Aucklander Georgia Duder-Wood has been singing for as long as she can remember and is a self-confessed "vocal geek".

Among her long list of credentials, the singer has toured internationally with musical theatre, performed in numerous shows for the Auckland Theatre Company, is currently songstress for the classic jazz ensemble The Jazz Age, and is also an experienced voice teacher.

"It's in our DNA to sing or be moved by song - as a listener or as a participant. I love being stretched as a singer and artist, but I'm still fundamentally wanting to connect with people," Georgia says.

Giving and connecting at the same time

Among her students are a singing group at Toi Ora Live Art Trust, an organisation that gives people with lived experience of mental illness the opportunity to discover their creative talents.

Georgia, who has experience of depression and drug addiction, has taught a class there for the last three years. She says seeing the positive effect singing has on her students continues to inspire her.

"I lost a sister to mental illness, I've had depression myself and I have another sister diagnosed with bipolar disorder," she says.

"When I approached Toi Ora, I was mindful of the fact that I had no official qualifications, but Erwin [van Asbeck, Toi Ora's managing director] told me my life experiences were just as valid."

Learning to trust and express yourself

Georgia also previously led a singing group in Higher Ground, a rehabilitation programme for people with drug addiction.

"I saw people transforming and coming into trusting themselves, expressing themselves and having quite profound experiences," she says.

"I've seen this at Toi Ora too - people who haven't been able to make eye contact have changed within two to three lessons. There was one particular guy standing outside the class who said he was frightened to be alone. He didn't want to sing, but I said to him to just come inside and sit. Within five minutes, he was smiling and singing with us."

A 2013 ART Venture recipient, Georgia wants to run singing workshops with people who are marginalised or struggling, including those in prison, hospital or admitted to mental health units.

"One of my projects is to set up a recovery choir. Ultimately, I know singing heals us. I know it in my gut and I've seen it time and time again. Singing is a vibration, and when we sing, we really do connect with our hearts, souls and minds."