Solo gig

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Arrowtown music teacher quits classroom to tutor at home.

Phil Hartshorn admits he was “shaking pretty hard” when he packed in a comfortable career to join the Wakatipu’s tiny band of full-time music tutors.

In October last year, the dad-of-one left his mainstream teaching job at Arrowtown School to go solo.

And despite initial worries about heading out on his own, he’s never looked back.

Hartshorn has a steady stream of students – from seven-year-old kids to middle-aged budding rockers – visit his home to learn how to play guitar, drums and bass.

“I was a regular teacher in Arrowtown for about 18 months but had more and more people coming to me in the evenings and at weekends for music lessons,” he says.

“As a gigging guitarist myself, I was also out doing a lot of live work and basically I didn’t see the sun.

“It had always been a dream to teach music full time, but it was massive decision to leave a secure and salaried position and take the plunge.

“But in hindsight, I should have done it years ago because everything’s been going really well.”

Thanks to Skype audio and visual technology, Hartshorn, 41, also passes on his knowledge via live online computer lessons when the weather’s too bad for students to get to his house in Arrowtown.

He teaches people all over New Zealand using this method – and even has a regular client 9000km away in Singapore.

“Nothing beats face-to-face tuition but using Skype is the next best thing,” he says.

“It’s a great tool, especially during the winter here when the weather makes it difficult to get out and about. It’s also ideal for people who want to continue lessons when they are away on holiday.

“My student in Singapore uses Skype regularly and we can carry on with lessons as usual despite the distance and time difference.”

Originally from Wellington, Hartshorn first started coming to Queenstown in the early 90s to play in local bands.

He’d make ends meet with part-time jobs including working as a hotel porter and helping out in a bottle store.

He began playing music at an early age and toured New Zealand as drummer with The Jonahs, who were popular on the capital’s rock scene.

But it wasn’t until he started to take guitar lessons at the age of 30 that Hartshorn’s musical future finally began to take shape.

“I’d been self taught on guitar and drums for almost 20 years and had a great time with the bands, but I wasn’t really getting anywhere,” he says. “I’d picked up a lot of bad playing habits and couldn’t read music, which was a major problem.

“But as soon as I started taking lessons it opened up my world. To this day I still get regular tuition.”

He eventually put an honours degree in politics gleaned from Victoria University in Wellington to use and became a teacher, moving to the Wakatipu three years ago.

But he never gave up on music and has recorded a solo album called The Shed Collection that’s picked up a few plays in the United States.

Hartshorn also gigs regularly in Queenstown and Central Otago as one half of the duo Middle Earth, as well as standing in with top local groups like the Master Blasters.

But he gets just as much pleasure from showing other people how to master an instrument.

“It’s great to see students coming on, no matter what age they are,” he says.

“What they are learning at the moment they’ll always be able to use.

“If you stop playing for a while you might get a bit rusty. But you never forget how to do it. It’s a skill you’ll have for life and an awful lot of fun.”