The NZSO and Butterfly Lovers

View on NaxosIt is amazing what the NZSO gets up to. Browsing our Naxos Video Library I came across a film with a soundtrack played by the NZSO which  they recorded in 2006. Its called The Butterfly Lovers.

The Butterfly Lovers violin concerto is based on an ancient Chinese fairytale which is the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet.

One version of the story goes that the only daughter of a wealthy family talks her father into allowing her to go to school. There she falls in love with a friend and fellow student to whom she eventually reveals her true identity. They pledge themselves to each other, but are thwarted after her family betroths her to another. The young man dies of a broken heart and on her way to her wedding she joins him magically in his grave. They emerge together as two butterflies.

Two young composers at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music wrote a short violin concerto based on the story in the 1950s, although it didn’t gain popularity until the 70s when it was released from censorship.

The NZSO recorded the sound track to a film of music and dance using the “synthesis of the concerto” with  choreography inspired by Chinese martial arts and modern dance. You can watch this free on our website (using your library card number and PIN).

You can also listen to this very beautiful concerto on CD or there are a number of recordings on the Naxos music streaming service on our website. I like this one.

Make your own New Zealand music

Experimental musicians love their self created instruments. I recently listened to a composer on National Radio describing how he used all the glasses in his house to create three octaves of notes which he then used to create a fragile sounding theme for a composition.

However, long before the experimental movement, making your own instrument already had a long history, especially among the marginalised and repressed. Wash boards, jugs and homemade percussion instruments spring to mind.

Dictatorships are famous for banning music of various kinds -for example Cuba’s Castro has made a habit of this throughout his rule. These days they apparently get around it by swapping flash drives. In the past it was done by inventing new instruments. In Peru for example, a percussion instrument called the Cajon is popularly thought to have been invented when African slave drums were outlawed. The same thing has been repeated in many other places around the world.

Early blues musicians often made their instruments from whatever was at hand because they couldn’t afford to buy them. Cigarbox guitars are a wonderful example of what can eventually evolve from using what is at hand.

You can try your hand at doing the same thing with the help of the many books in our collection on making your own musical instruments. It is a fun activity to do with the kids and a great outlet for your creativity.

Aranui vibes

Aranui Library has a great community vibe. On Wednesday I arrived there to find the doors open to the late afternoon sunshine and the sound of reggae floating out to the street. The library was full to capacity with students, Mums and babies, locals wandering in off the street and a smattering of people from the other side of town who’d come to join in.


An eight piece band called Imprint was performing in one corner. It was hard to believe they were Aranui High School students, I’d have picked them as professionals if one of them had not been in uniform. Someone whispered to me that they’d been jamming there all afternoon and that everyone was having a great time. The kids were doing a bit of dancing, the audience was moving to the music, clapping and calling out appreciation when something particularly impressed them. Imprint play a mix of soul, reggae, r+b, and the occasional re-worked hymn, all with Pasifika flavour, some in Pacific tongues.

The students were followed by Merchants of Flow, an impressive professional reggae band who had generously agreed to perform for library patrons at minimal cost. They play upbeat high energy classic New Zealand roots. Beautiful harmonies and love pour off the stage. Google them to see what I mean. They’re playing at The Bedford this evening (Fri 24 May).

By this time it was five o’clock, the sun was going down and people were starting to slip away to give their children their tea. I left with music ringing in my head, dancing a bit on the way back to the car. Nice.

Unknown Superiors: Erewhon Calling – Experimental Sound in New Zealand

Even to lifelong natives of one race or another, New Zealand is often summed up in one word: boring. The long white cloud of our original name seems in the 21st century to consist of ennui, repression, angst and mundane order coupled with rigid expectations and an ingrained fear of singularity.

Aside from technological advances, some loosening of morals and the allowance of more wiggle room in sexual politics, there is little difference between modern New Zealand and the country Bill Pearson was writing about sixty years ago when he argued that being different = trying to be superior.

So may the heavens smile upon the random eccentrics who buck the trend and spend their time fashioning flame-powered pipe organs, or learning how to press records with Frankenstein-ed washing machine parts, or utilising the power of the sun to make a robot play guitar. In Erewhon Calling – Experimental Sound in New Zealand, Bruce Russell has compiled a vibrant celebration of the “antipodean misfits and malcontents” who devote their hands, hearts and ears to staying as far away from the oeuvre of The Exponents as is humanly conceivable.

In an expected esoteric fashion, this collection derives its title from Samuel Butler’s satirical novel Erewhon, in which the eponymous fantasy land is, as Russell retells it, “defended…by stone sound sculptures which make such ‘hideous noises’ that…’however brave a man might be, he could never stand such a concert.’ ” An almost-reversal of “nowhere,” Butler’s novel allegedly satirises blandly-Victorian principles (I barely made it fifty pages in so I’m inclined to take the internet’s word for it), and by merging Butler’s title with that of The Clash’s classic album London Calling, Russell nails the spirit of these brilliant weirdoes.

