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Karen Grylls

Music Professor

"Singing Playgrounds"


I am the Associate Head of Undergraduate Studies, Associate Professor in Conducting and Head of Choral Studies at the University of Auckland, and Musical Director of the New Zealand Youth Choir. I founded Voices New Zealand in 1998, and am now Artistic Director of both these national choirs. A graduate of both Otago and Auckland Universities, I studied post-graduate Conducting and Music Theory at the University of Washington, Seattle, for four years. In 1985 I returned to NZ to teach at the University of Auckland and take up the directorship of the Auckland Dorian Choir. In January 2012, I made contact with the team responsible for Choral Education programmes in the Birmingham-based choir, Ex Cathedra. With the help of the UK-NZ Link Foundation I was able to be part of a day at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital with the Singing Medicine team, and attend a training session for the Singing Playgrounds. The relationship that the Ex Cathedra team has built up with the hospital over the past seven years is remarkable; the hospital staff recognise the purple singing medicine t-shirts the practitioners wear and are very welcoming of them. The wards we visited included oncology, renal, cardiac, neurology and burns. The power of the singing put smiles on the faces of some very sick children and some very concerned and anxious parents. During the day, which lasted from 10:00am until 4:30pm, we sang with over 40 children. It was absolutely thrilling for Singing Medicine to receive a Royal Society Arts and Health National Award in 2011, national recognition for a very special initiative. Later I was invited to attend a training session for Singing Playgrounds, Ex Cathedra’s highly acclaimed first-access singing project. A group of teachers, some music specialists but mostly generalist teachers, attended this training day at the Birmingham Town Hall. This was the first session that would lead to 1,000 children singing and dancing in the Town Square and in the Birmingham Town Hall at the end of the school year. There are many people concerned about the lack of opportunity for children to sing in our NZ schools and communities. This visit gave me much to think about and act upon here in New Zealand.

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