When it all started

The Specialist Music Programme (SMP) came into being in 1997 through an Act of Parliament. It was the brainchild of the Chair of Music at the University of Canterbury (UC), David Sell, and Hugh Stevenson, Head of Music at Burnside High School. Coming on board to support the programme at the primary level was Carolyn Pritchard, the music specialist at Westburn School. Such an undertaking cannot happen without the support of the schools involved and the shared vision of the principals, and we are fortunate that this has continued to the present day, along with the full involvement of music staff at all the institutions. The stated aim has always been “to provide opportunities and support for music education and training for emerging musicians in New Zealand with musical talent and potential”.

Participating Institutions

Initially, the participating institutions involved in the SMP were Westburn Primary School, Burnside High School, the University of Canterbury and the Christchurch College of Education. The overarching concept was that a child would be able to follow a programme of musical tuition from primary school, through high school and on to university. Following that there was the opportunity to continue their studies at the College of Education with the possible outcome of going into teaching. In truth, the College of Education always acted more in an advisory capacity, but it did provide its second president, Graeme Wallis. In 2007 the College of Education amalgamated with the University of Canterbury – as, indeed, all colleges of education in New Zealand did with their neighbouring university – and the relationship has continued with the now Faculty of Education at UC. SMP’s third and current president, Dr Patrick Shepherd, is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education.

Centre of Excellence

Having now been in operation for over 25 years, the SMP has established itself as a centre of excellence for young musicians in Christchurch with a proven track record of producing first-class musicians capable of achieving the highest levels in their chosen field. Students at Westburn Primary School perform as part of a solo recital concert each term and are involved in local music festivals and ensembles, while students at Burnside High School regularly sweep the board at national competitions. Many of our solo performers have gone on to work with some of the best musicians and ensembles in the world. It has also been gratifying to see a number of SMP alumni return home and teach into the programme they were once a part of as students, making the cycle complete.

We are proud of our past and excited by the future and look forward to the next 25 years and beyond.