1 June, 2021
Mixed musical career hits all the right notes
Music teacher, composer, arranger and performer Sandy Lynch is also developing a new way to help teens play the music they enjoy listening to. She tells Helen Vause how her various pursuits combine into a rich musical life.
Sandy Lynch was a country girl with a head full of music. While other kids growing up around her on the Hauraki Plains dreamed about ponies, from the age of four her heart was captured by the magic of piano keys.
Mum Lynne was the piano teacher in the district, dad farmer John Mounsey was in a rock’n’roll band, so young Sandy was just a natural, with a passion for all of it. The farmhouse was full of music.
“From the first time mum sat me down beside her at the piano, I just loved it. Mum didn’t have to push me to practise because it was pretty much what I wanted to do all the time. It was just always a big part of my childhood,” remembers Lynch.
All these decades on, it’s still a big part of her life in a more northerly Hauraki – Hauraki Corner, where she teaches, writes and arranges music professionally, while keeping up a sideline as a performer.
As a child, Lynch was quickly recognised as something of a piano prodigy, racing through the grades as a music-theory and performance whizz, and always coming out on top of the stringent Trinity College exam system. At 14, she took out the award for consistent top marks every year up through the grade system in the annual exams.
Effectively, she was the best young piano player in the country at that time. At just 16, she had earned professional qualifications in piano performance that would equip her to later follow in her mother’s footsteps and teach piano.
Alongside that passion for piano though was Lynch’s other slightly wilder musical life.
Weekend nights in her teens she’d be travelling around the stages of Hauraki Plains hotspots as bass guitarist in her dad’s band. The pubs rocked and the nights were long for the teenage musician and schoolgirl.
“It was very full on, but it was fantastic fun” she says.
At first Lynch didn’t see music as her future career and after leaving school remembers feeling “a bit lost”, taking jobs here and there while her talent was still to be explored and developed.
In her early 20s, she found herself in the city working in the sheet-music division of a large music retailer – long before it had occurred to her that she had the ability to be putting notes on the page or arranging music herself.
In meeting her now ex-husband Simon, Lynch found a kindred spirit in the world of music and performance.
As she raised their two children, she taught music at home part-time to help boost the family funds.
But she was also building her work and skills in other aspects of music. When the kids were teenagers, she took an international online course and won a scholarship in songwriting for film and television, sponsored by Cuban-American singer and songwriter Gloria Estefan.
All those hours of studying music theory and composition in her childhood were revisited as Lynch started to find the time for composing and arranging music, and she’s very proud to have had her own compositions accepted for inclusion in an international piano-exam syllabus set by Trinity College in London.
Her work features in the current grade 3 Trinity syllabus, including a funky little piece for beginner pianists called nDcvr Agnt. Her piano-book series All Keyed Up is widely used by piano teachers and students. In 2019, one of her compositions was accepted by a major sheet-music publisher in Korea.
She’s widely known for her arrangements and her work features on recent recordings by John Rowles.
These days, with her grown kids gone, Lynch has made a very full life in music – teaching, composing, arranging and performing – and says it’s hard to know which aspect of it she loves the best.
“All of it, it’s my passion and it’s what I want to be doing most of the time. Composing is deeply embedded in my life.”
She has built a business out of music from classical to popular, working with professionals and amateurs, making music at many levels.
She’ll take a simple song and write the sheet music that can make it last.
From any combination of instruments and vocals she’ll put together easy arrangements, working for performers who seek her services.
Lynch’s piano pupils have ranged from 5- to 85-year-olds. Her studio is her living room at Hauraki Corner, with a piano at one end of the room and a keyboard at the other.
She’s also an itinerant music teacher at Westlake Boys High School. She roars with laughter when it’s suggested she must have the patience of a saint.
“I absolutely love teaching and consider myself very lucky to be helping others on their musical pathway,” she says.
These days, a major focus for her is getting more teens to engage with piano and she’s developed a unique teaching module to support this.
It’s still a work in progress, but through a workbook and online instruction she plans to show young people how they can play what they like to hear in a simplified style, with access to backing tracks.
“They want to play stuff they are listening to on YouTube. What I am developing is no substitute for a teacher. It’s designed to show them how they can have fun with their music.
“Kids want instant gratification. With this method they can learn to play modern sounds.”
Lynch sees her pilot system as a way for teens who are learning piano to extend their learning with more contemporary sounds that they’d choose to play if they could. Already she’s trialling it with the boys at Westlake and says she’s getting great feedback. She hopes to take her product to educators and students nationally.
“For some kids it could be a pathway into music and it could also be an option for those who can’t afford lessons – not that it is a substitute for a piano teacher.”
Lynch would like to see every family have a keyboard in their home.
“Music just adds so much to our lives. With the young people I teach, I see them reaching a lovely maturity as they get to experience the emotions triggered by music, from upbeat to beautiful classical pieces.
“It adds so much to your education and skills and it stays with you forever. And it’s just so good for your brain. It’s great to catch kids early and to keep them interested. I would love to see a lot more music education in schools.”
When she’s not teaching or arranging music, Lynch turns to performance and a more glamorous side of life with glad rags, bright lights, low lights, atmosphere and audiences in her role as a cocktail pianist.
For 10 years, she played Friday nights in the city at the Grand Millenium Hotel. Covid put paid to that, when the hotel became a quarantine facility.
These days, she’s back at another favourite haunt, the Spencer on Byron, where she plays Friday early evenings for a couple of hours.
Her repertoire moves through light jazz, easy listening, Latin and, of course, lots of requests.
Then there are the private gigs, corporate performances, weddings and parties. It’s a world away from the often-solitary work at home of putting music together, teaching piano and creating learning resources.
“I love performing and playing tunes that others relate to and that have meaning to them.
“I love being part of creating the atmos- phere that people are enjoying.
“Overall, music has been a very deep and satisfying journey for me. It comes in many shapes and forms and I encourage everyone to explore it and add this wonderful skill to their own lives.”
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