Musician smashes childhood guitar in scholarship bid

23:00, May 09 2014
sam blakelock cuts up guitar
CUTTING UP MY HEART: Sam Blalelock cuts up his childhood guitar before turning it into a Picasso model.

The guitar wasn't expensive. It was a gift from his mother when he was 11. It's travelled around the world and holds many memories but this week Sam Blakelock destroyed it.

Carefully following on online tutorial, for three hours every day for a week he cut it up, smashing it in half before reconstructing it into a replica Picasso sculpture.

He videoed the experience and titled it "Cutting up my heart".

"It's time I probably should have spent practising playing the guitar," Blakelock admits.

The Christchurch jazz guitarist has been accepted by the New York University (NYU) and City University of New York (CUNY) to study his Master of Music, majoring in jazz guitar performance.

These prestigious institutions accept around 30 people each year, but there are only five places for guitarists in each one so his achievement is remarkable.

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But there's a problem - he can't afford to go.

He is using crowd-funding website PledgeMe.co.nz. Blakelock is offering his childhood guitar and many other unique creations as rewards for donations towards his study costs.

"It's an expensive endeavour. The money is the difference. It will cost around US$40,000," Blakelock says.

"I'm just trying to raise $3000 to get to Queens. I'm definitely getting there somehow, I'll stay as long as the money lasts."

He has applied for numerous scholarships and to Creative New Zealand and Pacific New Zealand for assistance but isn't hopeful.

"There is a lot of money out there but it is pretty focused towards classical musicians. In many ways what I should be doing is shaving and tidying myself up to sneak in with the classical musicians."

With his childhood guitar, Blakelock was a finalist in the Smokefreerockquest competition, placed in the top 10 of the Play It Strange competition and made the national finals of Pacifica Beats while at St Andrew's College.

"I wanted to be Jack Johnson, singer/songwriter," he says.

"Along the way I was captivated by jazz."

His dream is to work on Broadway, tour the world internationally and release his own albums.

"The long-term goal is to be one of the best jazz guitarists in the world.

"A big part of being a jazz musician is collaboration which is the main reason why I want to go to New York, to make those connections and meet people."

Cameron Pearce, programme leader Bachelor of Musical Arts at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, has studied at CUNY and arranged Blakelock's audition.

"I graduated from CPIT," Blakelock explains. "Then I transferred to the University of Canterbury, majoring in jazz performance and arranging. Cameron Pearce has studied in New York and has a connection there. He brought one of the faculty members over here who auditioned me.

"That was my foot in the door."

Like many CPIT Jazz School graduates, Blakelock has spent a lot of time performing on cruise ships. He describes it as a fun way to earn money, see the world, and perform for up to 2000 people a night.

"It's a good thing to do after studying," he says. "I've been doing that for two years and now it's back to study.

"It's a surreal environment. The crew gets $1 beer and $1 wines and is locked up for three months at a time in a floating microcosm of society. If you can imagine that, pick the most exotic location in the world, Mediterranean and Caribbean. I would play for five hours a night to esteemed retired American couples. Some of the auditoriums fit 2000 people."

Blakelock is on a nationwide tour and will be performing in Christchurch on Sunday, May 18, alongside notable New Zealand jazz musicians Tom Rainey, Jennine Bailey, Bob Heinz, Cameron Pearce and Julian Hay. The night will be MC'd by Neil Pickard, founder of the Christchurch Jazz School.

"I've asked my musical mentors, including my high-school music teacher, Michael Lawrence of St Andrew's College, to join me.

"The idea is to re-enact my year 13 musical performance which I did with him. I want to show how far I've come.

"It's a fundraising concert and all the money will go towards my course fees."

With the level of musicianship and competition in New York "extremely high", Blakelock hopes to challenge himself.

"The main factor is the level of competition. I think most people would find that when they are in an environment which is really challenging, that's when they learn the fastest.

"The most profound outcome of my study, more than the knowledge I will personally gain, will be the opportunity to bring my knowledge back home to New Zealand to inspire other young people to reach their full potential."

Concert For NYC, Fundraising for Sam Blakelock's Master of Music at CPIT Jazz School, Doug Caldwell Concert Room, May 18, 5pm. Tickets $30 available from http://samblakelock.com/pledgeme/. Limited door sales.

The Press