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Red Contributor

Helen Fisher


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Born: 1942


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). In 2017 her string quartet Luminous Night was premièred at the Adam Chamber Music Festival by the New Zealand String Quartet. 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 was 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.

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

Works (34)

Bone of Contention

a dance work for mezzo-soprano and ensemble, 1h 20m

Bone of Contention

for Scottish pipes

I name this place

for soprano and alto flute, 3m

I name this place

for soprano and tenor recorder, 3m

Just Singing in the Tree

for SA school choir with flute and piano or guitar, 2m

Ko Wharepapa Te Maunga

for brass octet, 9m

Luminous Night

for string quartet


for cello and piano, 10m


for flute, viola and harp, 15m


for two flutes, 6m

Nga Puke Songs

for solo alto and acoustic guitar, 3m

Nga Taniwha

bicultural work for dance and school instrumentalists, 20m

Nga Tapuwae o Kupe (The Footprints of Kupe)

a bicultural work for school choir, instruments and dance, 20m


for solo harp, 17m


vocalise for unaccompanied choir, 5m


for SSAATB choir, alto soloist and koauau, 7m


for solo flute, SSAATB choir, 7m

Rain Games

for SA choir and piano, 2m


for solo flute

String Quartet

for string quartet, 15m

Takiri Mai Te Awatea

for SATB choir and kapa haka group, 30m

Taku Wana - The Enduring Spirit

for SATB choir, kapa haka, Maori and Irish instruments, 3 soloists and orchestra, 1h 2m

Taku Wana - The Enduring Spirit

for two mezzo sopranos, Kai-karanga, taonga puoro (traditional Maori instruments), flute/piccolo, bodhran, string quartet, 37m

Te Puna Waiora (Spring of Living Water)

for soprano or tenor, SATB choir, piano, violin and congregation, 4m

Te Tangi A Te Matui (The Call of the Matui)

for solo flute and alto or soprano voice, 6m

Te Whakaaro Pai Ki Nga Tangata

Maori Christmas carol for SAA girl's choir with conga and bongos, 4m

Te Whakaaro pai ki nga tangata

Christmas carol for SATB choir, bongo and conga, 4m

Tete Kura (Fern Frond)

bicultural work for solo soprano and tenor, choir and kapahaka, 20m

The Wheel Turns

for soprano, flute/piccolo, piano and cello, 36m

Wahine Toa (Strong Women)

a dance work for flute duo and SATB choir, 1h

Wedding March

for bagpipes

Where the River Flows

for piano, 4m

Wings of the Wind

for solo flute, 8m

Woodwind Trio

for flute, clarinet and bassoon, 6m