The Last Goodbye / Hobbit Trilogy

It seems like a very long time ago that this happened… but here’s a link to the closing song from the Hobbit Trilogy – The Last Goodbye.

It was a wonderful thing to collaborate on this song with Fran Walsh, Billy Boyd & Stephen Gallagher… I found myself doing mad and previously unimaginable things, like chatting with Howard Shore on the phone and recording (remotely) in Abbey Road Studio No.2 with Peter Cobbin and Kirsty Whalley at the helm.

It’s extraordinary how much work went into this four minutes of music. Fran wanted the  song to not only complete the Hobbit trilogy but to be a farewell to everyone who had invested their time, energy and care into the creation and enjoyment of all six LOTR / Hobbit films. A huge amount of dedication went into the production of this track.

I began working on the arrangement and, soon after, Billy came up to Auckland where we spent a day with some wonderful musicians at Roundhead studios (Nigel Gavin / mandolin & percussion, Justine Cormack / violin), laying down ideas and putting together demos. A couple of weeks later – after travel back and forth between Auckland and Wellington – I finally found myself in the midst of the most extraordinary recording session of my life. I was at Park Road Post in Wellington in the company of Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, Stephen Gallagher, Billy Boyd, Peter Cobbin and Kirsty Whalley, remotely recording the London Symphony Orchestra who were in Abbey Road, while Howard Shore listened in via Skype from New York. And we had a real, actual Dulcimer player. Outrageous!

Eight new bars of music were added during the session, which – in a testament to the technological  world we live in –  involved me frantically ruling manuscript lines onto the back of used bits of A4 paper lying around the studio, scribbling out the additional music, taking a photograph of it on my phone, texting it to the orchestra contractor in London who sent it to the Abbey Rd printer and had it on the stands being recorded by the orchestra 10 minutes after I’d pressed send.

For anyone who’s interested to know more, there’s a making of documentary too…


Love Will Come Round / The Bellbirds

Bellbirds Jan 13

The Bellbirds

A brief moment of nostalgia…

Malcolm Ibell, sound engineer and live mixer extraordinaire, sent me through this file that he stumbled across when he was cleaning out his hard drive recently. It’s from a live performance that The Bellbirds gave in 2013.  The song is ‘Love Will Come Round’, which I wrote a few months prior to this performance.

Playing in The Bellbirds, with Sandy Mill, Don McGlashan and Sean Donnelly – three of my most favourite and beloved musicians on the planet – was an incredible source of happiness for me. We started an album together, but things happened, children were born, lives were moved back and forth across oceans, careers transformed, and we never quite finished it. Perhaps one day.

Malcolm recorded this live at the Great Lake Festival in Taupo. The quality of the audio is a testament to his sterling work, as this mix came straight off the desk.  It makes me feel most honoured to think I shared a stage with these fine people.

Anyway, here it is…


APRA Silver Scrolls / Best Original Music in a Feature Film

Tane Mahuta

I could not be more delighted about this!

For the first time, APRA – who have presented the legendary Silver Scroll in New Zealand for 49 years, along with the more recent Maioha Award for music in Te Reo and the SOUNZ Contemporary Award for contemporary classical music – offered two awards for screen composers, Best Original Music in a Feature Film and Best Original Music in a Series.

It was my great pleasure to be in the company of Dave Long and Peter Van der Fluit as a nominee for the inaugural feature film award. Dave was nominated for his fantastic score for Beyond The Edge (view the trailer here) about Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay’s ascent of Everest. Peter was nominated for the extraordinary Romeo and Juliet – A Love Song – a trash-opera retelling of the Shakespeare classic, set in a caravan park! And I was nominated for Field Punishment No.1.

Tom McLeod won the award for Best Music in a Series, for his great work on Girl vs. Boy – and he was nominated alongside the super Karl Steven (for Harry) and Andrew McDowell for Wiki the Kiwi. 

I’ve spoken many times before of our intimate industry and the various inspirations and challenges that go along with writing music for screen in a country with a small population and generally modest resources. I don’t envy whoever judged our awards last night because they were certainly asked to compare apples, oranges and (this being New Zealand after all) an untold array of other much richer and stranger fruit. I felt I was winning by simply being mentioned in the same sentence as Dave and Peter.

Apart from anything else, it is wonderful for a music awards ceremony to recognise the work of screen composers because our work is so often, by its nature, invisible – it’s designed to be part of a greater whole. So the idea that it might also considered as a free-standing entity, and listened to for all the details we know are there, but which fall, as they must, into a different context when they are mixed with all the other artful sounds of a film, is quite a lovely one.

The awards last night were bloody brilliant and reminded me of exactly what manner of wonder can come from an environment like ours. Luke Buda – himself an award winning screen composer (for Taika Cohen’s film, Boy) and member of the terrific Phoenix Foundation – was the Musical Director of a show that highlighted the mad, glorious, trail-blazing imaginations that exist – in disproportionately large numbers – within our little cultural enclave. There were epic analog synth performances, a white-clad choir whooping and wailing, throat singing, a gamelan orchestra, a giant banjo made out of a kick drum, fields of distorted sound… And everything was beautiful. And everything was about as far away from the shiny, corporatised Top 40 / X-Factor aesthetic as it’s possible to get. Long live originality and rebelliousness. Long live the people who inhabit the edges and the corners and the rocky outcrops and the dangerous places. And please, please can we keep building a culture that treasures and values original thought and fights for the risk-taking and the experiments that drive culture and creativity forwards.

I could not have been more proud to be part of our music industry.

The score for Field Punishment No.1 was brought into being with much love by many people – not least the writers and producers of the film, Donna Malane and Paula Boock at Lippy Pictures, the ever gentlemanly Pete Burger who directed it, Fraser Brown and his dignified and powerful portrayal of Archie Baxter – and on the musical side, my dear husband Ashley Brown who performed the cello, Nigel Gavin who performed the Ukelele, Justine Cormack, Dianna Cochrane, Amalia Hall, Jess Hindin, Catherine Bowie, Sue Wedde and David Garner who performed strings, Ryan Youens who got all the notes onto paper with tireless diligence, Andre Upston who engineered and mixed the score with Nick Buckton at Native Audio and Radio New Zealand, with his customary ear for detail and musical sensibility, and Tom Miskin, at Images and Sound, who incorporated the score so beautifully into the final mix.

Landscape Preludes / Henry Wong Doe

Landscape Prelude

Rattle Records, the Wallace Arts Trust and the Victoria University Press have come together to release this wonderful recording by Henry Wong Doe of twelve Landscape Preludes by Dame Gillian Whitehead, Ross Harris, Lyell Cresswell, Gareth Farr, Dylan Lardelli, Eve de Castro Robinson, Jack Body, Samuel Holloway, Michael Norris, John Psathas, Jenny McLeod and me.

Originally commissioned by Stephen de Pledge and beautifully performed by Henry, this set of pieces is an incredible snapshot of contemporary music in this country. Twelve completely different musical voices explore their own experience of our landscape and produce twelve completely different perspectives on it.

I feel incredibly honoured to have been included in this company of composers. I love every single one of the preludes. They all have such diverse and extraordinary character and they represent what I think is the great beauty of being a composer in this country – the freedom to pursue our individual artistic ideals from within a genuinely supportive and nurturing community of artists – who are also friends. Stephen’s brilliant commission also illustrates the willingness of performers here to embrace a myriad of different musical approaches and to give them an opportunity to assemble without restriction and form their own whole.

My prelude – Goodnight Kiwi – is very personal. Stephen asked me to write this piece while my mother was in the final stages of a terminal illness. My idea of a ‘landscape’ was completely coloured by the experience of bidding a long goodbye to someone uniquely beloved to me and at that time, everything I saw and felt was coloured by the idea of memory, transience and the fleeting nature of time. So my response, I suppose, was to compose something lingering and nostalgic and to reflect on things that I would always remember with fondness and longing. It was the last piece I wrote that my mother heard –  Stephen recorded a performance of it for Radio New Zealand and I was able to take that recording into the hospice, just days before Mum died, and play it to her.

The fact that a simple, sentimental piece like mine sits alongside the incredible dexterities, complexities, translucencies, pragmatisms, reflections, equations and exuberances of the other composers represented here is part of the genius of Stephen’s commission which provided a point of departure that anchored us to each other, but which also placed no aesthetic chains or judgements on the directions we subsequently took. The complete set is like a thirteenth prelude in a way because it shows us the landscape from above, which really is every time, every season and every culture, finding form in a series of islands.

