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Mike Chunn : "Connection To People Is The Key"

09 Nov 2023

A Kiwi musical icon, Play It Strange Founder and leading advocate for creativity takes us back to his early days in Split Enz and offers candid, raw and emotional advice to his younger self that will hit close to home for many.

Written by

A Big idea contributor
Mike Chunn of Play It Strange 2023.jpeg

The Play It Strange Trust celebrates 20 years of transforming lives through creativity in songwriting and performance the best way they know how - with a concert.

On Thursday 9 November “Twenty Strange Years” will feature ten performances by secondary school students, and special guest presenters including Peter Urlich, Jordan Luck, and past alumni Annah Mac.

It's all made possible by the vision and passion of Play It Strange Founder and CEO Mike Chunn, making a difference to young New Zealanders for decades.

After the anniversary celebration, Chunn is taking a well-earned break and will step away from the CEO role to focus on the creative aspects of the trust, with Stephanie Brown taking the helm. He will continue to act as chief judge, and work in a mentoring role with young songwriters.

The renowned musician of Splitz Enz fame and strong sector leader/advocate has had an inspiring and challenging path through his career - and takes up the chance to share some words of wisdom with his 22-year-old self that will no doubt resonate with many. 


In hindsight - which is what this is all about - we can take all we have experienced in life and tear it down. And from that shamble of moments, there is much to learn. 

After all, Michael, your 22-year-old self will be experiencing the best of times and the worst of times. That’s how it was with me way back when. 

Now we can talk.

I am writing to you, Michael, with thoughts on where you are standing and where the future lies. 

You are finding an emergence from a degree in Engineering Science; the end of an isolating academic journey to which you have achieved nothing in particular, apart from a certificate from Auckland University (now framed) that says, in essence, 'This lad passed enough exam papers to have me on his wall’. 

So what.

Mike Chunn at back left aged 21 and a half Split Enz.JPG
Mike Chunn (back left) in the Split Enz early days. Photo: Supplied.

I went back in time and wrote you a letter.

Michael, you have pursued many paths that took root in your mind as places where you could stake a claim to a satisfying life. What were they again? Science and music. 

First up - The science of practical mathematics.

Well, for you that was like someone who does Wordle every morning. You sought correct answers to seemingly mathematical problems in subjects like Computational Techniques and Fluid Mechanics. But you always did that alone. 

You never saw it as a ‘me-with-you’ environment. I don’t think you know why. So you are now at 22 years of age, a shabby engineering nothing-in particular because you never realised that a professional career demands a collective approach.

And now you are in a band called Split Enz where words and music are brought to band practice by two lads – Phil Judd and Tim Finn. They are songs. The backdrop to an exciting piece of life.  And now this merry band have brought their own individual parts to arrangements and complete songs are ready for the stage. And you and your friends have played them. Joyfully. All tucked into that townhouse at 473 Parnell Road. 

Mike Chunn aged 21 and 9 months   Right hand side at the Great Ngāruawāhia Music Festival.JPG
Mike Chunn aged 21 and 9 months (Right hand side) at the Great Ngāruawāhia Music Festival. Photo: Supplied.

Alongside this communal creative approach to a musical life, you have contracted a severe phobic disorder where panic attacks and an undulating fear have driven you deep into a dark world. 

And here’s the rub. In an opposite fashion to your musical life - You have never told anyone about this horror. NEVER.

You have another 18 years of fear and struggle - and it will be luck alone that brings you to a normalcy where life retrieves its colour. But it could have been so much better if you had talked.

This is my emphatic plea to you.

Everything you do in life - where you want dreams and/or ambitions to come true - demands that it is PEOPLE and your relationships and communications with them that bring this to fruition.

Your dialogue and connection to people is the key.

At each turning point in the road; at each barrier standing in front of you, there are people you can engage with; that you can ‘hold hands with’ and you can start to reach your ambitions.

Don’t hide Michael.

There’s someone there.