Although perhaps brilliance is too light a term for these unknown superiors, such as Alastair Galbraith and his eight note fire organ that harnesses the power of bunsen burners to produce distinct notes. Also to be found within these pages is the ingenuity of Geraldine’s Peter King and his lathe cut approach to record pressing, for which he uses a home-made machine cobbled together from washing machine parts in a process so unique, it has attracted the attention of such far-flung artists as Beastie Boys and Pavement.

Even Christchurch City Libraries’ own Adam Willetts earns a spot for his experiments with solar-powered robots (or ‘solarbots’), which were given the ability to make music on an electric guitar in order to transform the live performer into the furniture itself.

So for those of you feel like celebrating New Zealand Music Month by leaning on the more intriguing side of things, Erewhon Calling should provide you with a great starting point (I’d also recommend Russell’s Left-handed Blows – Writing on Sound 1993-2009), plus be sure to join us at New Brighton Library on Saturday 25 May as Adam performs with his home-made modular synthesisers and takes us on a musical journey which promises to be anything but boring.

Playing gaily with your ukulele

The ukulele revolution has swept New Zealand.

From touring orchestras, to neighbourhood groups, to schools the ukulele is the instrument of choice for many.

During NZ Music Month the St Michael’s School Ukulele Orchestra and Choir will be performing at Central Library Tuam  on Friday 24 May 24 at 12.30pm.

Aranui loves reggae

Aranui LibraryTo celebrate Aranui Library’s entry onto the scene, Christchurch City Libraries have decided to fund a big music event in Aranui Library during New Zealand Music Month. It takes place on Wednesday 22 May 2013, 3:30 to 5:30pm.

Merchants of Flow is a successful and impressive local reggae band, with links to Aranui High School, so we roped them in.

And playing support will be Imprint, an energetic local group, which features current and ex members of Aranui High.

The gig will be broadcast on RDU 98.5FM  (you can listen to RDU98.5 FM or on the internet), and will feature interviews with the bands.

You’re all welcome to join us at this, or any of our NZ Music Month gigs.

It is free and it’s fun and we’d love to see you there.

Libraries humming with music this weekend

From the New Zealand Army Band at Hornby Library to Matt and Hamish playing jazz at Parkland to the Natural Magic Pirate Band bringing hearty music to Central Tuam Library, libraries across the city will be humming with music this weekend and every weekend of NZ Music Month 2013. Check our calendar of events and come along and enjoy.

The Bicycle Band: Picturing Canterbury

The Bicycle Band of 1898 claimed to be the only one of its type in the world. There was a brief recreation in 2010 at the Ellerslie Flower Show. In NZ Music Month why not check out some mighty Kiwi Brass bands from our libraries.

NZOnScreen reminds us how much brass bands and highland pipe bands provided the soundtrack to major civic events and  film reels in this great celebration of VE Day.
Weekly Review No. 195 - New Zealand Celebrates VE Day

For the real live feel of a brass band get along to Hornby Library on Saturday May 11 at 10.45am to hear the New Zealand Army Band which is the creme de la creme of bands.

photograph of the Bicycle Band in 1898

photograph of Bicycle Band

With bold ukelele and kazoo

I’m showing my age a bit when I hark back to childhood memories of Kiwi music and music making. My family wasn’t particularly musical but they had plenty of friends who were and childhood was punctuated by occasions where “aunties” and “uncles” revealed fascinating skills as people gathered around for a singsong.

A cousin I admired terribly was a dab hand at the piano – he could strum every popular song in great style and his parents sometimes kept him up past his bedtime to provide music so they and their friends could dance and sing. Mum’s best friend was a piano teacher but it was her husband who was a revelation on the banjo.

Most magic of all were occasions when my dad’s tramping mates gathered – they could muster a pretty good skiffle group complete with tea chest base. Dad’s good mate Ted was a dab hand at ukelele and kazoo and everyone would join in the  songs from the trampers songbook as well as popular songs. Sitting outside under the stars at a barn dance listening to all this was a great experience for a kid.

Turning on the radio you could hear Peter Cape singing Down the Hall on a Saturday night or Taumarunui on the Main Trunk Line – both of which songs resonated with me as I had experienced the kid’s joy of sliding over the powdered floor before a dance at a local hall and I’d been on an exciting night train trip on the Main Trunk Line.

I can capture memories of this time by  going to New Zealand Folksong – a wonderful website where you can find words, music and performances of a fantastic array of Maori and Pakeha songs from early days to recent times, the school yard and much more.

Musicians play everywhere

Musicians are a tough, adaptable bunch and they’ll play anywhere, especially in Christchurch since the earthquakes. Think of all those temporary venues like the Gap filler Pavillion and the Re-Start mall stage or old venues that have reinvented themselves like DuxLive. And always in Music Month our libraries are full of local musicians giving us a good time.

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