‘Pao’ is the name given by Maori to two-lined epigrammatic songs which comment on a wide range of subjects such as love, war, politics or religion; often topical, often improvised. Most of the songs set here were collected in 1864 from Maori prisoners captured during the the land wars in the Waikato area south of Auckland. The couplets are not connected in any way except for the central group, for unaccompanied voice, concerning Pikeri, a character famous at the time for his escapades evading the police; in this instance, enforced separation during a love affair is charted.
The English translations of these pao are used with the kind permission of the late Margaret Orbell, and come from her Maori Poetry, an introductory anthology (Heinemann, 1978).
Pao was commissioned by the Northumberland-based Syrinx Trio, with financial assistance from Northern Arts; the first performance was given by Syrinx in Newcastle in 1981.
The Poems of Spring consist of eight short pieces altogether, written in 1981 when the composer was a third year student at the University of Canterbury. He gave the first performance of the work at the University late in that year. These pieces attempt to contrast the beauty of a Christchurch spring with the pain of a broken relationship. All this is played out against the backdrop of the 1981 Springbok ruby tour which cause so much turmoil in New Zealand at that time.
Undoubtedly, this is one of Whitehead’s more unusual collaborations. The work, intended for five dancers and organ, with soprano added at the composer’s request, was to have been performed in five cathedrals around Britain during the summer of 1982. Due to the cancellation of the dance component however, the work received performance in only one of the cathedrals – Carlisle – but was later presented with a solo dancer, Bronwyn Judge, at the 1987 Sonic Circus in Wellington. The singer on that occasion was Glenys Taylor and the organist Douglas Mews. The composer initially delayed beginning work on the piece, since her sister was expecting a baby, and a Requiem did not seem an appropriate preoccupation. The successful birth was however followed by two close-family deaths and it was these which provided the composer with the emotional impetus to proceed with the composition. (Programme note by Emma Carle and Jack Body).