By Jodi Bryant
Joan instantly recognised the perfect pitch and uncharacteristically signed him up on the spot.
Recalls Jill: "From about the age of two he was singing all the time but, at four, I remember thinking to myself, 'Gosh, he's really got a voice that's in tune'. It was just this beautiful high little boy soprano sound and it was just lovely."
Musically-talented herself, Jill approached her equally musical parents who knew Joan Kennaway. "I discussed it with them and we decided to wait until he was five and then I took him along to her.
"She listened to him and I said, 'So, what do you think?' and she said, 'Yip, I think he's great'. But she said, 'Just one thing; can he read? Because he's got to be able to follow the lyrics along'.
He was a really good reader and I said, 'Yeah he can read'. So she took him on and never looked back."
After a little training from Joan, Jill says Jack's voice became the 'voice of an angel'.
Joan wouldn't usually take on kids so young but once said in an interview: "He comes in to see me and his eyes light up – how can I not teach that?"
"She basically made an exception for him," tells Jill. "Aged seven, she said, "Jack, I think you've got perfect pitch'. He said, 'Have I?' And she said, 'Do you know what that means?' He said, 'No.'. And she said, 'It doesn't matter; if I ask you to sing me an A or a B, you can sing it straight away and you just know'."
Under Joan's tutelage for the next eight years, Jack thrived and joined a choir performing in various concerts, regularly singing in vocal competitions and then becoming an active member of Opera North.
But it hasn't been an easy, natural journey for Jack. With the tragic loss of his beloved singing teacher in 2018, the Year 13 Huanui College student spent a year in limbo with no guidance during the crucial years his voice transitioned, which took its toll on his vocal chords. As a result, his voice derailed somewhat.
"I think Jack was quite lost for that year," recalls Jill.
Says Jack: "After Joan fell ill, I didn't have a singing teacher for about a year and I picked up a lot of bad habits which kind of destroyed my voice so I've had to work to fix it and kind of had to retrain."
During this time, Jack's voice was merging from soprano – the highest pitch, to alto – the lower female range, tenor – the highest male range and is now settling at base.
"When I first started, I didn't need as much training as I do now, I could just sing. Now, I have to focus on every single note and the technical side of it rather than just singing. It's much harder to produce a nice sound effortlessly and you've got to use your body rather than just your vocal chords. I've now got quite a small range."
Before she died, Joan peered him with his current singing teacher Lisbe Jooste, who helped guide Jack's voice back on track.
Says Jill: "He went through a tough time but it was so nice to finally hear him singing freely again. He's got some beautiful tone to it."
Among Jack's biggest support group are his family with grandparents in their 80s who still sing in the Whangarei Choral Society choir and Jill, a member of Opera North.
His brothers are also musically-talented and one of Jack's favourite pastimes is singing together as a trio.
"I have two younger brothers and they've already got bigger ranges than me which is so frustrating. They're not as into (singing) as I am but they're definitely good at it.
"I like singing songs that have lots of emotion. I do kind of go into a zone when I sing, I just really love it. It relaxes you and it takes you away. It's kind of a de-stresser when you can just sing and enjoy it."
Jack is now described by many as having the rare talent of "perfect pitch", which Joan picked up on all those years ago, and this also lends itself to the art of conducting.
Says musical director Emma Couper: "The great thing about Jack is his musicianship. He can hear what everyone is singing. He doesn't need to rely on the piano. Having that ability within him is pretty much the best trait a young conductor can have."
It was Opera North pianist and conductor Clare Henderson who suggested Jack try his hand at conducting.
"It had never occurred to me until about a year ago when Clare suggested I try it but I found it pretty enjoyable. It's a challenge and quite different to singing. I thought it was just waving your arms around, you know, but it's a lot more than that. You've got to try and communicate what you're saying through your hands and keeping the beat is the main aim but also try to portray loads and keeping everyone in tune through your hands. A lot more goes on than what I first saw.
"It's definitely opened more doors to me."
Jack will be debuting his conducting talents to the public at this month's Silver Linings show alongside Jill, also performing.
"I used to love it while he was singing boy soprano as he'd be sitting or standing beside me," remembers Jill. "He had me on one side and his grandmother on the other all singing the same soprano - that was really good value. But now (as his voice has changed), he's moved to other parts of the choir. These days I just really enjoy going to practices with him."
He will also be performing alongside others who have inspired him over the years. They include Lisbe, to whom he is grateful to have taken on his tutelage.
He also cites music theory teacher Margaret Williams, who passed away in recent years and, of course, Joan.
"She was a great role model in my life. I'd go to her once a week after school and she was so easy to talk to and get along with. She was always encouraging."
Adds Jill: "They had a really good bond. It was really upsetting for Jack when she died. She had a lot of pride in Jack and she set him on his journey. She really basically brought him to life with music."