John Psathas to leave teaching at NZSM

After 25 years of committed and creative service, composer Professor John Psathas is retiring from his position with the New Zealand School of Music - Te Kōkī to pursue compelling new artistic horizons.

John Psathas
John Psathas and students in his last taught class at the New Zealand School of Music, CMPO201

John will focus on number of big projects that he'll be working on over the next 4 or 5 years, and plans to move into the world of performance. He finishes his position at NZSM at the end of 2018, but will continue with some postgraduate supervision.

We asked John a few questions about what lies ahead for him and what some of his proudest moments at NZSM have been.

What are you going on to do?

Compose and perform. I have quite a schedule of projects (some can be seen here - https://www.johnpsathas.com/commission-schedule ). These are dream projects, and I’m looking forward to embarking on this series of adventures with wonderful collaborators in the years ahead. I’m also planning to re-enter the world of performance, and am developing projects specifically for this. I performed in a lot of different contexts when I was younger, and it’s always been my dream to return to the stage. My international network has grown considerably and, while I can’t see myself ever leaving New Zealand permanently, I’ll be traveling a lot more.

What have been some of the best things about teaching at NZSM over the years?

Always it’s been the students. They’ve come and gone in rolling waves of personalities and talents, and each cohort is uniquely memorable. Working with postgraduate students in particular, has been inspiring and humbling. That is often a situation of mutual learning and I’ve been deeply grateful for it. Also, having taught at the NZSM for 25 years, I’ve witnessed extraordinary change, in the students, the staff, and the curriculum. There have been hard times, but also times of luminous, brilliant activity during which we have presented education and live music to the wider world in a way that has made me immensely proud of my colleagues, the students, the School, and the University.

What are your most proud achievements while working at NZSM?

After so many years there are too many things to list here. I’m most proud of the achievements of my students. They have never ceased to take my breath away with their talent, passion, and willingness to take risks in pursuit of their self-expression and desire to communicate through music. I’m also very happy about our terrific achievements in Miramar and the establishing of a film-scoring stream through the Composition program. A lot of work from a lot of people went in to making that happen, and I was very pleased to be a part of it. I have high hopes and even higher expectations for the National Music Centre downtown; I think that’s a perfect fit for the NZSM. Even though it’s a tough road and a lot of work to make it happen, it will be worth it, and will mark the beginning of a new era for the NZSM and for music in New Zealand.


Michael Norris, Programme Director of the Composition Programme, sums up John's enormous contribution to the New Zealand School of Music over the years.

One of John’s primary contributions to the NZSM Composition Programme has been to develop an ethos of ‘openness’ amongst both students and staff. He encourages students to think beyond the classical traditions and history of our programme, and explore broader contemporary approaches to ’sonic creativity', including cross-cultural collaborations, digital composition/orchestration, intermedia, film, and jazz/popular/classical crossovers. The current richness and diversity of our students’ work is clear evidence of his influence and a real legacy to the school, building on that left by Jack Body.

In addition, John has been integral to establishing a strong outward-facing presence of the school, including links to Park Road Post Productions and the NZ Film School, as well as numerous industry-leading composers such as David Long and Tom McLeod.

Anyone who has met John knows that he exudes an almost superhuman aura of calmness, warmth and personability. This often results in deep friendships with graduates that transcend the boundaries of the university degrees. At the same time, he can be profoundly thoughtful and radical when trying to answer that fundamental question that all composers ask themselves at some point — why am I doing this? On behalf of the NZSM Composition Programme, we wish John well in his new career, and his new journey to answer that question.
- Michael Norris