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Sonic Broom: 
The Composers Talk Back!

Kia ora koutou katoa. First of all I want to acknowledge the korowai of support I feel in my composing journey because of those who have gone before me, my ancestors : Catholic, Irish, Scottish and English, many wonderful composers, both men and women and also the first New Zealand composers, who were of course Maori composers . 

I am appreciative too of the groundwork done here by people like Douglas Lilburn who 60 years ago paved the way for today's younger composers. I'm glad we now have a healthy diversity of strong voices, of composers working confidently in a refreshingly wide range of styles, not feeling they have to fit in with a particular mindset or school of composition. I take to heart Douglas Lilburn's advice to me in an encouraging letter he wrote a few months ago, 'Please keep your ears and imagination open and be creative', and that is an essential challenge for all of us as composers and as educators of younger composers.

I feel there are other challenges for composers-in fact for anyone living in New Zealand in the twenty-first century. And these challenges focus on the way the Treaty of Waitangi , a living document, he taonga tapu, defines us ALL as New Zealanders. The Treaty, truly honoured and respected, gives ALL of us, in our cultural diversity, the right to stand tall in Aotearoa. As New Zealanders, whatever our ethnic origin, we are Tangata Tiriti, people of the Treaty, in partnership with the Tangata Whenua. This is a bicultural partnership which means two distinct partners working together, in a dynamic co-operative process.

My personal views on how this bicultural partnership relates to composition have evolved over 20 years working with Maori, who have become my friends and extended whanau, who have gifted me with many wonderful experiences and some mighty challenging ones too-and through our relationship I hope I will continue learning for the rest of my life. As my father wisely used to say, 'The more you know, the more you know you don't know'. So within these limitations, I offer you a few personal thoughts about what I think a truly bicultural partnership should strive to be.

It concerns me that if we want a peaceful Aotearoa in the twenty-first century where social justice and racial equity are nurtured, we need to take on board the following: Because of the Treaty, we are all called-whether we are composers or not, whether or not we include Maori aspects in our compositions-ALL of us are challenged in some way to be bicultural.

No longer are we a happy little paradise in the South Pacific-maybe, we never were. If we take any notice at all of a Victoria University survey last year, we should all be concerned about the racial and social divide that is increasingly polarising our country.  This survey of a thousand people stated that nearly 70 per cent of New Zealanders believe that Treaty of Waitangi grievances should NOT be settled . Many of those surveyed were angry about the Treaty settlements, thinking that the claims process was 'merely giving away assets to undeserving Maori'. Even though these survey respondents had strong views on current Treaty settlements, they knew little or nothing about the Treaty or the history surrounding the claims.

So I would say a first step towards being bicultural is we need to be open to learning more about our shared history with Maori over these last 160 years. Being bicultural, I might add, is no big deal for Maori -they have been bicultural for more than 160 years. And thank goodness, many New Zealanders have worked hard and continue to be committed to working for a bicultural society and racial justice in this country. 

But for too many of us, being bicultural, being Tangata Tiriti in the true sense, is still a big challenge. The situation is not helped by the predominantly negative image of Maori continually put forward in the media. For too many New Zealanders, being bicultural has become a big turn-off, a big bore-I think that is very sad, to put it mildly. 

Now focusing on New Zealand compositions: What does this vexed and overused word 'bicultural' mean? The descriptive term 'bicultural' is sometimes used too glibly and superficially, I feel, when it comes to describe some New Zealand compositions . To me, just because the composition performance, the composition finished product includes some Maori performers, or a reference to a Maori legend, or some Maori lyrics-those features alone do NOT make a composition bicultural.

Also, sometimes our motives for using Maori features in our compositions must be questioned, when we do not properly acknowledge or respect the Maori sources we draw on. For example, old Maori lyrics are never 'just from a book', as I heard one composer flippantly comment recently. They are taonga, ancestral treasures belonging to a particular iwi or hapu ,who need to be acknowledged and consulted. The issue of tokenism and appropriation is an ongoing challenge which I am still thinking about. We have to guard against our monocultural attitudes and the negative aspects of our deeply ingrained settler mentality. In the talk I heard yesterday about international markets, and products, and viable commercial enterprises, there is still a danger that a composition can be just one more colonising experience for Maori. Including Maori features in our compositions has to be much, much more than a commercial excercise. A superficial approach like that is just like eating all the pretty icing and leaving behind the cake, the substance that really matters.

So what do I understand by the term bicultural? For me it's all about journey, a process, embarking on a time of apprenticeship. Of course a bicultural journey has to begin somewhere, and as Paul Temm, a member of the Waitangi Tribunal once said,'It begins in the heart, it is born out of love and respect'. Being bicultural is about walking alongside another culture, about sharing, laughing, crying together, spending time together, caring about the issues my Maori friends worry about, for example the great amount of poverty and unemployment in this country. Basically, it is about the gradual building up of knowledge, understanding, and practical experience in the Maori world.

As far as I'm concerned, I'm still in the process of doing this, and after 20 years, I'm still loving it, I'm still challenged by it, I still don't know all the answers about working cross-culturally, and at times I feel way out of my comfort zone, as my Maori colleagues can feel too. But through a lot of listening and communicating, sharing our insecurities, building trust, both being committed to the same kaupapa, both trusting each others' integrity and both respecting each other's different gifts and performance skills-it's through these human values, a holistic approach, that we hope to achieve an excellent performance.

I enjoy working as part of a creative team, where two or more composers are responsible for one composition. This is what is happening at the moment for Ngapo and Pimia Wehi, lyricist John Greally and me. Our work Tete Kura is dealing with the difficult kaupapa of pain and injustice and is singing out for the vulnerable ones in this country, through karanga, haka, poi, waiata, my choral style and also Gregorian chant. The New Zealand Youth Choir and Te Waka Huia will premiere this work here next week.We've had some great opportunities to experiment during the workshop and rehearsal processes, and we have tried to shape Tete Kura so that at times both groups will perform to their own strengths, and at other times they will be crossing boundaries linking into each others' worlds.  To me, this sums up what a healthy bicultural process is about, both in music and in life. At times we need to be in our own separate spaces, and at other times when we come together, it can be just wonderful. Special gifted moments . It's hard to express in words those precious insights when Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti stand tall together as whanau. Ultimately, it's about love, it's about hope and it's about OUR Aotearoa !

1. Jeremy Kirk, 'Maori should not be paid out-survey', Evening Post, 17 March 1999,
2. 'Faith and a Bicultural Society', an address by Paul Temm Q.C May 1990. published in Te Ara Tika-The Way Ahead.


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