Orchestras and brass bands
The National Youth Orchestra was founded in 1959 by John Hopkins, principal conductor of the National Orchestra (later the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra). Auditions are held each year and successful musicians are members of the orchestra for 12 months. They rehearse together before playing a main season around August and a summer season early the following year. Applicants must be aged 25 or under.
In 2009 Michael McIntyre recalled playing with the very first National Youth Orchestra in 1959: ‘Above all there was the sheer wonder of being catapulted from the musical outback straight into the middle of something marvellously new and mind-blowing, the thrilling sound-world of an excellent symphony orchestra able to do justice to the great classics … So there we were, in the NYO, that magical, newly formed group of young, switched-on human beings, working and playing together like crazy.’1
In addition to the national orchestra there are city and regional youth orchestras, as well as the New Zealand Secondary Schools Symphony Orchestra based in Christchurch. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s Sistema Aotearoa project provides children from low-decile schools with classical instruments and musical training.
The National Youth Brass Band was formed in 1970. Since 1997 the band has functioned as a Wellington-based summer school comprising auditions, rehearsals and concerts. Members can be up to 22 years old. The Salvation Army has a national youth brass band drawn from uniformed church members aged between 16 and 30.
The National Youth Jazz Orchestra is selected annually.
Chamber music and composition
The first Chamber Music New Zealand contest for secondary school students was held in 1965. It went on to become the longest-running youth music contest in New Zealand. A composition division was added to the contest in 1971. In 2005 the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra launched the NZSO Todd Corporation Young Composers Award.
The New Zealand Youth Choir’s first concert was in St Peter’s Church in Willis Street, Wellington. There was no backstage space so choir members had to gather in the Red Cross rooms across the road. Traffic officers held up motorway traffic so the singers could cross the road to the church.
The New Zealand Youth Choir was formed in 1979. Singers have to be between 18 and 25, and are auditioned every three years. There are also regional youth choirs and the New Zealand Secondary Schools Choir, which started in 1986.
The Big Sing, the national secondary schools choral festival, started in 1988. Eleven regional competitions are held in June each year, and 18 choirs are selected to compete in the national finale in August. A composition division was introduced in 2000.
Smokefreerockquest is an annual popular music competition for school students. It was founded in 1989 and was initially a Christchurch event. The following year the competition became nationwide. Many popular singers and bands have got their big break at Smokefreerockquest. Anika Moa and Bic Runga were signed to international record labels straight after the competition.
Smokefree Pacifica Beats started out as the Urban Beats Award at Smokefreerockquest, and became a stand-alone competition in 1998. Entrants’ performances must feature Māori and Pacific cultural elements such as Māori or Pacific languages and traditional instruments.
Founded in 2012, Switch is a popular music competition for intermediate school students.
Play It Strange
Play It Strange, founded in 2003, is a trust which helps young people develop song writing and music performance interests and skills. The trust administers a number of music competitions, distributes ukuleles to schools and runs workshops and mentoring programmes in schools.