William Dart, who has long been a champion of New Zealand art and music wrote this super review in the New Zealand Herald (26 July, 2014):

“It has been a long wait, but an amply rewarded one, for Henry Wong Doe’s Landscape Preludes. This set of 12 New Zealand piano pieces has grown and triumphed on the concert stage in the decade since Stephen De Pledge made his first commissions.

Now, thanks to Rattle Records, with simpatico producer Kenneth Young and studio wizard Steve Garden, this iconic collection is available on CD, played by Wong Doe.

Wong Doe is a pianist who tempers flamboyance with poetry; in Gillian Whitehead’s Arapatiki, flames flicker among mellow, mysterious surroundings.

When a virtuoso is called for, Wong Doe is your man.

Lyell Cresswell’s Chiaroscuro streaks in brilliantly hued fury while the heavy industrial density that opens Michael Norris’ Machine Noise sparks and fires.

Dylan Lardelli’s music can be testing but Wong Doe ensures we sense a Bachian tangle under the meteorological malevolence of Reign.

Similarly, the pianist carefully streams and shapes the cycles of spilling out and retraction in Samuel Holloway’s volatileTerrain Vague.

Heard in its entirety, one can pick up special relationships between tracks.

The slow-burn impressionism of Gareth Farr’s A Horizon from Owhiro Bay finds echoes in the glistening sound web of Eve de Castro-Robinson’s This Liquid Drift of Light.

Wong Doe catches the brooding soliloquy of Ross Harris’ Landscape with too few lovers and enjoys bringing out those “deep earth gongs” that tremble under the surface of Jenny McLeod’s Tone Clock XVIII.

There is mischievous humour in Sleeper by the high-profile John Psathas, which plays on three possible definitions of its title. In Jack Body’s The Street Where I Live, Wong Doe’s piano flirts and skirts around the composer’s own voice, whimsically extolling the joys of his Wellington home.

After a captivating 50 minutes of infinitely varied and fascinating “landscapes”, Victoria Kelly’s Goodnight Kiwi is the perfect conclusion.

One of the first of the set to be written, this piece deals out a nostalgia of both time and place, designed to touch the Kiwi heart in all of us.

If you buy just one classical CD this year, make it Landscape Preludes.”

Henry Wong Doe

To purchase or preview the CD on iTunes, please click HERE.

Mana Wahine / Reviews

Mana Wahine : Skirts

Photograph by Kelly Nash

A super review from the NZ Herald this morning. Read it here.
Another lovely one from the Theatre Scenes blog here.
And another from Theatre Review by Raewyn Whyte here.

Mana Wahine / Okareka Dance Company


When I was a student at Auckland University (more than 20 years ago) our orchestra was invited to perform Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’ live with the Douglas Wright Dance Company at the Wellington International Festival of the Arts.

One of the things I remember about that time is that there genuinely seemed to be more heroes for kids like me (of the impassioned, classical music variety) in the mainstream New Zealand media. You could turn on the television and see the live final of the Young Musicians competition or the Young Achievers awards and local documentaries were made about artists and art-forms that were far more obscure and adventurous than anything you’d ever see on public access television today.

And so, I had seen a documentary about Douglas Wright’s work on television – not long before our orchestra was engaged to perform with him – and I’d been well and truly captivated by his work. The documentary was, I think, my first exposure to real contemporary dance (prior to that, it was ‘Cats’) and I remember being amazed by the freedom and physical imagination of the choreography – and by the fact that such incredible work was being made here. Douglas Wright became – and has remained – one of my heroes.

I pine a bit for the good old days – like any self-respecting middle aged person should – because there has been a great deal of change in the creative industries and some of those changes have made it harder to create and harder to survive. But I’m also excited to be composing music here and now – where the seeds people planted back when I was an impressionable teenager have borne such incredible fruit – and where technology is constantly transforming the landscape and creating new worlds to explore and possibilities to embrace. Occupying these worlds is not always easy, comfortable or secure and the audience so often seems to live on the horizon… in sight, but moving away from you as quickly as you can approach them. What keeps me tied to the arts though, is the ocean of endlessly inspiring people and their amazing ideas – along with the enduring hope of making work that articulates the kinds of things I’ve always hoped I could say.

