New Zealand School of Music, 2017
From very early in the development of what is now the New Zealand School of Music | Te Kōkī (NZSM), there has been a strong focus on music and sound of other cultures.
Contemplating how another culture experiences music, reconsidering how we ourselves experience sound: these are the kinds of questions that have preoccupied NZSM students and lecturers alike since the founding of the Ethnomusicology department at Victoria.
Allan Thomas, the first ethnomusicologist on the Victoria music department's staff, as well as Professor Fred Page, were both internationally-minded. Allan’s research centred around the Pacific islands, particularly Tokelau, Fiji and Futuna.
Fred was involved with the Shanghai and Peking Conservatories in China, being invited twice to attend these schools to give lectures and to comment on the way forward.
Ethnomusicology, a discipline with its roots in the social sciences, explores the relationship people have with music in its broadest definition. However, this is not the only way NZSM has incorporated other cultures into its offerings.
The late Jack Body was extremely influential in New Zealand, and known for his interest in Asian cultures and music. With an infinite appetite for new knowledge, Jack’s work with gamelan has had a continuing influence at NZSM, with students still having the opportunity to learn gamelan in their studies.
Part composer, part ethnomusicologist, Jack is also remembered for his work with field recordings made in foreign lands. He would painstakingly translate from sound to manuscript in the process of creating new works, inspired by his love for the widest world of music.
NZSM boasts an extensive collection of instruments from a range of diverse cultures. This spans Chinese instruments loaned by the Confucius Institute, Māori taonga pūoro, Indian drums, and the two Indonesian gamelan for which the school is well known.
Housed in the recently launched Asia-Pacific Room, the instruments allow students to think about performance and composition in new and exciting ways.
In 2016, Honours student Louisa Nicklin had the opportunity to write a piece to be performed by the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra. Inspired by folk song A Xi (Dance under the Moon), the piece – titled Moonlit Delirium – was for erhu and orchestra.
Erhu is a traditional Chinese bowed string instrument, and an instrument that Louisa had not previously written for – an experience she found both “challenging and rewarding”.
The experience offered her a rather unique chance: to write a fully-fledged orchestral piece with a guaranteed performance, simultaneously allowing her to experiment with new sounds from outside the Western tradition.
The encounter with instruments and musical concepts from outside the Western tradition allows students to expand their musical language, offering them opportunities to acquaint themselves with an array of bold and challenging ideas.
Hosted by the same institution Frederick Page visited some 56 years ago, Louisa was joined by young composers from Britain, America and China, bringing together a range of new voices in the musical world.
Being able to learn new modes of musical thought and expression is invaluable to student at NZSM, encouraging them to follow a diverse range of musical pursuits.
With the opening of the Asia-Pacific Room, marking the 40th anniversary since the arrival of the first gamelan set at Victoria, it is certain that this cross-cultural exchange has a strong, long legacy and an exciting future.