Q&A with Chris Sanders

APO's Josh Clark chatted with Chris Sanders ahead of his collaboration with the APO for Hana Glowworm.

Who is Hana Glowworm?

Hana is a very curious glowworm that has spent her whole life in a dark cave, deep in the forest. She is very inquisitive and wants to know more about the outside world, despite warnings from her glowworm family that it’s much safer to stay and hang on the cave roof. One day she leaves the safety of her cave to go on an epic adventure with her friend Eel towards some beautiful sounds and vibrations that are coming from far away. Along the way she meets lots of new friends and even encounters some danger! Hana then reaches a concert hall where the beautiful sounds are coming from and ends up risking everything to save the day! How she saves the day, you will just have to wait and find out!

What might the show with the APO look like?

I have a huge vision for Hana. I see it being a bit Disneyesque, full of fantasy, adventure, drama and lots of amazing music and songs for the audience to sing along too!  The show will be performed at venues like the Auckland Town Hall. It will be a huge sensory experience for children that will not only will help them learn all about different sections of the orchestra but focus on senses that relate directly back to the orchestral players, sight, sound and touch.

Illustrations, animations and props will make people feel like they are entering an untouched scene deep in the New Zealand forest, surrounded by native flora and fauna with visual effects representing the glowworms high up on the ceiling. On stage with the orchestra a child will narrate the story and children will play the characters in the story and perform the songs. I even have visions of a choir in some of the songs!

I want everyone from the conductor to the kids to be involved in the show and the audience leaving with as much wonder as Hana had at the start of her journey.

Tell us more about your previous collaborations with the APO.

I have done two collaborations so far with the APO. The first was a Christmas concert called Wairau Harikoa and we also partnered with St John NZ for this. The orchestra arranged the '111 Ambulance' song, which I had written for ASB's St John in Schools programme, helping teach kiwi kids how to react in an emergency and dial 111. As part of the collaboration I visited around a dozen kindergartens in the South Auckland region with a violin player from the APO, and taught the kids the song and hand actions. Then all the kids (around 500) visited the Manukau Events Centre were I performed the song live with the APO. The APO also performed another one of my songs called 'Angel Star' and I even got to sing my favourite Christmas song ‘Feliz Navidad’ with them. It was such a great day and the children had lots of fun!

Then, just after the lockdown started in March 2020, I got a call from the APO to see if I wanted to do a collaboration to bring some joy to families while they were stuck at home in isolation. We developed the 'Teddy Bear Hunt' project. The Teddy Bear became quite a symbol of comfort and joy, and the project was a positive initiative that proved a powerful reminder of community spirit and the importance of showing kindness.

There were several parts to the project; I wrote a new song which the orchestra arranged, and we released a children’s picture book called 'The World’s Greatest Teddy Bear Hunt'.  I also wrote a four-part video course for children on how to write a song, which was provided as a free resource to schools along with worksheets and games.

Personally, it was great to be able to keep the creative juices flowing through lockdown as all live shows and recording sessions had been cancelled. So everything was done from home studios and then when Covid restrictions were lifted we got together to record the APO parts and also the video series. It was a great team effort!

Is there a show that you have always wanted to write, but haven’t yet?

Yes, I have many, but I would love to do a story/musical called Super Nova that I have been writing and developing (mostly in my head) for the last few years, partly based on a true story about a young girl called Nova. It's a story of courage and determination – think Annie or Billy Elliot, full of music and dance.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

I would have to say Rikki Morris. I’ve known him for almost 20 years and aside from playing hundreds of gigs with him, he has also produced almost all of my music releases to date, probably close to 40 songs. He’s a great friend who has always believed in me and encouraged me in my musical journey. I don’t think we ever imagined I would find my place in the children’s music genre – it’s a funny old world!

What is your favourite venue in New Zealand?

Definitely Whoa Studios in Henderson, Auckland! It is a state-of-the-art children’s theatre and I have performed many shows there including the stage show musical I wrote for St John NZ called 'Who Wants to be a Super Ambulance Hero'. They do a lot of children’s theatre and puppet shows too, I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced during a performance?

That’s a great question! I spent the first 20 years or so of my music career performing in bands or as a solo artist, playing guitar and singing. Then when I wrote the stage show musical for St John NZ I had to really step out of my comfort zone. I had to learn how to act, and to perform without my guitar for the first time ever. The one-man show involves me singing six songs, acting in-between the songs. I am not an actor, so I had four very intense days of training to develop some skills, and I feel like I took a huge step up in my career as an entertainer at that point.

What has been the high point of your life so far?

Wow, so many to choose! Personally I would have to say having a family, I adore my wife and two daughters. Professionally there have been lots, like having the honour of working with the APO – it’s a musician's dream! And being nominated for a Tui Award is up there. But I think the thing I am most proud of is when I received an NZ Honour The Order of St John Priory Vote of Thanks from the Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy for the charitable work I have done for St John NZ through my music and literature. I love using my musical skills to help people and it feels good to be recognised.

What is your favourite thing you do for yourself?

Cooking and listening to music at the same time! You will often find me in the kitchen whether it's making family dinners or entertaining friends and family. It’s a great time to zone out after a busy day. Other than that I’m a huge lover of the outdoors and will swim in the ocean at every opportunity… I even went for a mid-winter swim in July – it was freezing!!!!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I don’t know why this piece of advice seems to have stuck in my head, but when I was at primary school in Liverpool, the headteacher used to take an assembly once a week and at the end of the assembly she would always say "remember children, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again."

To me it says, don’t be afraid of failure, learn from your mistakes and try again in a different way.

You can find out more about Chris at his website here.

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