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Composer

Main picture for
  • Helen Fisher

  • Born: 1942
  • Fully Represented SOUNZ Composer

Few composers have blended Maori and European traditions so subtly and sympathetically as Helen Fisher.
(William Dart)

Biography

Helen spent her childhood years in Mapua, Nelson, before going to secondary school in Wellington. In 1964 she completed a B.A. in English at Canterbury University then she taught English, Music and French in some New Zealand and Canadian secondary schools. While raising her family of three daughters, she studied music at Victoria University. In 1986 she began composition studies with Ross Harris, David Farquhar and Jack Body and in 1987, her Woodwind Trio won first prize in Victoria University’s Composers’ Competition and in 1989 Pounamu won second prize. She graduated B. Mus. (Hons) in composition in 1991.

In 1990 and 1991, Helen held the Arts Council residency of Composer-in-Schools in the Wellington region. In 1990, her choral work Pounamu was performed in the Asian Music Festival in Japan, In 1993, she initiated the first New Zealand Composing Women’s Festival. Since 1992 she has been working in Wellington as a free-lance composer, receiving commissions to compose for a variety of vocal and instrumental ensembles and also for dance theatre. Two CDs of her chamber music have received critical acclaim, Matairangi – Helen Fisher Chamber Music (Fisher CD) and Taku Wana – The Enduring Spirit (Atoll ACD 203). Her compositions have been performed in Europe, United Kingdom, Asia, United States and Australia and regularly in New Zealand. In 2005 and 2006, her harp solo Otari has been performed in international harp festivals in USA, England and Australia by Carolyn Mills and Helen Webby.

Beginning with her first major composition, Te Tangi A Te Matui (1986), many of Helen’s compositions reflect her commitment to her bicultural journey with Maori. Helen has collaborated extensively with Maori performing artists, such as in Taku Wana, a large scale music drama premiered in Nelson in 1998, and also in Tete Kura, premiered by Te Waka Huia and the New Zealand Youth Choir in 2000.

Overall, it is her own Celtic heritage, Maori culture and the New Zealand environment in its broadest sense that inspire her compositions.

Source: Helen Fisher, June 2007

Selected Works

Bone of Contention a dance work for mezzo-soprano and ensemble  
Ko Wharepapa Te Maunga for brass octet  
Matairangi-1 for cello and piano  
Matairangi-2 for flute, viola and harp  
Muriranga-whenua for two flutes  
Nga Taniwha bicultural work for dance and school instrumentalists  
Nga Tapuwae o Kupe (The Footprints of Kupe) a bicultural work for school choir, instruments and dance  
Pounamu for SSAATB choir, alto soloist and koauau  
String Quartet for string quartet  
Taku Wana - The Enduring Spirit for two mezzo sopranos, Kai-karanga, taonga puoro (traditional Maori instruments), flute/piccolo, bodhran, string quartet  

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