Taiaroa Royal – one of the founders of the Okareka Dance Company – was in the Douglas Wright Dance Company at the time the University Orchestra performed with them. I remember watching him dance and being utterly in awe. I’ve since seen him dance in many other works – and, later, Taane Mete too. They are both unique and beautiful to watch. They could only have come from here. They reveal things that are both immediately recognisable and yet also so powerfully different, honest and confrontational, that you come away changed by them. After two decades of watching them from afar, to be approached by them and invited to collaborate was exciting, humbling… terrifying, actually.

Tai & Taane

Mana Wahine was born from a conversation between Tai and his cousin, Tui Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield, about one of their ancestors – Te Aokapurangi of the Ngati Ohomairangi people – a woman who saved her people from slaughter using her wits, courage, resourcefulness and of course, her feminine power. The work extends from celebrating this story to exploring what female power is, where it comes from and how it is expressed in the world – what it means for Maori women, for Pakeha women and for men. It has been made for the x-chromosone in all of us.

To this end, Tai and Taane invited Malia Johnston to join them in choreographing Mana Wahine. Malia is another one of those people on our creative landscape who is steadily expanding the boundaries of what is possible and exploring the ways that dance can  express something individual and profound. Working with all three choreographers and witnessing the open way in which they’ve been prepared to share and accept each others ideas – along with mine and all of the other collaborators’ involved in this production –  has provided a lot of insight for me (so used to occupying – as I often do – a small room, a computer, a dressing gown and a comparitively isolated creative world). I have a new batch of heroes now.

These things are not small things to be thinking about and experiencing. And composing music in real time alongside the choreography (not to mention the set, the costumes, the images) as everything evolved over a 5 week period, was intense and all-encompassing – and it made for something of a mental and spiritual overload (in the best way).

I thought about my mother (the 10th anniversary of her death coincided with this process), my children, the women in my life, my own conflicts and imperfections – about how I, and other women, see ourselves and each other. What supports us? What holds us back? I thought about Te Ao Maori and Te Ao Pakeha… about my place in this country, how I came to be here, what it means to be here… And then there was feminism, art, music, philosophy. On it goes…

Piece by piece, the music came together. Some music, I wrote in response to conversations I had with Tai, Taane and Malia. They would then put the music to the dancers and respond with movement, gestures or directions. I would respond again to what I saw – and the process continued in that way. Other music, I was inspired to write purely from having seen particular movements or gestures to begin with – and so the feedback loop started from that point. The music evolved as a constant series of responses that looped back into themselves and re-emerged, transformed.

Tui composed several waiata for Mana Wahine and, of course, working with these – and with her – allowed me to engage with the spirit and intention of the work in a completely different way.

I had an amazing experience with Tui in the recording studio at Radio New Zealand, where Andre Upston and I recorded her Karanga (call of welcome), Waerea (prayer of protection) and Patere (chant). The Patere, which you hear at the end of Mana Wahine in its fullness, is essentially a whakapapa (genealogy) of woman.

(With her permission, I’ve reproduced Tui’s composition in its entirety here.)

In Te Reo, Tui describes the origins of life, the nature of Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) in all her forms – “outstretched, unrestrained, sacred, strong, fertile, all-knowing & understanding, unconditionally loving, vital, ecstatic, erotic, physical, spiritual, supreme”. And then the manifestation of Hine Ahu One – the first woman, forged from the earth. And her child Hinetitama – the first female to be born – who also exists in many forms, visceral physical and elemental. Maori spirituality doesn’t avoid the body or the physical nature of existence and I found Tui’s description of the female essence to be incredibly powerful and inspiring – and so very different from the chaste, austere portrayal of women in Western tradition.

