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Ray & Maxine Nelson

Founders & Directors of Ignite Arts Academy 

Ray is a passionate entrepreneur with 28 years in music education.  An accomplished musician himself, he has owned and operated several successful music studios over the years in large performing arts academies overseas, and brings with him a desire to see an arts hub model established locally that can also be used to expand out to other parts of NZ and beyond. 

Maxine has been married to Ray for 31 years and they've worked on and in many ventures together.  She considers raising three outstanding young people, Brianna, Joshua and Jacob a huge accomplishment.  She is responsible for recruiting the Ignite instructors and co-directs Ignite Arts Academy with her husband, spearheads and develops the concepts behind the Ignite programs and the very popular performing arts school holiday workshops.  She is passionate about excellence in the arts and is an accomplished musician and vocalist.


polina loman

TEACHING:  Ballet, Jazz, Mini Movers, Contemporary

Polina has always been passionate about the creative world of dance. Professionally trained in classical and contemporary techniques, she performed and taught for different theatres in Russia, Australia and New Zealand. Upon gaining her Master’s degree in Arts Management, Polina has been coordinating scenes for live performances, musicals and stage shows. Her choreography has been featured in TV advertisements, stage productions and concerts. In New Zealand, Polina has created solo and group choreography for aspiring students and worked on developing students’ ballet and contemporary techniques. Her local students successfully won top prizes at dance competitions. Polina is excited to bring her expertise and passion to the Ignite Arts Academy.

jaime warren


Jaime has danced and taught for 23 years in creative, fitness, studio and company spaces.  Her favourite styles are Urban Street and Contemporary. Her passion with dance lies in empowering others in movement expression and health. Also seeing others find a niche of freedom & fun within dance and music.  She aims to bring this energy and intention to the Ignite space and joy to those who join these classes.

matthew mooney

TEACHING:  Drums, Keyboard, Guitar, Band, Bass

Matthew lives and breathes music and loves sharing his knowledge and creativity with the next generation. He describes his teaching style as practical and fun. Matt has been playing drums for 25 years, and guitar & keyboard for a similar amount of time. He started gigging and performing at a young age and has been involved in at least 1000 shows and gigs since.

Matt was brought up in and around Musical Theatre and believes music to be his main life purpose.
In his spare time he is also a freelance sound and stage technician doing sound and lighting work for festivals, tours, and events.

Fun Fact: Matthew is also the keyboardist for the reggae band “The Generation”, Rotorua band ‘Origin Roots’ and drummer for the death metal band “Gasp”

ann speed

TEACHING:  Violin, Viola

Ann and her husband and daughter recently moved from Northern Ireland to live in New Zealand.  For the past 27 years she has been employed as an Upper Strings Tutor by the Music Service of the Southern Education and Library Board in Northern Ireland.  This role also incluilded musical directorship of the South Ulster Youth Orchestra, and the South Ulster String Orchestra.

Alongside her teaching career she remains an active participant in semiprofessional orchestras and ensembles, both playing violin and making a contribution to directing.  She also has experience as a freelance musician performing all over Ireland.

ted yu


Ted Yu started teaching violin in China from 2014 after 18 years of study and practice on the instrument, among the years he has gained lots of teaching experience, especially with building up the basics for new violin learners, from students of a wide range of ages. Originally from China, Ted came to New Zealand in 2017, and moved to Cambridge at the beginning of 2020 after finishing his study in ECE Teaching in Auckland, and now he's working proudly as an local ECE teacher and nurturing the younger generation. Apart from his main job, Ted has also been a member of Trust Waikato Symphony Orchestra based in Hamilton, and has been the section leader of the second violin section.

carey gilliver

TEACHING:  Bass, Guitar, Drums, Keyboard

Carey began his journey in music at about the age of six learning to play the piano, achieving Grade 7 (Royal Schools) and Grade 5 theory. He has year 1 and 2 University papers in musicianship (ear training) and Materials of Music (harmony and counterpoint).  

He began playing the guitar seriously in his early teens and joined a classic rock and blues band, Magic Roundabout, at age 21 on keyboards and guitar and later fronting and lead vocals. He has also played the drums since age 13.

Carey has played in a number of different bands and shows touring all over NZ including rock band Boneyard on lead guitar, ‘The Chain’ Fleetwood Mac Experience (lead guitar and vocals), Creedence Clearwater Revived (lead vocals and lead guitar) and Knightshade (keyboards). He has also performed many gigs solo singing and playing the guitar. Carey is currently a member of an excellent Pink Floyd theatre show called Floyd Live on guitar and lap steel.

Carey has also worked for about 20 years in the sound and lighting production industry with Scott Sound and Lighting and has a solid understanding of live sound mixing and stagecraft.

Having been raised in a family of teachers he is very friendly and approachable and takes an easy and non-pressurizing approach with his students, maintaining a strong focus on them having fun with their music.

emilyrose smith

TEACHING:  Vocals, Guitar, Intro to Music, Keyboard

Emme first fell in love with music in her intermediate years. It all started with guitar then along came the lyrics. After leaving her hometown, Dunedin, she now resides in Hamilton where she has recently graduated from the Bachelor of Media Arts in Commercial Music at Wintec. She has taught vocal lessons and worked in Early Childhood Centres over the past year. 

