Shortly after a rousing send-off and inspirational words during the Whangarei funeral of Joan Kennaway, the chance to honour her life in music in perpetuity soon began to take shape.

Joan Kennaway QSM died in February this year, prompting an outpouring of grief and tributes from a multitude of her singing colleagues, students and friends, particularly from members of the Opera North choir, which she founded.

There are now plans to launch a Joan Kennaway Scholarship fund with a musical concert aptly named 'Because of Joan' as way of extending what was a life mission for the much-loved musical director, teacher and mentor.

The concert, to be held at the Capitaine Bougainville Theatre, Forum North Whangarei on June 16, will feature many of her former students who are now enjoying much international success, and include some invited guest stars, including renowned performer Helen Medlyn.


One of the most successful of Mrs Kennaway's former students, Hayden Tee, will headline the concert. Fresh from taking lead roles on Broadway and the West End, Mr Tee, who hails from Maungaturoto, will be a popular item.

The Opera North choir will also be on stage with many members lucky enough to have solos to sing.

Proceeds from the concert will launch the scholarship fund which will aim to support opera singers who wish to plunge into a career in operatic music. The official launch of the fund will be announced at a champagne gala held at Forum North immediately after the concert.

Giving the opportunity for everyone to experience opera, whether on stage or as an audience member, was a passion for Mrs Kennaway, a renowned soprano who, at the height of her career, was one of the most successful performers in New Zealand.

Mrs Kennaway was runner-up in the 1970 Mobil (now Lexus) Song Quest; winner of Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, Tauranga and Gisborne aria contests; a national touring concert artist (including with the Sydney Opera); an acclaimed musical theatre director; later one of New Zealand's top singing teachers and voice coaches; director of the annual Opera in the Garden held near Whangarei; and yet more achievements, not least being awarded the Queen's Service Medal for services to music.

Staging the popular Opera in The Garden event at her home in Glenbervie near Whangarei was realisation of a life ambition for Mrs Kennaway. She regarded the event as a way to introduce opera to people who may not have experienced live opera singing, but in a relaxed and more informal atmosphere of a garden picnic scenario.

The event has now been running for 22 years with proceeds from the events past used to help singers like tenor Kawiti Waetford and soprano Sophie Sparrow extend their studies and launch their careers already through what was formerly known as the Opera North grant.