Rising star makes history

Invercargill musician Sam Cullen (18) plays in a music rehearsal room of his former secondary school, Verdon College last week. Photo: Petrina Wright

RISING star Sam Cullen has made history, becoming the first contemporary song-writing musician to receive the top mark in NCEA Scholarship Music in New Zealand.

Not only that, the former Verdon College pupil was the first in the school’s history to receive the top honour in any subject, and the first to be awarded Top Scholar in Music in Southland.

“It was totally unexpected,” he said.

“I was super chuffed. It’s cool when all your hard work pays off.”

Verdon College head of music Emma Jarman said Sam’s achievement was exceptional.

Of the 150-200 pupils who elected to sit NCEA Scholarship Music last year, 45 were awarded scholarships. Of the scholarship recipients, five were ranked outstanding (receiving between 27-32 out of 32 points), with Sam receiving the highest mark of the five.

Mrs Jarman said the top scholar was typically awarded to classically-trained pupils, so Sam earning the top mark for contemporary song-writing, made his achievement all the more outstanding.

“Sam has worked extremely hard, not just this year, but over many years,” she said.

“We are extremely proud of Sam’s achievement… and he is inspiring other kids to want to follow a similar path in music.”

Pupils in Scholarship Music were required to submit a portfolio of work in their chosen major (performance, composition or musicology), write a 3000-word critical reflection based on their portfolio and sit a three-hour exam.

Sam’s major was in composition.

Sam has been performing for several years, but only started writing his own music about two-and-a-half years ago.

He said his style of music was electropop, using drum pads, keyboards, synthesisers, guitar and vocals, a blend of rock and alternative pop inspired by his favourite bands Radiohead and Arctic Monkeys.

This year Sam is off to Wellington to do a three-year degree at Victoria University’s School of Music studying jazz performance.

The long-term future for Sam?

“Every musician’s dream is to make money off their music,” he said.

Sam is releasing a music video for his single Shut the Dooron March 1. The single was produced with Dave Baker of Southern Institute of Technology and the video produced by Auckland company Imaginary Friends.

To keep in the loop follow Sam Cullen Music on Facebook.

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