Jonathan Pirini is so passionate about maximising the musical talent of his Northland community, he's started a music academy to do so.
An alumnus of Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington's New Zealand School of Music—Te Kōkī (NZSM), Jonathan wants to share his talents as a music teacher with the younger generation in his hometown of Kaitaia.
In August 2021, he launched Te Hiku Music Academy, a pilot programme to teach music to primary school students.
Pirini said the academy idea came about after years of teaching music at secondary level and seeing the potential of his students could be vastly improved if they started learning at an earlier age.
"Having taught in this area before, everyone agrees there's ample talent up here, but there's a disconnect from the resources," he said.
"If there isn't a culture of music lessons before you get to high school, then it is difficult for students to fulfil their potential in music."
Te Hiku Music Academy is being piloted with Kaitaia Primary School's Years 5 and 6 pupils and Jonathan said the response from the school couldn't have been better.
"From from the moment I pitched the concept to principal Brendon Morrisey, his response was 'what can we do to make this happen'," he said.
"He's a real big, community thinker and found $4000 to buy instruments and gave me one day a week stipend to host the pilot programme.
"I was happy to do it for free! But they offered me a temporary contract."
The approach so far has been simple - six pupils from the school have been selected to attend the pilot and for four weeks, they will learn drums, guitar and keyboard in small groups under the teaching of Jonathan and an old schoolmate and fellow musician and teacher, Damien Rice.
"What I'm wanting to do, in addition to identifying talent, is to provide an opportunity for all pupils to have a go at music and an instrument," he said.
"Eventually the idea is that we will start a lunchtime ensemble with students who are inclined towards a certain instrument and form a school band.
"From there, I'm hoping we'll find those students who are passionate to learn more and can do after school lessons in small groups or one on one.
"That way when they get to college, they've been playing the instrument for three to four years and have as much skill developed as someone in the main centres."
Pirini has been running the classes for several weeks now, and said the kids were "super enthusiastic".
"Obviously as a teacher, it's a dream to be able to teach a group of just six kids. And they feel lucky, you know, they feel like they're doing something special."
His time at the New Zealand School of Music (NZSM) has helped him to understand the importance of 'being good at your craft'.
"I found my time at NZSM hugely challenging, being among that melting pot of talent and drive, the competition was huge," Pirini said.
"I would say it's given me a clearer idea of what it takes to be good at your craft and the phrase I find myself using most is 'excellence is not accidental'.
"You don't just suddenly become good at anything."
Jonathan also completed a summer internship with Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, New Zealand's Māori Centre of Research Excellence, where he conducted research on Māori jazz music in Aōtearoa.
He says the support he received from the University's Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Mātauranga Māori) Meegan Hall as his supervisor was fantastic.
The experience provided him with insights into how maximising a person's natural talent for music can make a big difference and affirmed in his mind the importance of freedom of expression in music, and jazz in particular.
Pirini isn't the first alumni to develop an academy for young musicians; he has connected with Jonny Wilson who founded the Goodtime Music Academy in Lower Hutt, and Ally Mawhinnery with his programme, Epic Music Academy, in Palmerston North, who have both provided guidance and advice.
Te Hiku Music Academy's pilot programme will finish up at the end of this year and begin at a new school in 2022. Long-term, the goal is to serve the whole of the Far North.
"In my mind, my strategy is to have five music buses teaching in the north, east, south, west and central Far North," Pirini said.
"If I could park up one or two days a week and cover their music programme, that would be awesome.
"From there, I'd identify a handful of kids to whom I could offer music lessons at a central location. That's where I envisage it going."