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Mary Celeste

Composer, Jazz Composer


Mary Celeste is a composer and orchestrator who was born in Wellington and currently lives in Nelson.

Mary writes for choir, small chamber or jazz ensembles and orchestras. Her music could be described as neo-renaissance, though some of what she has written could definitely be categorised as jazz. And a recent composition, Pentatonic Polyphony: a Japanese folk song deconstructed, for alto sax, alto flute and piano, was inspired by a Japanese folk song.

An ongoing project, Motet for a Starling called Matisse, is a series of a cappella choral pieces about Mary’s rescued starling, Matisse, who has lived with her since 2013 when Matisse was a week old and fell out of her nest. These works explore the relationship between birds and their human companions. Some of these pieces were sung by Chroma Chamber Choir at a concert in Nelson with Matisse starring as guest soloist.

Mary was recently commissioned to orchestrate a short piece for another composer, scored for fourteen instruments. Its inaugural performance was in late 2022 by Greenhill Orchestra in Nelson.

Mary has a rather diverse musical background. She learned piano from the age of five and viola and saxophone later on. She played saxophone and piano in an all-woman jazz/rock band for a number of years and wrote music for them.

She lived in Japan for six years and studied Japanese language and Japanese traditional folk song. She was the only non-Japanese member of a Japanese folk song taiko (drum) group in Utsunomiya (a city in the Kanto region north of Tokyo) and played in numerous concerts with the group and solo at local festivals.

She is also a lifelong choral singer and has sung tenor with Chroma Chamber Choir in Nelson for the last five years. A highlight of her earliest choral career was being one of two children from her high school, Tawa College, that were chosen to be part of a girls choir to sing with the NZSO for the Queen Mother.

Her MA in Applied Linguistics and her career as a teacher of English and Japanese probably have no bearing on her life in composition other than leaving less time for it.

Her musical aesthetic is most influenced by her love of renaissance and baroque music, new music, jazz, and Japanese folk song.

Composed (3)

Pentatonic polyphony: a Japanese folk song deconstructed

for alto saxophone, alto flute and piano, 3m 20s

Pentatonic polyphony: a Japanese folk song deconstructed

arranged for violin, viola and piano, 3m 20s

Strange creature

for SSAATT vocal sextet or choir, 2m 45s