Linwood College has had a proud musical tradition stretching back to the earliest years of the school. It was noted for its innovative musical extravaganzas, sometimes with original music composed by Head of Music Tony Ryan. It had one of the largest and best school orchestras in the city; it enjoyed success in the national Rockquest competition, and its Jazz Band received national recognition. In Rodney McCann, it produced an opera singer who performed with success on the international stage. Yet, without doubt, its most distinguished musical alumnus is internationally acclaimed gypsy-jazz violinist Fiona Pears.
Fiona attended Linwood from 1987 to 1989. Her prodigious musical talent had already been recognised. Her first public performance was at the age of six, when she won a prize in a local competition. At the age of twelve, she won two national music competitions and went on to lead both the Christchurch Youth Orchestra and the New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Youth Orchestra. Fiona’s passion for music dominated her life at Linwood. She even played the saxophone in the jazz band for a time, before discovering that playing jazz on the violin was more fun. Fiona led the orchestra during her entire time at the school. Her solo performances in assemblies, in particular her bravura solo in Saint Saen’s Danse Macabre, were truly memorable.
There was little doubt that the world of music was where Fiona’s future lay. She spent several years playing in a jazz swing group which toured New Zealand and was recorded by Radio New Zealand. At the same time, Fiona began to explore gypsy, jazz, latin and celtic genres, the fusion of which became her musical signature, as she moved from playing the music of others to creating her own.
Soon the international stage beckoned. Fiona based herself in London, working with a range of orchestras, smaller musical groups and choirs throughout Europe. She has opened for artists such as Tony Bennett, Ottmar Liebert and the late Victor Borge, and recorded with many well-known New Zealand artists, including Dave Dobbyn, Hayley Westenra, Bic Runga, and Heather Nova. Her extensive playlist includes Fire and Light, a 2008 release for band and full orchestra which was recorded in the Czech Republic with the City of Prague Philharmonic.
Not surprisingly, Covid brought Fiona back to Lyttelton, her childhood home. Lockdowns were just another challenge to be overcome. If Fiona could not be out in the world, the world would come to Fiona. In April 2020, working with her husband/arranger Ian Tilley, she made a recording from his Lyttelton home studio with one of her musical heroes, Hungarian gypsy-jazz violinist Roby Lakatos.
Fiona’s charisma, creativity and unbelievable talent will ensure her of a unique place in the history of New Zealand performance music.
Below – a photo of Fiona taken during lockdown in 2020, when she was working with Roby Lakatos
Linwood High School Yearbooks