Jennifer Moss says she was in the right place at the right time, and recognised a need. Now she uses music to meet that need and colour people’s lives.
Jennifer Moss is first and foremost a musician, then a teacher, and by default in a sense, a businesswoman too. She says she’s never had a proper nine-to-five job apart from a full-time stint in Sydney as a singer with The Song Company, and she’s quite comfortable with that.
“I have it built-in somehow that I can cope without the need for total stability as long as I’m doing what I’m passionate about,” she says. “I’ve been lucky I suppose to have such a supportive husband who’s been my rock in so many ways.“
Jennifer and her family moved here in 2004 from Auckland, and before that, Sydney, craving a smaller place to call home that offered a strong sense of community. “We’d done big-city living, and decided on Palmy because my husband was originally from here. It seemed like a happening town. I didn’t really know anything about it, I’d only ever visited, so I took the plunge.”
When Jennifer first arrived in Manawatū she worked as a primary school teacher, having just retrained in Auckland, but soon found that teaching maths and science wasn’t really for her.
I’ve officially stopped counting how many ukuleles I own!
“David Reardon shoulder-tapped me for the position of music specialist at Russell Street School, which was brilliant. It’s a grounding force for me. Working with five-year-olds is very good for my whole being. There are no airs and graces, just lots of freedom, to sing, play instruments and have fun – which is the best way to learn.
“There used to be music advisors supplied for schools by the Government, but there aren’t any more, so a lot of schools struggle with what to do with music,” she says. “I offer professional development for schools to give them a practical idea of how many instruments they need, what to do with them, how to set up a group – all strategies for teaching children.”
She has Tui awards to back up her theories. Jennifer’s House and Jennifer’s Garden have both won Best Children’s Album awards at the New Zealand Music Awards.
Starting at Russell Street School coincided with Jennifer’s time spent at a voice camp during the summer. It was from there that she had the idea of starting the Manawatū Community Choir. “A lot of people had been talking about it, yet there wasn’t one here.
“In April 2010 we made it happen and I was hoping that at least 20 people would show up,” Jennifer says. “Literally the night we started I realised ‘wow – there is a real hunger here’ – 85 people came along that night!
“It became really apparent that people out there love music. They want to make music, but just don’t know how or where to start. From there I started the Manawatū Ukulele Group and had a similar response. Eighty people came along, so we just kept going.”
Despite saying that business really isn’t her forté, Jennifer’s musical passion has evolved into just that. She’s managed to create a bit of a brand: Jennifer Moss – Colouring Lives with Music.
Music with freedom is rediscovering joy
“That came about after talking to one of the ukulele players one night at the end of the year, when we’d often have little heart to hearts,” she says. “He said to me, ‘You know, without you my life would be grey’.
“The more I do it, the more I see that it all comes back to the way we’ve been brought up and the contact we’ve had with music. So many people have had negative experiences with music training and tuition. I call it the ‘old school’ method of learning, getting rapped over the knuckles, getting told off – it sets up years of baggage and knocks so many people’s confidence.
“It’s not why I got into what I do, but I’ve discovered it along the way. I have people come to me in tears who haven’t sung in years. Their teachers, or family members, told them when they were 12 that they were horrible singers and shouldn’t do it.
“In a way, for a lot of people, it’s almost like therapy, although I loathe using that word! Music with freedom is rediscovering joy. I give people the freedom to explore and grow musically in their own time, supporting them with accessible strategies and mega encouragement! At the end of the day you let them find their own space within the group and, if you do that, people grow and improve really quickly. They blossom.”
So why did she get into it?
“Being in the right place at the right time and recognising a need,” she says. “A lot of people have ideas but they don’t action them; I’m a little different in that sense I suppose. Naturally I’ve given some things a go that haven’t really worked out, but you learn from it, and it doesn’t stop you trying something different.”
Three ingredients, she says, have made up the essential recipe for the work she enjoys so much. “The timing, the need and having the right skills. Put them all together, add support from family and a wonderful little team, and you have it.”
It makes sense that Jennifer’s family is perhaps her most wonderful little team. Her husband Sam is a former classical musician, now audiologist. Her eldest son Oscar, who has just finished his first year at Massey in engineering, is a guitarist, and youngest son Jack is the drummer in a band called Nausea. “He’s a year ahead in a couple of subjects and he’s also into parkour (free-running) – talk about utilising the city, I love it!”
With the Manawatū Community Choir and Ukulele Group, her own performing band Ukephoria, teaching and consultancy work, and Manawatū African Drumming, it’s no wonder she’s considered one of the region’s “Creative Giants”. She’s recently started singing workshops for women called Swirl – Singing Women in Real Life.
“I can’t fit in enough time for private lessons with people, and some people are intimidated by the idea of a one-on-one session – so Swirl is a safe place to have fun, and learn.”
She now also runs “Colour Your Team” for corporate and business clients – a form of team-building with instruments. “I really like that there is so much happening here. It’s so vibrant and there’s so much here to invigorate us.
“I’ve officially stopped counting how many ukuleles I own!”