Cambridge High School’s deputy head boy Ben Bonetti is one step closer to his dream of becoming a professional musician after winning this year’s Ritchie Pickett scholarship.
“I didn’t know it was coming and I couldn’t stop smiling,” he said of the award’s surprise announcement at assembly.
“It means a lot.”
Ritchie Pickett was a New Zealand country and rock legend who died in his Cambridge home in 2011, aged 56. His family set up the annual scholarship in conjunction with Cambridge High School to support and encourage outstanding music students.
Ben plans to use the $1000 prize to buy studio recording time, either to produce solo work or to help his band, Pineja, record more songs.
A “bass player at heart”, he is the lead singer of the band, which he formed in 2022 with fellow Cambridge High students Jack Beaumont, Ben Wiles, Cameron Stoddart and Riley Jeffcote. The year 13 student also plays rhythm guitar and occasionally chips in with the bass.
With a diverse range of influences including rock, reggae, dub, jazz, ska and indie, Pineja has been steadily gaining popularity with local live music fans after cutting its teeth during open mic nights at Hamilton’s Nivara Lounge in 2022.
“We ended up doing our first solo gig there and we sold it out to 105 people and from there we kept doing gigs, getting offers to do support acts and yeah, it took off,” Ben said.
Already gaining commercial kudos, the band received funding to record and release one song, Something Out There, after success in the Play It Strange songwriting competition last year.
Ben has been hooked on the bass guitar ever since he first picked it up in 2017.
Everyone needs a creative outlet, he says, and music is his.
“I just like to make people experience music in a way where you feel lost in the music; it’s that almost primal connection,” he said.
“I think music is a very important part of the human experience and I think getting my music out there and people feeling that almost primal feeling with my music would just be awesome.”
Now, his dream is “to play shows around the world, sell out big venues, have big albums released and have thousands of people singing songs I wrote”.
“I think anything’s realistic if you think you can get there,” he said.
“I believe in myself and the skill of the people around me. I’ve got great support too. My mum and my dad love that that’s what I’m doing and I’m really lucky to have that.”