Geoff Knight

Tenor and Motivational Speaker

When did you first realise that you had a different way of thinking?
I’ve always felt slightly different all my life. I thought differently to other people but I couldn’t understand why people couldn’t see things the way I saw them. I didn’t know I had dyslexia until I met [my friend] Kirsteen Britten in 2006, who was at the time training as a Davis Dyslexia correction programme facilitator. I eventually did the correction programme with her, but initially I didn’t want to admit that I was dyslexic. It had the wrong connotations because I didn’t show the common signs of it I that I’ve always been able to read and spell.

What was your experience of school?
School was very mixed. I wonder if it was dyslexia, or if it was because I was a victim of bullying. I was predisposed to thinking in creative ways. I had a desire to avoid things happening in life, so I’d create another world to live in. I did that a lot – become hypersensitive, and live in imagination. 

There was a point in school where things shifted and the dyslexia became more apparent. When I had to express myself, there was a lot of confusion. I’d express the same thing four different times in writing. I struggled with understanding grammar; the differences between nouns, prepositions – all that seemed very hard to grasp.

I used being exuberant and mischievous as an avoidance to people seeing that weakness. That just got me into trouble with the teachers. The report card would say that I was very bright but needed to try harder. Well, I tried harder than anyone else. I got kicked out at 14.

How did you get involved in singing?
For five years I was with the Highway 61 motorcycle gang, constantly getting into trouble with the cops. Before that I was working on deep sea trawlers. I worked really hard, but I also partied hard. One day I met a guy who was a stuntman on Hercules and Xena, and he got me some work on the set. I decided I wanted to act, and trained as an actor at the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art. 

I was at the school in 1995 when [international bass and visiting tutor] Grant Dickson heard me sing, and asked if I wanted to consider opera as a career. I did TV acting and the theatre gigs but decided that singing was what I wanted to do.

What are the main work challenges that you have had to overcome?
It’s not an easy career. It is an industry where you are judged a lot, and you can judge yourself quite harshly. You can feel less than good enough – never being sure if what you’ve just done is good enough. That can be very crippling. Sometimes you just need to trust yourself.

What do you think are some of the positives and negatives of dyslexia?
I often take things much further than other people can – I can investigate a concept or explore something like vocal development quite intensely. Vivid picture thinking is another positive – the ability to create another world to go into, which serves me well in the creative process. You can imagine a world so real, you can feel what it is like. But you can also get lost in thoughts that don’t serve you. Sometimes you miss the bit that’s right in front of you.

What advice would you give young New Zealanders who are dyslexic?
Not to hide, ask for help. It doesn’t have to be. You can turn it around. It is a gift – you can go so much further with the creative process and grow past people’s preconceived ideas of your limitations. In this way you can turn something that can be crippling into something that can set you free. It’s a process, it’s a journey – the key thing is that human beings learn our whole life. It doesn’t just stop. Empower yourself to learn whatever you need to learn. Then have courage and live your dreams – life just keeps getting better and better and better.

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