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Origins Of The School

The Mid-Canterbury Summer Singing School was started in 2000 by Ashburton Singing Tutor Jo Castelow as a vehicle for the talented singers who lived in the Mid-Canterbury area.  It quickly grew to encompass students from Christchurch, Timaru and further a field.  It has become an iconic course that hundreds of singers have now passed through and is a favourite on the musical calendar in Ashburton. The dynamic duo of Jo and Timaru director Alice have worked on this project since the beginning and along with the technical team at the Ashburton Trust Event Centre have produced some spectacular concerts over the years. The Mid-Canterbury Summer Singing School is a musical theatre course that is divided into two sections junior and seniors. They come to The Ashburton Trust Event Centre ( Mid-Canterbury’s state of the art theatre) to rehearse and perform 3 concerts for the public at the end of the week. They sing and dance their way through five days of rehearsals, Monday/Tuesday singing rehearsals Wednesday/Thursday movement/dance rehearsals, Friday tech rehearsals all day. The juniors range from 9 years of age up to Year 8 in the school year before the January of the course.  The jump from juniors to seniors means that we feel students are not ready for the senior course until they have had a year at Secondary School.The senior course is from those in Year 9 the school year before the January up to 21 years of age.Many students return from tertiary level courses to attend this section such is the high level of performance skills in this group.


Learning and having heaps of fun in the process is the name of the game here.  A pressure cooker little course that has seen many students return for 9 years in a row and make lifetime friendships. The music is varied and exposes the students to as wide a range as possible, enriching their musical knowledge and taking them and the audience on many journeys.  Then the music is transformed by wonderful acting, movement and dancing, bringing the stories to life.  These concerts have a very professional technical element to them and the concerts have a large following.  Students provide their own costuming and the outfits are designed to be reasonably easy to source. The music is posted out early December and students are able to download the harmony tracks to learn from our new website.  They will have a password to access this. Seniors students will sing in a minimum of 4-part harmony so it is vital that they indicate their parts correctly.  (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) The juniors sing in 2-part harmony as we feel this is very important for their development. We also provide a hand band and a logo bag on the first day of rehearsals so the students are easily identified by the Ashburton Trust Event Team, tutors and helpers.  Hand bands must be worn at all times during the course.


Meet the Tutors




Jo Castelow is an Ashburton singing tutor with nearly 30 years of experience working and performing in the Mid and Canterbury district. A musical director, choral conductor and tutor she has been a HOD of Music at Mt Hutt College, Head of Vocals at Christchurch School of Music (also involved in piloting their e-learning scheme). Jo has a large number of private students as well as teaching at Ashburton College, Ashburton Borough Primary School and Selwyn House in Christchurch.  Her students learn a wide range of genres and many sit singing exams each year.

Since 2011, Jo has worked as musical director for the Sunshine Coast Youth Theatre based in Noosa and has been musical director for many of the VTA shows over the years in Ashburton the most recent, the highly successful ‘Grease’ in 2015. She has also worked for The South Canterbury Drama League in Timaru and the Methven Choral Society.  She is currently Musical Director for Mid-Canterbury Children’s Theatre productions of ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Xanadu’.

As a youngster Jo was a member of the NZ National Youth Choir chamber group and harmony and musical theatre are her absolute passions.  Jo conducts the senior choir at Ashburton College and this year they competed in the National Glee Championship finals on the Gold Coast bringing home Gold and Bronze medals.  Her students also won Gold, Silver and Bronze in the solos and Gold in the Quartet section.

Jo invited Alice Sollis to come and work with her in 2000 and they have been dynamic partnership ever since. Together they have brought to the stage 16 years of Mid-Canterbury Summer Singing School, two years of ‘Rock n Pop’ for the Ashburton Trust Event Centre, ‘Sound of Music’ for the Drama League in 2013 and ‘Grease’ for VTA in 2015.  Jo is very grateful for the skill and expertise Alice brings to the MCSSS each year, ensuring that every production is of a very high standard and that the music is brought to life.


Alice is well known in South & Mid Canterbury having having directed over 45 Major Musicals, including “The Sound of Music”; "Fiddler on the Roof"; "Once on this Island", "Little Shop of Horrors"; “The Addams Family”; “Chicago”; and the highly successful "Grease" & "Oliver!" for Variety Theatre in 2015 and 2016, plus many plays such as "Calendar Girls" & "Steel Magnolias" and numerous successful Theatre Restaurant and Children's Theatre productions. 

In her spare time Alice devises compilation Theatre Revues; creates SFX for plays; performs as a Compere, Soloist and is busy with the her band “The Drama Queens” performing at Corporate and private functions. She works as an Entertainment Manager for Festivals; has acted in two locally produced movies & judged numerous talent quests. She is currently on the Board of Governors for the South Canterbury Drama League and is the Trinity College London Representative for South Canterbury.

For the last sixteen years Alice has directed and choreographed the Mid Canterbury Singing Summer Schools. This experience is one that teaches students of all ages to absorb complex harmonies, learn invaluable stage craft, gain performance fitness plus learn movement in the very short space of five half days. With full sound and lighting, the week ends with three stunning sell out performances at the Ashburton Event Centre. Many of the students have gone onto gain entry into NASDA, and to study music and singing for a profession. With over 100 students attending annually it's one of the highlights of Alice's year and working with the highly talented and professional Jo Castelow she knows that each year that the end result will be a show that stuns and delights the audience.

Jo and Alice will ensure that every candidate reaches their maximum potential throughout the week and have as much fun as possible.