From Bailies to Brighton – looking back at NZ Music Month

May Music Month at Shirley LibraryA regular feature of NZ Music Month at New Brighton Library, Sophia Bidwell and her partner Jeremy Brownbrooke treated patrons and staff to another fabulous performance of traditional and contemporary folk music for violin, mandolin and piano accordion.

Their repertoire for this performance included a variety of tunes, several composed by Jeremy. As I listened I found myself envisioning a walk in the Scottish highlands; a saucy encounter in a French café, and a quiet Guinness in an Irish seaside village. The latter was further brought to life by the library’s backdrop of sand, waves and seagulls (but not the Guinness, sadly).

Whilst their individual styles appeared to contrast (Jeremy with a look of intense concentration on his face and Sophia seemingly relaxed) they created a harmonious sound which was well settled after eight years performing together. Jeremy casually implied that playing this music on the violin was essentially easy but admitted that the dexterity required to take these tunes at speed … took a little longer to acquire.

When I asked Sophia why she chose the piano accordion she told me that whilst she had learned classical piano, she was unable to haul a piano from flat to flat in her days as a student. So, her father passed on one of his piano accordions –  thus providing a more portable, if more complex, solution to Sophia’s need to stay in touch with her passion for playing music.

Music Month is over for another year but you can keep on listening to the kind of music that Jeremy and Sophia play by borrowing from  the libraries collection of world music or listening online to the wonderful resources of Smithsonian Global Sounds, Naxos and Contemporary World Music.

Christchurch is bringing the music on back

It’s all on.

You can now starting booking for your NZSO concerts for the year and I am assured that the CSO will not be far behind (make sure you keep an eye on their website over the next couple of weeks, or the newspaper from mid June).

There is a new tent village going into Hagley Park where Canterbury Celebration Theatre will be presenting the Wintergarden Season, a mix of cabaret, music and Kidsfest events. It is also expected to host the Jazz Festival and Arts Festival, New Zealand Cup and Show Week, and World Buskers Festival later in the year.

All of a sudden I’m feeling just a bit more happier about winter coming on.

Rachel Dawick and Tirsi play for New Zealand Music Month

Rachel Dawick came to Christchurch as part of her ‘Follow my Tears’ tour, during which she hopes to collect stories of women in nineteenth century New Zealand to turn into songs. When I arrived at Hornby Library, Rachel was already deep in conversation with her audience. They were discussing the untold stories of New Zealand’s first woman magician, a woman bullock team driver and an early twentieth century woman racing driver. Their theory was that women have always done these things, but their stories disappear rather than making it into the history books. Rachel’s performance deserved a bigger audience, she sings her well crafted original songs with panache and uses them to tell stories in a most absorbing way.

Tirsi, at South Library, were a rare treat. In fact I think this is the first time I have heard Renaissance music performed live in Christchurch. I was drawn into their performance space by the sound of a very pure female voice as it floated out over the bookstacks. It was the voice of Lois Johnston and she was accompanied beautifully on the lute by Jonathan Le Cocq.

These were also musician that communicated well with their audience, taking us on a tour of Renaissance Europe around 1600 in song and imparting interesting facts along the way. Did you know the lute was so widely played at the time that they used to hang them on the walls of barber shops so that customers could play them whilst waiting for a haircut? Altogether it was a charming performance and deserved the enthusiastic reception it gained from the audience.

Live music is just the thing …

The LoonsFinding some great live music in a funky venue in Christchurch is a bit tricky these days, so I was pretty happy when I arrived to a packed Loons bar in Lyttelton last Wednesday night.

Two groups, the Pony Club and Sumo Jazz, ripped into some pretty impressive stuff and the audience was deeply appreciative. They are part of the New Music Collective  –  an initiative to simply get live music out there. The launch night session was a great start;  I’m hoping to catch Greg Malcolm and the Silencio quartet next time.

The “mood lighting” in the Loons bar provided a suitably groovy atmosphere – I think it was the upside-down lamp stands dangling from the ceiling that did it for me. Every second Wednesday local musicians of all genres will be performing, giving us a chance to think local when it comes to live music.

The music section on the library website has a section devoted to the Christchurch music scene. Check out the timeline, the poster collection and there’s even a bit about past venues. More live music can be heard in libraries over the rest of the month.

