Regional | Singing

Music teacher sings duet with Ed Sheeran at surprise appearance

A Sāmoan music teacher got to perform live with UK pop star Ed Sheeran who made his way to three different schools for surprise performances in Auckland last week.

Grace Ikenasio, a music teacher for 11 years at Avondale Intermediate, was called on stage unexpectedly by one of her peers to sing a duet with Ed Sheeran.

“I’ll tell you now, I was very nervous. Every gig I get nervous, no matter how big or how small. In the video, you can see me holding my phone and I’ve always been terrible with lyrics, no matter how hard I try.

"But I pushed through, and I was like /ok you can do this'. So, every now and then every time I refer to my phone it’s because I’m just double checking or I’m nervous about the fact that I am screwing up somebody else’s song right in front of them," she says.

The singer-songwriter was meant to help organise a pōwhiri at the time as it was the children’s first day back for the school year.

Sharing the stage with Ed Sheeran - and on the first school day of the year.

Advance warning

Her role in the pōwhiri was put on hold after principal Jo Hardwidge told her the day before the English star Sheeran was going to make a guest appearance for the students.

Ikenasio says it was hard to contain her excitement but she was determined to keep it a surprise.

“My principal called me into her office and she said: ‘Oh we’ve got some exciting news; Ed Sheeran will be visiting our school' just casually and I freaked out. This is right before the pōwhiri which I am supposed to help lead.

"She also mentioned to me that it had to be super confidential so we couldn’t tell any of the kids, which was cool because it added to the surprise of our children when they realized he was coming into our school.," she says.

Ed Sheeran showed up at Manurewa, Kowhai, as well as Avondale Intermediate schools to give a show before his big concert at Eden Park in the weekend.

Sheeran inspiration

Ikenasio felt she was fortunate Sheeran let her sing one of his most well-known songs Thinking out loud.

“He basically just said to me: 'What parts do you want to sing?' and I was like, oh maybe, I could sing parts of verses and he said 'I’ll give it a try and I’ll see if it’s in the right key'. He started playing the first chord and I went to attempt the verse and realized that it may be a little bit high but then I thought it was ok.

"But then he suggested he do the verses and I was like ok, sweet, whatever you want to do, Ed, man, I just didn’t want to waste this opportunity,” she says.

Ikenasio grew up singing in church, school, and music lessons. She now performs as part of the Auckland Gospel Choir at events around Tāmaki Makaurau.

Singing live with Sheeran, she says, is the highlight of her career but she gained more joy seeing her students react when they saw Sheeran walk out onto their school’s stage.

“Honestly it went by so quickly, I couldn’t believe it. It was unfathomable if that’s even such a word, but it was a neat experience.

"Not just for me but I think it was just the most beautiful experience for our kids. When he came out, I looked at their faces and they were just gobsmacked and literally had mouths open wide,” she says.

Ikenasio has put her passion for writing music on the back foot for the last five years but says this duet with Sheeran has inspired her to write and release music in 2023.