I spent a sobering but inspiring two days in Christchurch last week right on the edge of the red zone. I was working on the CPIT Music Arts programme.  I am Christchurch-born so I know the city well. Well, I thought I knew the city well. It is not until you start to negotiate the disrupted one way street system or try to locate familiar landmarks that the extent of the earthquake destruction hits you. In the heart.

 The CPIT Music Arts  programme building is situated on the corner of Madras and St Asaph and stands only a stone’s throw from the sadly damaged Catholic Basilica and only a couple of blocks from the Grand Chancery Hotel which week by week, storey by storey, is being taken down.

The big wheel keeps on turning. Amid a forest of cranes and piles of rubble the CPIT Music Arts building continues to function. During my visit jazz students were turning up for exams, the rehearsal studios were humming with activity and the staff were radiating positivity. Hanging out for the upcoming summer break after an unforgettable year.

All of this was a reminder to me that institutions are more than buildings. They are communities of people. When the February 22 quake hit and temporarily closed the Music Arts building the community continued to function. Programme leader, Cameron Pearce, was quick to point out the silver lining role that Facebook played in keeping students in touch with staff during the chaos.  Online postings were a pivotal in helping to quickly reorganising things: the whole programme was relocated temporarily to other buildings in the city and classes were re-scheduled.  Three weeks after the Big One the school was back up and running. A year on from the initial disruption Facebook remains a vital communication tool for the CPIT Music Arts programme and has now been woven into the daily teaching and learning fabric.

I arrived back in Nelson from Christchurch to attend BAM last Friday - an event to celebrate the end of year for graduates from the NMIT Arts and Media degree. Two hundred people were gathered in the brilliant new NMIT Creative Industries building to punch the air and cheer on visual artists, graphic designers, fashion designers and creative writers. After years of toil they have finished their studies, often putting other parts of their lives on hold, and are about to head out into the real world as arts practitioners.

Last week too I heard from one dreadlocked student who had struggled hard to pass a piano exam.  He worked with his piano teacher on an intense programme of early alarms, rushed breakfasts, more daily practice and extra lessons in the afternoons leading up to the exam. The student was intimidated by the prospect of the exam but buckled down and nailed it. Last week he received news that he had passed with flying colours.

When composer John Cage was asked the question “What is music?”  He replied “Music is Work”. The resilient CPIT Music Arts programme and the lone music student slaving over a hot piano remind us that when we are fully engaged as artists there is blood on the carpet. Wrestling with challenges is part of the deal.