Breathing young life into the classics

The Manukau Symphony Orchestra in rehearsal at Vodafone Events Centre
Musician and mentor in action with Manukau Symphony Orchestra
Terry Spragg
Dominic Hoey heads out south to look for an organisation introducing rangitahi to the power of the classics

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The Manukau Symphony Orchestra (MSO) has been introducing young people to classical music for the last 26 years. Not only do they offer scholarships and mentor young people, but they have a unique structure which sees their orchestra made up of one-third professional musicians, one-third adult members of the community and one-third rangatahi.

I spoke to Terry Spragg, chairperson of the MSO, about all the incredible work they’re doing to inspire young people to not only attend concerts but to get involved in making classical music themselves. 

It’s whanau

Like me, you might assume that classical music would be a hard sell to teenagers, but Terry is quick to dispel this misconception. 

“Each year we welcome new youth and community musicians into our orchestra whanau.  Some come from school – our youngest player was 10 years old – some come from University or as school leavers.  Others come to us as they take up their place in the workforce because they wish to continue their association with and the opportunity to learn and perform classical music.”

Terry refers to the MSO as whanau throughout our interview, and you are left with no doubt that introducing new generations to the joys of classical music is one of her passions. She became a member of the MSO back in its inception in 1993, as both a player and administrator. It was set up with the support of the Manukau City Council after they “recognised the mana that having a Symphony Orchestra in their midst gave to the city”. 

Now after a quarter of a century, the MSO is a fixture of the Manukau community with annual concerts at the Vodafone Events Centre and free workshops, both of which Terry says “are always well attended, and the Full House sign is frequently displayed. We have proved, over the past 26 years, that there is a desire for, and a need for, quality live classical music in the rohe of Manukau.” 

All of this might lead you to believe that classical music is in a good place within Aotearoa, but Terry says that cost can often be a big hindrance to budding musicians and would-be fans. 

Venues and rehearsal spaces aren’t cheap to hire, and on top of this, the conductors and soloists need to be paid. All of which drives up ticket prices. 

“Amazing concerts are readily available from the NZSO, APO, Opera NZ, Ballet and other organisations,” Terry says. “But at a cost which is increasingly more expensive.” 

“The next step is for them to attend a classical orchestra concert and then they become sold forever!  It is a revelation! It is mind-blowing! The overwhelming sound of so many instruments surrounding you on all sides – enveloping you – is never to be forgotten” 


Musician and mentor in action with Manukau Symphony Orchestra

Start them young

But despite this barrier, Terry is adamant that once rangatahi are introduced to classical music they can be won over. She believes it’s important to get them learning a classical instrument from a young age. “The next step is for them to attend a classical orchestra concert and then they become sold forever!  It is a revelation! It is mind-blowing! The overwhelming sound of so many instruments surrounding you on all sides – enveloping you – is never to be forgotten.” 

The MSO has a couple of events coming up before the end of the year where you can see them in action. There's a free Symphonic Journey weekend workshop on September 28 and 29 at St Kentigern College, Pakuranga. And on the 16 of November at the Vodafone Events Centre, Manukau the MSO have their final concert of the year entitled Magic Mozart. 

If any of this sounds like your cup of tea, or if you’d like to get involved, Terry would love to hear from you. 

“We always welcome new members, get in touch with us at any time through Facebook or our website.”


Terry Spragg

Written by

Dominic Hoey

29 Aug 2019

Dominic Hoey is an author, playwright and poet based in Tāmaki Makaurau. His debut novel, Iceland was a New Zealand bestseller and was long-listed for the 2018 Ockham Book Award.

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