Fiona Pears was five when her mother took her to see renowned violinist Carl Pini in concert. “I just fell in love with the violin. There was something about this crazy sounding instrument. I must have nagged mum and dad because eventually I found this tiny violin in my Christmas stocking.”
At 12 years of age, Fiona was leading the Christchurch Youth Orchestra and, at 14, she joined the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra. It was due to hearing beautiful Spanish and jazz melodies in her late teens that Fiona began to explore other music styles, such as Latin, Celtic, gypsy and jazz. By the time she hit her 20s, she’d found her niche.
Fiona also began composing music around this time, with much inspiration coming from overseas backpacking experiences. “I got locked out of a backpackers one night because I’d returned late from playing in a blues bar in Belgium. I ended up sleeping on the concrete outside, with my arms wrapped round my violin. I was a bit of a wild child!” She recalls seeing both Nigel Kennedy and Hungarian musician, Roby Lakatos, at Ronnie Scots. “About a month later I was asked to play at Ronnie Scots. I remember standing on the stage doing a sound check and thinking, ‘This is ridiculous – I’m standing where Roby Lakatos did!’”
Conversation turns to how Fiona’s life has evolved since her 2014 album Swing Driven Thing came out. The biggest life-change is that she and music producer husband, Ian, are now working in respite care, looking after foster children in the weekends so that foster parents can have a break. “I was fortunate to have had a beautiful childhood, but some of these children haven’t, so we give to them as much as we can.”
Fiona’s English born husband, Ian Tilley, has produced for Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Universal, Classic FM, and BMG. Fiona works with Ian on these albums and writes many of the orchestral arrangements. Ian then heads to the UK to finish them.
“When it comes to my stuff, it’s Ian who does everything – from production to media to posters. I get the praise for my concerts, but really, a lot of the legwork is down to him.” The Gift of Music is Fiona’s next big gig and she’s thrilled to be part of it. “I remember walking down London’s Oxford Street with Ian literally dragging me, because I was crying; then homelessness came to Christchurch and I was crying walking the streets of my own city. How can there be such a divide? Nobody wakes up and says ‘Hey, I want to be a homeless person!”
All the money raised from The Gift of Music goes to registered charity Street Wise to help pay medical expenses for the homeless. “The cynics will have their say, but I don’t think about them,” Fiona says. “This is about helping people – trying to bridge that gap between the Great Divide.”
The Gift of Music will be held at the Transitional Cathedral on Saturday 30 March. Tickets available at