Life and music

The joy of music: eager young players in the Sistema Aotearoa programme (click for image credit)

The joy of music: eager young players in the Sistema Aotearoa programme (click for image credit)

Last week my 88-year-old mother retired from the orchestra she has played in for the last 24 years – Hamilton’s Phoenix Players. Deteriorating vision was making it difficult for her to continue, so she reluctantly put aside her violin. Her fellow players farewelled her with a special afternoon tea – an emotional occasion for someone who has been a keen violinist and member of various orchestras since first learning the instrument in New Plymouth back in the 1930s. The Phoenix Players (previously the Lyric Players) consists mainly of retired people who put on concerts for ‘old’ people in rest homes and hospitals around Hamilton.  Happily, there will still be music in Mum’s life: she will keep going to NZSO and Chamber Music New Zealand concerts, and has recently signed up for an opera tour of Switzerland, France and Germany, to the trepidation of her anxious offspring!

My mother’s experience is similar to that of many other New Zealanders who enjoy not just the experience of playing in orchestras and ensembles or singing in choirs, but the camaraderie of belonging to a close-knit group and the many friendships they forge through music. These people also make up a substantial proportion of the audiences at shows put on by touring and local groups and artists.

There is no shortage of such performances, for New Zealand has a long and rich tradition of classical music. Choirs were often formed by settlers coming out to New Zealand on immigrant ships, and Māori rapidly took to choral singing. Operas were staged by touring companies as early as the 1860s, and local musical theatre groups were established soon after. From the 19th century many small towns had their own small choir, orchestra or band. Te Ara’s entries on Choral music and choirs, Brass and pipe bands, Opera and musical theatre, Orchestras and Classical musicians refer to our strong amateur and semi-professional base, and also the crucial role of music teachers and conductors, who were often memorable characters. (Mum has vivid recollections of her first violin teacher, Miss Evelyn Dowling, who conducted a Saturday morning orchestra that was compulsory for all her pupils. At the half-time break, the 20 or so children would be told to change from slippers into shoes and Miss Dowling would lead them and her two fox terriers on a run around the block.)

New Zealand’s classical music scene nurtured some gifted individuals who went on to develop professional careers and gain international recognition, including singing superstars such as Kiri Te Kanawa, Donald McIntyre, Īnia Te Wīata and Simon O’Neill, pianists Richard Farrell and Michael Houston, and conductors Warwick Braithwaite and John Matheson. From it also emerged a diverse group of composers including Douglas Lilburn, Jenny McLeod, John Psathas and Gareth Farr.

Please enjoy our classical music entries, and the wonderful images, film and of course sounds that accompany them!

I do like to be beside the seaside

Kelp, glorious kelp, fringing the Kaikōura Peninsula (pic: Caren Wilton)

Kelp, glorious kelp, fringing the Kaikōura Peninsula (pic: Caren Wilton)

We took a few days off in late summer, once all the schoolkids had gone back, and headed for Kaikōura. As the town’s name suggests – ‘kai’ means eat and ‘kōura’ crayfish – the consumption of seafood was to play a major part in our trip. We ate crayfish at a beachfront barbecue stand where small handfuls of German and Japanese tourists sat at a row of scruffy picnic tables, and (twice) at the venerable old Pier Hotel on the way out to the peninsula.

The views from Kaikōura seem to me among the world’s most beautiful, with a steep backdrop of towering mountains and a luminous sea below. And the town is thick with whaling history and Māori history and culture; Fyffe House is famously built on foundations of whale vertebrae, but when I asked our Air B’n’B host, Susan, about those chunks of whiteness in her back garden – could they be? – it turned out that their big villa was also sitting on pieces of whalebone.

So, whales. We didn’t go whale watching. We didn’t swim with dolphins, not wanting to bother the poor beleaguered creatures, victims of their own friendly dispositions and smiley appearances. We certainly didn’t swim with seals – those things are vicious! But we tromped around the end of the peninsula at low tide, when the big rock shelf is exposed, and I became mesmerised by the gorgeous stands of kelp – huge and glowing yellow – swaying gently with the waves. It had not occurred to me that seaweed could be beautiful. I was surprised, but glad, to see that the sign informing people of fishing regulations included a limit on the amount of kelp you could take per day – ‘5 litre wet volume in a 5 litre bucket’.

I remembered Kaikōura around 1990, when the Whale Watch operation was new and the town was sleepy and rather down-at-heel. It had an appealing dinginess about it, and my then partner and I stayed in the ratty old Adelphi Hotel. The Adelphi has now been irritatingly jazzed up with bright paint and corrugated iron, turned into a cheapie backpackers’, and much of what was the main shopping street (haberdashers and bookshops, no doubt, sensible shops for locals) is now a strip of bars and pizza joints, although Susan laughed at me when I compared it to Khao San Road in Bangkok.

Still, there’s seldom anything beautiful in the kinds of developments aimed at tourists, although the tourists themselves were pleasant enough – gentle Japanese couples photographing seagulls on the beach and their dinners in restaurants, chattering French families in campervans, young women sunbathing in tiny bikinis. The people-watching was good even if we didn’t want to spring the $145 for a whale-watching trip. It was expensive enough having a few crayfish dinners.