Over time she has been involved in singing for the 'Sister Act' musical, choirs, composing music and is the lead singer and guitarist for the band 'Sun in her Eyes'. Emme is a fun and  friendly teacher who is passionate about sharing the love of music to anyone who is willing to learn.

jacob nelson

TEACHING:  Guitar (Acoustic and Electric), Drums, Ignite the Beatz, Bass

Jacob recently graduated from Cambridge High School and is the youngest child of Ray & Maxine Nelson.  From an early age Jacob has been applying himself to learning multiple instruments, beginning with keyboard, then adding drumming, guitar and vocals.  

At the age of 13 years he made his very first guitar under the guidance of a local Luthier, which is still his favourite to perform with.  Jacob loves to produce music in his spare time as well as play and coach basketball locally.  He is very comfortable performing in a variety of settings with his own band as well as performing locally in his hometown.

Jacob is a popular teacher at Ignite and loves to connect with and encourage up and coming musicians.

rachael bloemendal

TEACHING:  Keyboard, Vocals, Musical Theatre, Tap

Rachael has been on stage since the age of 13 years and is involved with all things musical theatre. She is currently in her second year of study at Winter/Te Pukenga, studying for a Bachelor of Music and Performing Arts (Theatre). Rachael has taught vocals, dance and musical theatre classes in previous years and is really looking forward to sharing her experience and knowledge with the students at Ignite.  She also teaches vocal classes at Forest Lake School in Hamilton.

You will most likely find Rachael onstage in local musical theatre shows. Her most recent performance was as the leading role of Sandy in Grease at Clarence Street Theatre, and is set to play another leading lady, Igna, in Hamilton Musical Theatre’s upcoming production of ‘Young Frankenstein’. As well as on-stage experience, Rachael has also musically directed ‘Frankenstein the Pantomime’ and was the assistant musical director for ’Shrek Jr’, ’Seussical Jr’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast Jr’ all at Morrinsville Theatre. If Rachael isn’t on stage (or rehearsing to be on stage in the near future) you can find her in the gym, curled up with a good book, crocheting, or teaching aerial fitness classes!

gary venn

TEACHING:  Guitar, Drum, Keyboard, Vocals

Gary began learning guitar at the age of 11 and since then has played in many bands and orchestras, and can also play several other instruments, including bass, keyboards, and drums, although the guitar remains his primary instrument.

After leaving high school Gary completed a music degree at Waikato University while continuing to perform in bands and began to write and record his own music. Throughout this time, beginning in high school, he has been giving private music lessons, which have continued sporadically over the years in between doing other types of work.

After leaving University Gary eventually became a freelance illustrator. During this time he continued to pursue music, for a time playing in a professional Jazz band that played every week for six years at a venue in Hamilton.

He has played in bands of many styles, including jazz, rock, alternative, punk, and has also done solo performances. His playing has been featured on several albums.

Gary has over 30 years of experience in performance, tuition, composition, and recording.

ben gibbons

TEACHING:  Guitar (Acoustic, Electric, Bass & Ukulele), Vocals, Beatz, Drums

Ben is a multi-instrumentalist and all-around music lover! Since graduating from the New Zealand School of Music he has enjoyed working at the heart of New Zealand's music scene, operating a music studio out of Wellington working alongside talented up-and-coming local acts, as well as releasing original music under the stage name 'Benji's Palace'.

Ben has also had the great pleasure of touring the country with various bands, headlining shows, and opening for international acts and festivals nationwide. He is a lover of musical theatre having performed at local theatres including Clarence St and Founders and is excited to share all that he has learned with the students of Ignite Arts Academy. 


becky lee


Becky is from Hawkes Bay originally, but grew up in Cambridge from when she was eight. After finishing School Becky lived in Netherlands, England, Scotland & Australia while on her OE in her early 20’s. Once back in NZ her Travel Agent career started and lasted for 14 fantastic years! At the end of 2019 Becky went on maternity leave, which happened to be perfect timing to start her family. After building her family home just out of Cambridge and having two little boys later, plus Covid… she has chosen to change tact and come on board with us to put all her fabulous organisational skills to good work looking after our Music & Schools department. Becky loves to help so let her know if you need any adjustments.

jessica judge


Jessica moved to Cambridge 10 years ago from Sydney, via Auckland (for a short stint). She studied, and has qualifications in Marketing, Graphic Design and Television production. She is also a self-taught photographer and works as a freelancer for the Resene Habitat magazine. Passionate about helping small businesses get ahead, Jessica’s work revolves around ensuring her clients have a marketing and design presence that guarantees they stand out from their competitors. Jessica’s clients range from Food Retail, Real Estate, Performing Arts to Health, Plumbers, Interior Design and Engineering firms. 

In her free time, she enjoys the summer months, out boating and waterskiing with family, and during winter, hunkering down with a great book in front of the fire.

For more info on Jessica, and how she could help with your business, email her on  


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