Speaking of music venues, it might be nice to share some memories about some loved but not lost (hopefully not in our minds anyway) old favourite music spots. I am already missing Poplar Lane sessions …

Every month is music month though, where do you go these days?

The show must go on – The Christchurch Town Hall

Christchurch Town HallWho can say what the Town Hall has contributed to the cultural life of Christchurch?

I remember the days before we had it. Concerts were often held in the tin box of Canterbury Court or the wide open spaces of King Edward Barracks. Not a lot of atmosphere, and you had to hope it didn’t rain because the noise could drown out the performance. Not having a proper venue meant we had trouble attracting performers, so the opening of the new town hall in 1972 caused great excitement.

Researching the opening in Proquest I was surprised to find that this was not our first town hall. The first one in High Street was built in 1857, “but proved unsatisfactory” and the second was damaged in the 1869 earthquake.

The auditorium has proven a wonderful success – with clear lines of sight and excellent acoustics, even in the cheap seats. Some of the outstanding performers of the 70s that stick in my mind are Yehudi Menuhin with his own orchestra, and pop stars like Roberta Flack and Don McLean. It also finally gave a home to our symphony orchestra which proceeded to flourish.

The James Hay Theatre proved its worth for recitals, operas and ballets. My earlier memories include everything from an unknown pianist called Irina Plotnikova, winner of the inaugural Sydney International Piano Competition, who held the whole audience in thrall, to Nureyev dancing in his later years, to a beautifully costumed Magic Flute by the then new Canterbury Opera.

The huge variety of community groups, classical orchestras, touring artists, opera companies and choirs which have come to use these venues have vastly enriched our lives and it is impossible to imagine Christchurch without this melting pot of musical culture. Unfortunately damage from the quake has left its future in doubt. It is my fervent hope that we are able to attend more performances there soon.

We all have our own favourite memories of the Town Hall. What have been your favourite performances?

Music on the interwebs, or down the rabbit hole we go

Neil Gaiman Press conference
Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman

Yay for New Zealand Music Month, and yay for live performances, and for hearing new musicians and old favourites!   On TV! On the radio!  In libraries!  But also yay for the particular brand of musical insanity that can be found on the internet.

A friend and I recently spent a few nights emailing each other bizarre and fantastic music clips from YouTube.  It was so much fun, not to mention distracting – every clip we found led to dozens more.  Which is the coolest thing about the internet; it just seems to go on forever.

Much like me, in fact.  Because what I really wanted to share with you today is a wee project I discovered through Twitter.  It’s called the 8in8 project, and was organised by a few of my favourite people.

Superstar author (and my ultimate superhero) Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer (of Dresden Dolls fame) recently got together with Ben Folds and Damian Kulash (from OK Go), and attempted to write and record 8 songs in 8 hours, as part of Boston’s Berklee College Rethink Music event.  Described by Gaiman on his blog as being the ‘world’s least super supergroup’, they were initially inspired by Kulash’s question:

“Can the album cycle actually be reduced to a single day? If the recording industry is supposed to be a means of connecting musicians to music listeners, well, then, here it is – spontaneous and circular.”

They nearly managed it – 6 in 6 being the eventual output, all presented on an album called NightyNight, which you can buy online, with all proceeds going to charity.

The songs are crazy and funny and charming, and witty and sad and clever, and get stuck in your head like the best kind of earworm.  And the icing on the cake?  Because they ran the whole project through Twitter, hundreds of people online got to have a say on possible song titles, AND THEN hundreds more went straight off and made music videos for all the tracks.  My favourite so far?  The Problem with Saints, I think, but I also loved I’ll Be My Mirror.  Ooh, and Nikola Tesla and …

So while you’re waiting for the next New Zealand Music Month performance at your local library, jump on our free internet computers and search Twitter or YouTube for “8in8”, then sit back and enjoy, and then tell me your favourite!

Get ya geek on: Really useful resources for NCEA Music

Cover image of "Music theory"Whether you sing solo or in a choir, or play drums in a rock band or for the school orchestra, we can help you with your NCEA Music assessments.

Want some more really useful resources for another NCEA subject? Go to The Pulse, the library’s website for teens.

