Conducting Behind the Scenes: Meet Anna Bowron

NZSSC’s dedicated manager, Anna Bowron, loves the variety of her role and the students who ‘take your heart’. She’s also impressed by the wonderful NZSSC parents she deals with around New Zealand.

“The kids realise NZSSC is a life-changing experience, and we create an environment for them that’s so welcoming and friendly. I’m very proud of that! It’s not just music, it’s the experience and the camaraderie. The students literally grow up when they’re in our choir, especially those in the choir for two cycles/four years.”

On tour in Canada 2016

Anna is the person who ensures auditions, rehearsals, concerts and other events run smoothly, and she manages all aspects of our international tours. The recent merger into Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand has taken some of the pressure off Anna and she’s enjoying the support that comes with being in a team, rather than working from home. “I can discuss issues with colleagues who have similar experiences and challenges. I also have more access to music connections across the country and around the world. I feel part of something much bigger, which is fantastic”.


Anna, what goes on tour stays on tour but can you share some of the interesting times you’ve had overseas with the choir?

 I’ve been on five international tours and there were definitely times on all of them when my skills were tested. I’ve seen quite a few international hospitals!

Probably the most intense was our 2018 tour to Asia. We got stranded in Shanghai for five days due to a typhoon.

On what was meant to be the last tour day, all our phones started pinging with notifications from Cathay Pacific, simply saying our flight was cancelled, ‘sorry for the inconvenience’! It was pandemonium, including tears from many of the students.  It was the hardest I’ve ever had to work, I woke up at 4am every morning to get to the airport, liaise with worried parents back in New Zealand and deal with the airlines.

Happy staff heading to Hong Kong and Shanghai 2018 (before the typhoon….)

Thankfully we had our wonderful translator Liqin with us and I was supported by Pania Tyson-Nathan from Maori Tourism and of course the fabulous tour team, especially Gavin Hurley. We managed to get the students home in batches over a number of days, prioritising those who needed to return first. By the last day, there were just seven students left and with the pressure finally off, we had a lot of fun exploring Shanghai together.  We saw a lot more of the amazing city than we had planned, and I actually felt incredibly fortunate for that!


 How did you become involved with NZSSC?

 It was early in 2009, my youngest child was soon to start kindergarten and I saw the job advertised. Everything felt right—I come from a family of singers (my sister was in Youth Choir), and I had previously worked as the Business Manager for Taki Rua Productions. It was there I learnt many of the skills essential to my role at NZSSC. I’d also been hugely involved with fundraising for the Ngaio School Fair and realised that experience was also invaluable to the choir.

I was interviewed for the job by Errol Pike, Chair of the NZSSC Board. My husband was waiting in the car outside because he knew how nervous I was! Luckily Errol was lovely.

I began working from home 20 hours a week, which was never enough and I now work 25 hours from the Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand office in Ghuznee St. Music Director Andrew Withington had also just joined NZSSC so we learned together on the job.


2010 was when NZSSC attended the International Choral Kathaumixw in Powell River for the second time (the first was with music director Elise Bradley) …

 Being my first tour, I had sleepless nights worrying about how we were going to fund that trip, but everything came together and Errol was a great support. Because my children were only primary-school age then, the tour was my first time being submerged in the world of teenagers. I couldn’t believe how big they all were! They were great young people though, and British Columbia was beautiful. We received the People’s Choice Award at the festival, we were a massive hit. The waiata Kua Rongo was a stand-out, leaving both singers and audiences in tears with the passion of our performances.

Closing Ceremony of the 2010 Kathaumixw

As always, there were some incredibly talented students in the choir, including Benson Wilson who is now a professional opera singer.

Barring a few technical malfunctions causing our director some stress, the tour went smoothly. Oh… apart from on the last day when one of the students got lost (no cellphones back then). Thankfully he  turned up as we were about to leave for the airport, totally unaware of the distress he had caused!


We know you do so much more than go on tour, but tell us about the 2012 trip to South Africa. NZSSC was meant to go to Greece?

 Our tour to the International Society of Musical Education conference in Greece was all planned when the global financial crisis hit Greece hard and we could no longer get insurance to attend. We changed all the bookings and went to a festival in South Africa instead.

Culturally this tour was unbeatable, an amazing experience. We were all blown away by our African experiences, including a very moving visit to an orphanage and staying at a “free roaming” safari park where the animals roamed around our cabins and drank from the pool!

Opera singer Clinton Fung was part of that choir and it was Carole Randall’s  and Rachel Alexander’s first tour.

South Africa tour, 2012


And a change of plans again in 2014?

Yes, it was beginning to feel like a pattern! In 2014, we went to Singapore and Malaysia but only because our trip to Brazil had to be abandoned. With everything booked, Aerolíneas Argentinas announced they were no longer flying from Auckland. They issued a full refund but we couldn’t find alternative, affordable travel.

Instead we attended a festival in Singapore as guest choir then drove up through Malaysia, stopping in Malacca in the south, Kuala Lumpur and on to Penang. The Malaysian Minister of Arts and Culture attended our concert in Kuala Lumpur and some of our students were interviewed on national television.

We visited many beautiful places but the mid-July heat really affected our students and the itinerary was very full. There were lessons learnt on this tour, and we have improved procedures and processes as a result. For the 2018 tour to Asia, I did my own ‘reccy’ ahead of time which was incredibly useful in planning the tour and meeting concert partners. But you still can’t plan for typhoons!


In 2016, it was back to Powell River as guest choir …

 Another incredible experience, the whole town of Powell River really gets behind the International Choral Kathaumixw. Because we were Guest Choir, not competing, we got to sing with conductors from across the globe and all the other choirs. Here we were introduced to the Wah Yan College Kowloon Boys Choir (winners of the Kathaumixw Choir of the World), which later lead to our 2018 tour to Hong Kong and China.

With NZSSC members Jack Page and Emma McClean in Canada 2016


What’s next?

In 2020, we’re off to Europe for the first time ever! We’ve been invited to Dresden as one of five international choirs at a children’s choir festival. We were planning to stop in Hong Kong on the way, to perform a new commission from David Hamilton with the Wah Yan Boys Choir again. But continuing our pattern of disrupted tours …. we have had to make the hard decision to cancel that part of the tour due to the political demonstrations there. The tour is earlier this cycle, in the April holidays rather than July, so that we can attend the World Choral Symposium in Auckland, which will be very exciting and a great honour for the NZSSC.

But before then, we’ve got concerts in Napier and Palmerston North to look forward to. Don’t forget to book your tickets: NZSSC in Napier and Palmerston North!