Music and musicians in Nelson


Nelson has a long association with excellence in music education, performance and participation. The Nelson Centre for Musical Arts (NCMA) is a unique private educational institution which boasts one of the best acoustics of any concert hall (the Nelson School of Music auditorium) in the Southern Hemisphere. 

There is a wide range of music teachers in the region and several performing groups for both young and old participating in high quality brass bands, choirs, jazz bands, orchestras, chamber groups, folk groups and contemporary music. Nelson was the birthplace of internationally acclaimed popular musicians such as MinuitBroodsTex Morton and Mike Nock.

In 2009 the Nelson School of Music handed over its contemporary music course to the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology and since then a contemporary music performance course has been delivered as part of a certificate in arts and media.1 A Diploma in music has since been added, which is housed in a purpose-built, award winning arts and media facility. NCMA continues to deliver a wide range of music classes to the community.

Nelson Symphony Orchestra and the Nelson Civic Choir perform in the Nelson School of Music auditorium.

Nelson is home to the internationally acclaimed Adam Chamber Music Festival which began in 1992 with an enthusiastic group of professional musical friends performing five concerts over five days in Nelson. It continues to attract performers and audiences nationally and internationally and also runs a Summer school for advanced music students from around New Zealand after the festival in Nelson.

The Composers Association of New Zealand (CANZ) holds its annual workshop for rising and renowned NZ composers in Nelson and has done so for some years. They worked with Richard Nunns who was based in Nelson and was one of the leading figures in the revival of the traditional Māori instruments, the Taonga Pūoro. Richard performed and recorded several albums. One of his collaborators was well-known Nelson-based musician, recording engineer and music educator Bob Bickerton, amongst others.

SmokefreeRockquest was founded by two Nelsonians, Pete Rainey and Glenn Common, in 1988. It has been instrumental in launching the career of many successful NZ musicians including BroodsBic Runga, Kimbra, Marlon Williams, Tiny Ruins, Phoenix Foundation and many more.

Rockquest fans. Photo courtesy of the Nelson Mail

NBS Nelson City Brass Inc. has been serving Nelson since 1857 with members ranged in age from 13 to 85. It undertakes concerts in the community and supports national artists in performance.

The Nelson Civic Choir celebrated its 160th anniversary in 2020, Chroma Choir and several other choral groups perform in the community.

The Nelson Symphony Orchestra is a regional orchestra which has been performing under this name since 1966. It regularly produces high quality orchestral concerts and has supported many acclaimed soloists.

There are many venues in the region where live music by local, national and international artists are enjoyed, such as The Boathouse, the Theatre Royal, the Trafalgar Centre, Mussel Inn in Onekaka, Founders Cafe, Fairfield House, the Riwaka Hotel and many others. 

Grant Smithies, a Nelson resident, "arguably New Zealand's premier music writer"2, reviewer and collector and seller of vinyl, has produced a story map of some of the locations that are important for music history in the city.3 This locates, illustrates and expands on this overview.


Sources used in this story

  1. NMIT takes on music course (2009, January 31) Nelson Mail on Stuff:
  2. Dawson, M. (2013, September 21) Music obsessive happy to be back on home turf. Whanganui Chronicle. Retrieved from:
  3. Phillips, V. (2022, March 4) Online map celebrates people and places in Nelson's music history. Retrieved from Stuff:

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Further sources - Music and musicians in Nelson



  • Bradley-Smith, Ann ( Dec 31, 2014)  Music man has hit all the right notes. Nelson Mail, Nelson, p. 3 

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