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Interview: Rockstar turned teacher Jacob Moore

Flagstaff Team

A rewarding change… Jacob Moore left the rock rollercoaster to follow a different career path in music

As teenagers at Takapuna Grammar School, The Checks shot to success in the rock world. Now, drummer and vocalist Jacob Moore is back at the school as a teacher, helping another generation experience the power of music. He talks to Helen Vause.

Song is in the air at Takapuna Grammar School, and rehearsals are buzzing with excitement and expectation.

The school’s top young choristers are working up for the Big Sing Finale in Dunedin Town Hall later this month, when they’ll be facing stiff competition from the best secondary-school choirs in the country.

It’s the third year in a row Takapuna Grammar School (TGS) choirs have made it into the finale, but it’s the first time two of the school choirs have been selected at once: Leonessa, a 37-strong all-girls choir, and TGS Chorale, a mixed choir with 38 members.

Guiding them is singing teacher/conductor Jacob Moore, who wears a mile-wide smile. He’s proud of ‘his’ singers and how they’re stepping up to the challenge ahead.

Just three weeks out from the Big Sing, Moore is excited to report that Sol3 Mio tenor Amitai Pati is coming to coach at the next rehearsal, and that renowned mezzo soprano Catrin Johnsson has also coached the two choirs. It’s a reflection of the commitment to high standards in the school’s choral endeavours.

For “Mister Moore” as the kids know him, it’s his first year in teaching. And being at the school brings back happy memories of taking his place on stage at the same event in 2004 as a teenager in a TGS choir.

At 32, Moore is one of the younger members of staff, and he’s delighted his first teaching job has brought him back into the music department at his old school.

With the same long locks, he probably doesn’t look much changed to the longer-serving staff who remember him.

And although the teenage Moore may have done well in the school choir, he’s best remembered for cavorting on the school stage, entertaining students and staff, and belting out rock with a bunch of his mates in a band that was fast rising to fame.

Moore and his friends – Edward Knowles, Sven Pettersen, Callum Martin and Karel Chabera – were The Checks. Moore was on drums, and backing vocals, while still a senior TGS chorister.

The band formed when the boys were barely 15 years old. It launched into frenetic success off the back of Smokefree Rockquest.

The Checks pulled in teen fans with their high energy, blues-driven sound. They finished school in 2005, and the gigs rolled in. The music industry and the media loved them and in no time they’d caught the eye of music producers in the UK. By 2006, they were signed up and off to London.

They recorded the first of three albums, Hunting Whales, then took off on road tours across Europe.

Still under 19, they did 170 shows in a year. It was all pretty head-spinning stuff, with lots of fast learning, recalls Moore.

Travelling with The Checks on that stage of the journey was Jacob’s musician dad, Philip Moore.

Their contract ended and they returned home, where they continued as The Checks until they split in 2012. It had been a wild ride.

But Moore wasn’t done with the rock-band life. When the chance came, he was back off to London at three days’ notice and to another group – Splashh. There was lots of touring but off stage there were plenty of tough times too, says Moore, remembering the grim reality of couch-surfing between gigs in some very squalid digs in London.

“There were some amazing times, but at times we were pretty down too. It was very hard going,” he recalls.

Eventually that journey fizzled and Moore came home, feeling he was lacking direction, and got a job in a burger bar.

He decided that in order to keep up with his vision of himself as a musician, he’d best go down the road of music education.

“Studying had to be the next thing for me, and the way to opening up a pathway into conducting and musicology.”

So the bright lights, big stages and large crowds were left behind along with the rollercoaster of the rock-star life, for the time being at least.

Moore went off to do a music degree and teacher training, before returning to live in Devonport and to take up his very first teaching job.

Heading into the music department this year, he was delighted to be back at his old school and with the opportunity he saw before him.

He feels he has been part of breathing new life and more energy into the school’s well-established choral scene.

“It’s been fantastic to have the chance to build up on the foundation of Jane Horder [former music teacher] at the school and to be part of moving things forward. The kids are working hard and our choirs are well placed to reach high standards. We have a lot more resources here than many other schools have – and of course we have less than some of the other schools, but the choirs here are in a good position.”

He’s happy to say he is keeping the music challenging for his singers.

“You don’t get anywhere without commitment to the music and to certain standards. It’s all about the music, and I’m working these choirs to get the best out of them. It’s feeling pretty rewarding for all of us right now,” he grins.

In addition to the two top choirs, for which sought-after places are auditioned, Moore is also pleased with his work with his unauditioned choir for boys. He’s grown the ranks of that choir, pulling in the more diffident performers when he gets the chance.

“I’m starting to get a few more of the boys into this choir. They think it’s not their thing, and then they see some of the sports jocks are in and their perceptions about chorale singing and being part of this change.”

“They experience the power of music and the social and developmental benefits being part of the choirs can bring,” says Moore, who enjoys watching the confidence of his singers grow.

“Somehow they all seem so much more capable than I remember being at their age.”

It’s a busy, full life and a long way from where he was a decade ago, but Moore says there has been great value to him professionally in being both the rockstar and the choirboy.

Outside school he sings in the Auckland Chamber Choir. But he’s also making his own music of a very different style, currently recording an album of original material.

“I do find working in choral music far more rewarding. But you can’t beat the bright lights and the buzz of it all in the rock world. That’s why rock music was invented. Many people still find it hard to get their head around the concept of me being into both forms of music.”

“My band friends see me as the choir guy and chorale people see me as ‘that rock guy’.”

Moore has exciting plans for the choirs, but first the focus is on coaching them to a fantastic performance at The Big Sing.

Getting 70-odd excited teens to Dunedin, and getting the best from them amid all the hype would be a handful for most teachers, but apparently not for Moore. “I won’t be chasing them around the city. I need my sleep to perform well too,” he deadpans, with just a hint of a grin at memories of being a teen on the road.

This article originally appeared in the August 23 edition of the Devonport Flagstaff. Download PDF.