His hands raw and painful, Leo Smith Serei was desperate to quit guitar lessons – but his teacher, June MacKenzie, knew he had something special.
“On the first two weeks my fingers were really sore and I had blisters everywhere and I wanted to stop and June was like no, come on, you’ve got this,” Leo said.
“She thought guitar was my instrument and she kept telling my mum I should stay an extra week. And then I started getting used to the sore fingers part and it started getting really fun. And now I love playing the guitar.”
A year later, June describes her 10-year-old student as “very special”.
“He’s going to go a long way,” she said.
June has been teaching guitar, piano, keyboard, ukulele, recorder, bass guitar and banjo to Cambridge students for 50 years.
She teaches at Karapiro School and St Peter’s Catholic School and takes private lessons as well.
So, when June hit a milestone birthday last week – the number not revealed – Karapiro School principal Tina-Maree Thatcher wanted to “acknowledge it, share the love and let June know just how important she is to our students and our school”.
It was a triple celebration on Friday morning as June’s party coincided with Grandparents’ Day and the end of Book Week.
Students dressed up as book characters and sang three songs before staff presented June with a cake, a handmade birthday card and a big bunch of flowers.
The first song, Happy Birthday, was accompanied by Leo, who overcame nerves to give his first public performance on the guitar.
June grew up in Wellington and began playing the piano, her favourite instrument, with a private teacher when she was seven.
She began teaching music shortly after moving to Cambridge with her family 50 years ago.
She said she couldn’t imagine her life without music and plans to keep teaching it as long as she can.
“It enriches your life, being able to play an instrument.”