Music filling The Great Hall

The Great Hall and clock tower 1910

My first memory of the Great Hall at the Christchurch Arts Centre is of sitting my exams in it during the last year it was still operating as a university. It was cold and cavernous and I can’t help feeling that its later use as a wedding venue and concert hall was a much better one.

The hall has hosted a wide variety of music over the years. Off the top of my head I remember listening to Michael Houston playing his way through the Beethoven piano sonatas (on a grand piano that seemed a bit out of sorts), several Jazz School end of year concerts – in the days before the auditorium opened at CPIT – and various other jazz groups during the Christchurch Jazz Festival.

I remember one local singer who had to tell her instrumentalists which song was next as she went, even having to sing the first line to them on one occasion – I guess that’s called improvising. I always regretted that work hours stopped me from attending the Lunchtime Concert Series which featured so many talented musicians.

Victorian Gothic architecture is beautiful, but it has its limitations and the heating problems were never really solved. However, up to 250 people and a roaring fire in the big old fireplace used to at least make it seem warm in winter. The high ceiling and all that wonderful kauri panelling made up for the heating by providing great acoustics.

Due to earthquake strengthening the hall survived the September earthquake quite well and it was available for events and functions from 1 February 2011. Until 22 February that is. Let’s hope this special venue resumes its role in the city’s cultural life soon.

Represent! Local music on the global stage

Making a name for yourself as a musician can be difficult in little ol’ New Zealand, and anyone wanting to earn any real money from it usually has to take the tour bus on international roads.

However, it’s not all bad news. The Internet is helping spread the word about our diverse Kiwi music scene. New Zealand-made films and television series are always keen to promote New Zealand music too, creating soundtracks brimming with lots of sweet-as local acts. But how much do you hear of New Zealand outside New Zealand?

There’s been several instances where I’ve been watching an American film or television series and suddenly recognised a Kiwi song in the soundtrack.  It’s one of those moments where my chest swells with pride; my beloved Aotearoa is once again on the map because of its talented citizens. It feels good to know people all over the world get a chance to listen to some great New Zealand tunes.

Home-grown music made world-famous by Hollywood

  • Two songs by Christchurch musicians feature in the American Pie movies – Sway by Bic Runga (American Pie) and Renegade Fighter by Zed (American Pie 2);
  • Minuit can be heard on two popular TV shows – Aotearoa plays briefly on Bones (Season 6, Episode 12) and I’m Still Dancing was used on Grey’s Anatomy (Season 6, Episode 13);
  • The soundtrack to the film A Room with a View includes two Italian songs sung by Kiri Te Kanawa;
  • Evermore’s track It’s Too Late got a lot of airplay once it was featured on The O.C.;
  • And Crowded House made it onto the Reality Bites soundtrack with their song Locked Out.

What other New Zealand artists have you randomly stumbled across while watching a movie or TV show made overseas?

Auf wiedersehen Southern Blues Bar

Former Nurse Maude building, Madras Street
The Southern Blues Bar is the third building along (Nurse Maude in the foreground)

The Southern Blues Bar developed out of a musicians club formed by some blues enthusiasts in the 1980s. Originally it was only for the members of the club, but eventually it  was turned into a commercial venture. By the 1990s ,when I spent a bit of time there because I had a friend who played in a band, it was booming.

It catered to the really late night crowd, having got a 24-hour licence on the basis that it was a musicians club – and musicians go out to relax after they finish working, late at night. The clientele included everyone from bikies, to local musicians, to … librarians. Some famous names performed there, Charlie Musselwhite, and Robert Lockwood Jnr. for example, as well as a lot of local talent.

Thursday night was jam night. Originally this was to encourage the talented, but shy, members of the club to get up and perform. Over the years though, it fostered quite a lot of amateur talent. I remember going to hear a friend who was doing a jazz course at Hagley Community College. She and her classmates got up and performed there for the first time in public, an opportunity they were unlikely to get anywhere else. Sadly the earthquake was it’s downfall and it was demolished in December 2010.

All may not be lost though. Already somebody has organised a “Southern Blues Bar Revisited” at the Sandridge Hotel. You can find out more about the Southern Blues Bar in this article from New Zealand Blues Society website.