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Meet Composer
Andrew Portman

In this series, we present our new composers. We are proud to introduce Andrew Portman.

Please tell us about yourself and what you do.

I’m a born and bred Aucklander. I’m the youngest of five siblings and we lived on a quarter acre property in Waitakere Township, West Auckland. My Mum, who was a guitarist, organist and pianist, introduced me to the magical world of music. My Dad’s musical contribution was whistling tunes, which he did very well. Evening soirées were a regular feature in our home, where we even had a harpist come along. There was also many an hour spent listening to music on our radiogram along with a vinyl diet of Edvard Grieg, James Last and The Moody Blues. My favourite children’s story was Peter & the Wolf. The mandolin was the first instrument I learnt at the tender young age of 6. I only lasted with that for one year though, I was more keen on playing outside rather than practicing! My Mum taught me the guitar, which I stuck at a little longer than the mandolin. But it was the piano that I finally settled on, with lessons beginning when I was 9. I progressed through all 8 grades and went on to gain my ATCL in piano performance. I enjoyed playing at student recitals and competitions.

After winning a competition in Pukekohe, I went on to compete at the National Piano Competition in Tauranga in 1982. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place-getters were Read Gainsford, Katherine Austin and Marilyn Wilson, respectively. I, however, wasn’t placed. But I should add, that a dozen or so years later I bumped into the 3rd place-getter, Marilyn, who was flatting with my sister, Rachel. Marilyn and I traced our musical paths back, which coincided with the Tauranga competitions in 1982 where we had competed against each other! We hit it off quite well and eventually married a little over 6 years later.

After my graded piano tuition ended, I pursued improvisation. At first this began at home, then I joined a band at church, where I played a synthesizer instead of a piano. I had a steep learning curve to go from an at home piano based improvisation, which gave me time to go over ideas at my leisure, to a live Sunday worship service, where the improvising had to keep in step with the song. Improvising in this live setting developed my skills in a direction that I hadn’t anticipated, but eagerly embraced.

In 2002 I was awarded first prize at a composition competition held in Whangarei, for playing my Spanish styled piece: Danse Spiritoso. Two influencers for that piece were Albéniz and Granados. Danse Spiritoso had grown from a Spanish music themed improvisation for a musical theatre group I was involved with. (I chose to spell Danse with an ’s’ because it was in keeping with the s’s in Spiritoso.)

I now teach piano at my home studio in Glendowie, Auckland. I share this home with my wife, Marilyn and our balletically inclined cat called Giselle! My studio has a grand piano and an upright piano.

I teach a mixture of Classical and Contemporary music. I also encourage my students to improvise and compose, which has inspired me to compose my pieces with the beginner pianist in mind.

My aesthetic direction leans towards Neo-Classical, with chromaticism and altered chords, akin to Jazz, added in for good measure. My structural elements to support that aesthetic are the trio of melody, harmony and rhythm.

Most infants start their musical experience with nursery rhymes; the melody is singable and memorable and forms a lasting bond with the child.

Simple 2 part harmonies enrich the child’s early musical experiences. J.S. Bach introduced his young students to 2 part harmonies, as the first step towards the ongoing development of harmonic comprehension.

Rhythm is the fun element with music. When I think back to my childhood at school, playground activities like clapping games, was a common feature. They were a test of each others skills. Skipping rope games were also highly rhythmic; the regular rope turning (and increasing speed) mixed with the jumper’s combinations of rhythmic steps and jumps, went from simple routines, to more complex ones. Rhythm was a vital and engaging component of those games.

Thus, these three elements form my aesthetic with music making and playing.

I haven’t performed my compositions in concert, yet. However, one memorable musical experience I had was playing piano on a cruise ship bound for Antarctica! After hearing some minimalist piano music played on the ship’s radio one night, I decided to play in that style the next day. While playing my improvising in a minimalist style, I overheard one of the passengers say, “He’s playing the piece we heard on the radio last night.” Job well done, I thought.

I do have two unusual abilities; I can mimic the mosquito sound very well and I can move my eyes independently of each other! (almost like a chameleon’s!)

Please choose 2-3 of your works/albums and tell us about them

Character Pieces

These are in two volumes of 11 pieces each.
Each piece has its own unique flavour.

Volume 1:

‘The Russian’s Pie’
The title can be read as one thing written down, but could be heard as ‘The Russian Spy!’ when spoken. Thus, how we interpret a piece can come from how we hear its title. There is intentional ambiguity in the title.

‘The Junior Womble’s Jaunt’
This was inspired by the 1970’s T.V. show, The Wombles. Written in 6/8, it has a skipping character to it, which reflects the youthful Womble on their outing.

‘Nigel, the 3 Legged Octopus’
This title came out of the 3/8 time signature; the 3 beats as the 3 legs of ’Nigel’ and the 8 represents the normal Octopus’ family having 8 legs.

‘The Chrome-Attic’
This is fashioned around chromatic movement. The mid to high range are bright sounding tones - similar to the shiny look of chrome. The low notes could portray things that go ‘bump’ in the attic.

Volume 2:

‘The Parisian Cat’
This has a Jazz element to it. I imagined a confident cat sauntering along a café lined Parisian road, where Jazz was being played. Maybe the cat catches a glimpse of itself in a shop window and preens itself.

‘Sheep vs Dogs’
The sheep are played on the black notes and the dogs represented on the white notes. The dogs are confrontational, but the sheep are wanting to keep their distance from the annoying dog. I incorporated part of ‘Mary had a little lamb’ into this piece, to help ’soften’ the harshness of the dog and its incessant barking! Can the student hear the ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ feature?

‘Skipping with my Shadow’
This piece is in 6/8 time, which is a perfect fit for skipping. It has the same melody played with both hands one octave apart, until the contrary motion ending; one question comes to mind about the ending, “has the skipping child parted ways with their shadow?”

‘Smarty Pants’
I know in my childhood there were individuals who definitely fitted this title! There is a confidence and self assuredness of the person behind the title of this piece.

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm working on a set of pieces titled “Toy Box Suite.” I have 7 of the planned 8 pieces completed. There is a mixture of musical and non musical toys in this suite. I’ve recorded 3 pieces;

‘Maracas,’ which has a Tango feel to it, but is written in 6/8 time. The Maracas sound is represented with the repeated notes at the end of each phrase.

‘Wooden Blocks,’ is portrayed in the music by the stepping motion of the notes; the blocks could be arranged in steps from low to high. I imagined a hammer tapping on the blocks and their different heights.

’The Drum,’ has a simple and catchy rhythm interspersed with some rhythmic hand clapping.

I’m hoping to have this suite and the 2 Volume works available by December 2021.

How can people contact you? 

I can be contacted via my email: