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Composing a piece for a festival presents challenges: the text shouldn't be so tied to that one event that no-one else will want to utilize it, yet it should speak to some aspect of the festival. When approached to write for the Out and Loud choral festival, I searched for something suitable to set. Eventually I sent the challenge back to the organising committee to come up with a text, and Me He Korokoro Tui was the result (slightly re-edited by the composer!).
The words are a mix of Māori and English, contemporary and traditional. They speak of singing, and being united together in song. The words also refer to the tui, one of New Zealand's most musical song-birds.
In the opening and closing sections of the work I used tui calls that had been notated in the early 20th century. In his book Bird-song and New Zealand Song Birds Johannes Andersen notated around seventy distinctive calls of the tui. He noted: 'He sings at all times... by day and by night; at rest and on the wing...', and also commented that '...the notes of this most versatile bird are different in season, new notes being sounded in addition to old ones repeated...'.
The middle section of the work, sung by semi-chorus against simple repeating harmonies, is a traditional Māori text, attributed to Mere Ngamai o Te Wharepouri (Ngati Awa), which is supposed to be a duet between a male and female tui. The first verse suggests the movement of the birds - sung by the male bird. The remaining two sections are the female bird identifying herself, and telling her mate to pick the fruit of a nearby plant for them to eat. The music suggests traditional chant ideas.
The music ranges from the festive and majestic, to the gentle and restrained. The proverb 'Me he korokoro tui' (As sweet throated as the tui) gives the work its title, and also provides a musical refrain which returns a number of times.
Me He Korokoro Tui was commissioned for the Out and Loud Festival 2010 (Auckland, New Zealand), a gathering of gay and lesbian choirs.
Text by members of GALS and traditional Māori text attributed to Mere Ngamai o Te Wharepouri
04 Apr 2010: Out and Loud Choral Festival