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Student story

Anna Whitaker

20 July 2023

"Music is a path of lifelong learning..."


Bachelor of Music

Bachelor of Music with Honours


Master’s Student, Queens College, City University of New York, USA

Freelance Musician

Anna taught music and dance at St Margaret’s school while studying towards her honours degree, specialising in ja voice performance. Finding time for everything she packed into her day was not easy, but as they are all things she enjoys, she found the energy to make it work.

"I got up super early so I could get into the Charles Luney auditorium at St Margaret's to practise on the Steinway for a couple of hours before school started. That was a luxury that motivated me to get up early!"

Evenings and weekends saw Anna playing piano and singing locally. She also performed regularly at big events such as the International Ja and Blues Festival in Christchurch and the New Zealand Big Band Festival, as part of her performance component in honours study.

"I do thrive on a challenge, and all the gigs I did were super fun ones, which was also motivating!"

Anna was also happy that, despite the workload, studying and working proved mutually beneficial.

"I love that combining being a musician and teaching music means you keep developing your own craft while encouraging others to do the same. At times it can be really tiring, but there is nothing more satisfying than taking what you've learned on the job into the classroom, because the learning becomes really meaningful."

Anna’s interest in ja took off while she was at Burnside High School. She graduated with a degree from the Christchurch Ja School in 2007 and then threw herself into establishing a successful music career, which she wanted to take to a new level.

"I thought it was time to solidify my skills in an academic setting,' she says of her decision to return to study. "UC offered me a programme of study that I could tailor to what I wanted to focus on musically, together with all the support I needed to dive into academic writing. I really enjoyed the one-on-one tutoring here, and the extra help you can seek from the academic support services.

"The course helped to continue to shape me as a musician, and gave me clear goals for where I want to take my art form."

Those goals included spending some time in New York, which Anna is now currently fulfilling with master’s study in music at Queen’s College. She received the Keith Laugesen Music Scholarship and Anne Reid Memorial Trust Scholarship through UC for the opportunity, as well as an Aotearoa Music Scholarship "kindly gifted’ through Creative New Zealand.

"I love learning about ja in its country of origin. I am really enjoying soaking in the ja scene here! I would like to bring this experience back to Christchurch and continue to contribute to the music scene and the teaching profession there. I've released two albums and I feel that after I finish my master’s, I will be ready to embark on my third.

"Music is a path of lifelong learning, so if you have the privilege of studying full-time, I would highly recommend you treasure that time, and make the most of others around you doing the same, so you can work together and inspire each other."

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