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Composer

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  • Willow Macky

  • Born: 1921 Deceased: 2006
  • Fully Represented SOUNZ Composer

Biography

Willow Macky is one of New Zealand’s great, but largely unheralded composer of New Zealand songs. It would be unusual to have attended an end of year school assembly in New Zealand in the last 40 years and not have sung her work Te Harinui – A New Zealand Carol. Of her prodigious output of over 113 songs and 92 lyrics, Willow wrote mostly folk songs, even a folk opera called The Maori Flute. She also wrote over 300 poems.

Willow is a great exponent of writing about local experiences, history, people and places, including Maori legend and tradition. In fact the reason she started writing songs was because while she had collected many folksongs from around the world, she couldn’t find any about Auckland. This led to Waitemata Harbour, and later Tamaki Moonlight. Singing about her own city seems to have received a mixed reaction – in interview in 1994 she remembered people laughing when she sang the line “I love to go down to old Mission Bay” in Tamaki Moonlight because of the strangeness of hearing a local place mentioned in a ballad.

One of Willow’s ‘breaks’ was meeting Swedish-American balladeer William Clauson on his visit to New Zealand in 1959. He recorded five of Willow’s songs, including one she wrote specially, set to a melody he particularly liked – it was a tradition for each country he visited to supply different words to the same tune. That song was The Bishop and the Tohunga.

The great bass singer Inia Te Wiata praised Willow’s songs as “the only New Zealand composer besides Alfred Hill who can capture the authentic Maori atmosphere.” Willow’s career spans the time when issues of cultural representation and sensitivity were coming to the fore. By 1990 she had revised her 1964 composition Waitangi Anthem, because she found “as time went on I began to realise that the words of the anthem did not adequately reflect, in these changing times, the feelings of the Maori community about the Treaty.” Willow’s life and work are a valuable part of the story of New Zealand music. As Willow observed over 40 years ago “we have something to sing about – a land as beautiful, interesting and worthy as any other … we wish to pay [New Zealand] a tribute which is long overdue and give pleasure to our people and all others who wish to hear.”

Willow passed away on 9 December, 2006, aged 85.

Source: Catherine Langabeer, courtesy of APRA.

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