Names to conjure with

Transsexual Cindy Lewis holds her changed birth certificate, with her new name and female gender (click for image credit)

Transsexual Cindy Lewis holds her changed birth certificate, with her new name and female gender (click for image credit)

Last week, my wife and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. But it was also five years since we both took on new names. To mark our marriage, we both took my wife’s birthplace (Lincoln in Canterbury) as our new surname and my birthplace in Australia as a new middle name.

This is quite a change from past practices. In the 19th century, as Te Ara’s article on marriage and partnering explains, ‘A wife was known by her husband’s name, becoming, for example, Mrs John Jones.’ Today, many women keep their surnames when they marry (as men always have). But what are some other reasons why people might change their names?

Religion provides one reason. In the 19th century, many Māori took on new names when they were baptised as Christians. The founder of the Pai Mārire religion, Te Ua, was baptised Horopāpera (Zerubbabel) in the Wesleyan church. He then changed his name to Haumēne (wind man) when he became a prophet, because he communicated with God on the wind.

Māori have also used naming to commemorate significant events. Tāmati Ngāpora of Ngāti Mahuta went into exile in the King Country with the Māori King, Tāwhiao, after the Waikato War of the 1860s. Ngāpora took the name Manuhiri (guest) to signify that he was in exile in Ngāti Maniapoto territory.

Sometimes people change their names to escape prejudice. New Zealand’s first government-appointed balneologist (expert on medicinal springs), Dr Arthur Wohlmann, was an Englishman, but changed his surname to Herbert as a result of antagonism to his German-sounding name during the First World War.

Changing names can be a way of starting a new life, particularly for those with a criminal past. The confidence trickster Murray Beresford Roberts, on his release from jail in New Zealand, moved to Australia and became John Malcolm Cook. However, his identity was discovered, and when his wife learned of his real name the marriage fell apart. He married again, under another false name, but soon afterwards was jailed for making a false marriage statement.

Writers and other artists sometimes choose new names for their creative endeavours. Iris Wilkinson is much better known as the writer Robin Hyde, a name she had first given to a son who did not survive.

A change of name can also go together with a change of gender. Transgender people can now change their gender, as well as their names, on their birth certificates. Cindy Lewis, a male-to-female transsexual, was issued a new birth certificate in 2005 showing her new female name and with her gender changed to female.

But whether changing your own name or choosing a name for your child, you can’t just pick any name – there are limits. The Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act 1995 says you can’t choose a name that is offensive, too long or resembles an official title or rank. So the parents who wanted to call their son ‘4real’ were denied permission to do so, although they said they would go on using the name anyway.

What are your name-change stories?

Kapa haka on show

Te Matatini stalwarts Te Waka Huia perform a haka on the first day of racing at the Louis Vuitton Cup in San Francisco, 2013 (click for image credit)

Te Matatini stalwarts Te Waka Huia perform a haka on the first day of racing at the Louis Vuitton Cup in San Francisco, 2013 (click for image credit)

The world’s largest biennial kapa haka festival is being held this year in Ōtautahi (Christchurch). Te Matatini began as the Polynesian Festival in 1972. The famous rōpū (group) Waihīrere won that year and are still performing today.

There will be 45 kapa standing on the atamira (stage) this year over the three competition days. The rōpū will have spent months training to deliver a 25-minute show. Preparations as a performer include becoming physically fit, eating healthily, learning words and actions, poi, haka, weaponry and choreography.

Each rōpū will perform seven different types of waiata (songs):

  • waiata-ā-tira – choral singing
  • whakaeke – choreographed entry
  • mōteatea – traditional chants or dirges
  • poi – movement with poi (ball attached to string)
  • waiata-ā-ringa – action song
  • haka – war dance
  • whakawātea – choreographed exit.

Each of these waiata showcases a different skill. My favourite is the whakaeke.

Waiata performance is only one of many things being judged; a few others include te reo Māori (the Māori language), composition, male/female leader and costume. The top scoring three teams from each competition day will perform again in the finals. My guaranteed four picks are crowd favourites …

  • Te Waka Huia
  • Te Whānau a Apanui
  • Te Matarae I Orehu
  • Te Pou o Mangataawhiri

And I hope one Kahungunu group.

This year, if you can’t be at Te Matatini, you can watch it live via Māori Television’s Te Reo channel.

Singing the praises of statistics

A love of numbers: Census and Statistics Department staff hard at work in 1946 (click for image credit)

The joy of numbers: Census and Statistics Department staff hard at work in 1946 (click for image credit)

Let me confess, I love working with statistics. I have gone so far as to like the Statistics New Zealand and New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings pages on Facebook. Social media at its best!

Te Ara is littered with stats so I get to indulge my fascination fairly regularly. We have stats on the most popular sports by gender, temperature variations and cannabis use. Themes on the places of New Zealandethnic groupsiwi and economy are full of numbers.

This superabundance of stats makes for a lot of work – they need updating unless their significance is historic. We’ve been able to turn our attention to such updates now that the first build of Te Ara is complete. So far we have updated the New Zealand Peoples and Iwi entries in line with 2013 census results, and we have begun work on census updates for the Places entries.

These jobs are huge but made so much easier by Statistics New Zealand’s excellent main website and its data hub NZ.Stat. Unlike the websites of some other national statistics offices, both of these are pretty intuitive and straightforward to use. If I can’t find what I want, an email or phone call to the helpdesk invariably yields a quick answer. So thanks Stats NZ, you are great.

Stay tuned for more new numbers on Te Ara later this year.