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Meet the Board
Michael Norris

In our Meet the Board series we invite you to sit down and learn more about each SOUNZ board member. Today we introduce Composers Advisory Panel Chair Micahel Norris.

Give a brief introduction about yourself.

I’m Michael Norris, a composer, programmer, curator, music theorist and lecturer.

What do you do outside of your work at SOUNZ?

I’m Programme Director for the Composition programme at the New Zealand School of Music—Te Kōkī, Artistic Director of Stroma and Editor of Wai-te-ata Music Press.

What is one of your earliest musical memories?

Turning the lights off, turning the gas fire on, putting on my parents’ LP of ‘Music of the Incas’, and pretending I was in deepest Peru.

What do you think makes the music of Aotearoa New Zealand unique?

Openness, tolerance, outward-looking.

Provide a brief overview of your personal journey with music.

One of the hallmarks of my personal journey with music is that I’ve repeatedly dipped my toes into many different musical waters. At high school, I played lead tenor saxophone in the school big band, and also played 2nd clarinet in the Dunedin Youth Orchestra, while teaching myself rudimentary jazz piano. In university, I transitioned to composition being my primary focus, but I also studied gamelan performance and began to experiment with sonic arts, leading to a Masters in electroacoustic composition in London. Around this time I taught myself computer coding and basic digital signal processing. When I returned to New Zealand in 1998, I went through a number of jobs, including arts administrator, concert curator, IT support technician and — to my eternal shame — Y2K compliance auditor. I finally felt I was a composer when I was appointed Composer-in-Residence with the Dunedin Sinfonia in the year 2000, followed by the Mozart Fellowship in 2001. And since being employed at VUW in 2004, I’ve also had to become a lecturer, academic, academic administrator and curriculum developer, all of which have very unique skill-sets.


SOUNZ is an incredibly important ‘hitching post’ for people like myself, not just the cataloguing and hosting of various musical assets, but also if fulfils elements of advocacy, professional development, representation and the ‘raising of consciousness’ amongst the general populace of the importance of the arts.

What is the importance of music in society?

Music provides direct access into our imagination and emotions, but it does so in a highly subjective manner. In other words, we all feel something when we listen to music, but what that something is varies from person to person. As such, while music is often deeply felt and personal, and our appreciation of it grows and changes over time, we find it difficult to quantify or verbalise. In my experience, a broad, intercultural experience of music aligns with (or encourages) a broad openness and empathy. To that end, music is one of the strongest ways of encouraging cooperation, creativity and imagination, and one of the strongest ways of discouraging xenophobia, narrow-mindedness and hate.


SOUNZ blog is designed for expressive discussion and debate amongst the arts and broader community. This is intended to be a safe space so please remember to keep comments respectful and avoid personal attacks, criticisms of specific organisations and defamatory language. Comments are moderated to ensure that they comply with SOUNZ’s Community guidelines.