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Talk-ED: “Please be standing …”

Stuart Middleton
17 October 2011

The use of choirs brought together and trained by the New Zealand Choral Federation has been one of the best features of the Rugby World Cup. It has brought a touch of class to that part of the introductions to a test match that are usually without class, musically less than primitive and nothing short of a disgrace.

National Anthems and Songs are not any old tunes. They have a history, they carry huge symbolism and are used generally in a formal manner. They are solemn events that formally recognise the sovereign nature of a country.

To roll out minor pop figures to sing an approximation of these wonder tunes and to gargle their way through what they would claim to be an a cappella version of them is to inflict insult on the country in addition to the embarrassment felt by many listeners. And to support these anthems and songs with the full richness of the NZ Symphony Orchestra is just so much better than what we have had before.

What a joy some of those anthems and songs were – first prize to the Argentineans for an anthem that had an instrumental opening that was of symphonic proportions.

During the period of the Rugby World Cup I attended another event that was also a choral feast. But first the story.

Aorere College in Southern Auckland has a long history of excellence on choral music largely under the direction of Terence Maskell. The choirs were, through the 1990s, arguably and consistently right up in the top echelon of school choirs in New Zealand. And frequently inarguably at the top.

But there were few opportunities for students to continue their signing once they had left school. There had been talk about this but nothing eventuated. Students who had toured widely, sung before all kinds of audiences and many prestigious community and political leaders and developed exceptional skill in choral music were left with few options for continuing.

The Graduate Choir NZ was established to provide just that avenue. It was intended for young singers who had graduated from their school or community choir and could not continue their journey toward choral excellence.

The event was the 10th Anniversary Concert of the Graduate Choir NZ which was a concert of the highest quality music that we have come to expect and get from this choir. A feature of the concert was the premiere of a new Christopher Marshall composition based on capturing a sequence of aural snapshots of Samoan life and culture written for  a double 5-part choir and sung entirely in Samoan. Christopher Marshall has been a pioneer in bringing together the traditions of choral music and those of Samoan culture. This was another wonderful addition to that oeuvre.

Schools are launching-pads for so much that is good – cultural skills, high level music ability, sporting excellence. The grounding that young people get in school is often the trigger for a career or at least a lifetime of enjoyment. Starting young people’s contacts with serious music, with organised sport with other cultural activity is at least as long-lasting and influential in a young person’s life as reading, writing and all that stuff. It is no substitute for those basic skills and indeed real excellence in anything will require those skills to be firmly in place.  

But to inspire young people we have to put the best in front of them. That is why I got excited at the choirs and the world cup. Wonderful renditions rather than the mangling of theses national anthems and songs by pop “wannabes”.  I think it something of a pity that the organisers didn’t quite have enough courage to have continued to use only the choirs right up to the end but at least the soloists who eclipsed the choirs in the last stages were generally worthy.

But excellence it most surely has been.            



Published inEducation

One Comment

  1. Simon Curnow Simon Curnow

    What a first-rate article from Stuart Middleton! I could not agree with him more on two issues. Firstly I endorse wholeheartedly his comments about the touch of class brought to the national anthems and songs by the choirs of the NZCF and the NZSO. Proper arrangements, proper performances. Secondly I agree with him questioning the need for soloists at this end of the tournament. The choirs were doing fine until then and the crowds were singing with them. I wouldn’t have been so gracious about his critique of the soloists chosen for the semi-finals – they got it only about 50% right.

    And yes, I too was at the Graduate Choir NZ’s 10th Anniversary Concert and was blown away by the fabulous sound they make.

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