, contribute financially to music and the arts.

"We teach [kids] to be trustworthy, honest, not prejudiced," Mrs Garcia said.

"But we teach them with songs and raps and stories and games in a creative experience - and the kids love it.

"We try to encourage young people to study music because we think it's so vital for their development. One of the reasons we go to schools is ... because we've lost sight of what virtue and morals are in our lives these days.

"We think the arts help keep the kids out of trouble.

"We know that worked with our children. They didn't get into as much trouble as other kids because they were too busy doing things they loved."

Professor Garcia, who at 92 appears much younger, wears a bone-carved musical symbol around his neck.

The treble clef was carved and given to him by an 8-year-old music student and is testament to the joy he gets from teaching.

"In Kerikeri, I'm the ukulele player that jumps up and down singing with the kids," he laughs.

The jovial musician credits music for his youthfulness.

While it seems like hard work, Professor Garcia sees things differently.

"I've never worked a day in my life. I write music and they give me money for it."

The couple, who on Christmas Eve renewed their wedding vows as they have every year since they were married 56 years ago, have lived in Kerikeri for 37 years.

They came here at the invitation of fellow musicians and "fell in love" with the Northland town.

Professor and Mrs Garcia were "overwhelmed" when they learned of their New Year honours in a letter from Prime Minister John Key on December 19.