Hine-titama by Robyn Kahukiwa

As I was writing the music for Mana Wahine, I thought nothing about whether what I was writing evoked femininity or anything associated with that concept. I thought more about what kind of energy surrounds women, what forces represent us. As it turns out, we’re rather noisy… a lot of the music in this work is percussive and made with natural and organic sounds. There are earthquakes mixed with lakes mixed with pianos mixed with birds mixed with wind mixed with Tui’s voice…

Richard Nunns also lent his voice to the music, which includes many Taonga Puoro – putatara, pukaea, koauau, puotorino, hue, poi a whio whio, purerehua… and many of the elements associated with these instruments have also been used – water, earth and air. It’s worth mentioning that, while Dr Nunns is most certainly of the male persuasion, many of the Taonga Puoro are associated with, and governed by, female energies and goddesses – Hine Raukatauri and Hine Pu Te Hue among others. Click here to read more about the Taonga Puoro and their kaitiaki (guardian spirits).

I also recorded the dancers laughing, breathing, stamping, sliding across the ground. I recorded Tui and myself making a huge assortment of noises… cries, wails, gasps, claps, hisses, grunts and shrieks.

For the following piece of music, which is a duet, I began writing with a single image from rehearsal in my mind – two dancers coming onto the stage, one clinging to the underside of the other like a baby animal. This primal image, which seems delicate but requires such incredible strength on behalf of the dancers, spoke to me. It made me think of my children and everything they mean to me. Contained within it is the conflict between intimacy and independence, the overwhelming love and never-ending paradox of the mother-child relationship. Peace and serenity, glitches, imperfections and frustrations – all trying to find their own odd balance, which is different for every mother and every child. The power of the movement in this duet made me think about all of that, where we find ourselves now, some women working and juggling, others at home and also juggling – in a society without precedent – and how our families have been redefined.


In this next piece, the dancers transform their costumes from skirts into men’s coats. I used the piano because, not so long ago, it was the instrument of choice for proper young ladies wishing to display their refinement. As the dancers essentially lose their femininity and take on the mantle of the masculine world, they become more fractured and anxious. Over time, the piece – which has a constant and restless rhythm – includes the sounds of a piano being taken apart (as recorded by the brilliant Tim Prebble – creator of the sound design library HissandaRoar).


This piece also includes fragments of chant by Hildegard of Bingen – the 12th Century Benedictine abbess, visionary, philosopher, artist, mystic and composer. The voices sound smooth to begin with, but over time they are cut up and reassembled.

Hildegard is the first notated female composer in Western musical history. She inhabited a time and place where the Western world was in a state of chaos and darkness, amidst the ruins of the Roman Empire. It was a time dominated by superstition, fear and overwhelmingly patriarchal religious thought. The embers of reason and science were preserved in monasteries, where monks and nuns remained, almost uniquely, literate.

Hildegard – who has since been beatified by the Catholic Church – had profound and physically crippling visions which she translated into texts, compositions and images. In one text, she writes:

“The earth is at the same time mother,
she is mother of all that is natural, mother of all that is human.
She is the mother of all, for contained in her are the seeds of all.
The earth of humankind contains all moisture, all verdancy, all germinating power.
It is in so many ways fruitful. All creation comes from it.
Yet it forms not only the basic raw materials for humankind,
but also the substance of Incarnation.”

Despite knowing that she was a pious and faithful member of the church, there is so much in her work and her philosophy that seems incredibly removed from what I perceive the Church’s way of thinking to have been, during the Dark Ages, when she was alive. I see her as a light in the darkness and her work is prescient, beautiful and revelant today.

There are such beautiful similarities between Hildegard’s vision of the world and Tui’s whakapapa of womanhood – concepts that seem miraculously aligned across centuries, continents and cultures.

It has been a remarkable journey, seeking out and exploring these things which bind us all together.

PATERE / by Tui Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield – accompaniment by Victoria Kelly

Hildegard - Creation

an illumination of Creation by Hildegard von Bingen


Field Punishment No.1 / Screening Date


As part of the approach to the 100th anniversary of ANZAC day, ‘Field Punishment No.1’ has been scheduled to air on April 22nd at 8.30pm on TV One.

To watch the trailer, click HERE.

Wilfred Owen wrote “All a poet can do today is warn.”

Despite their philosophical differences, I think there were many similarities between Wilfred Owen and Archibald Baxter, whose story is told in Field Punishment No.1 – not the least of which was their fierce and public condemnation of war. One of them fought and one of them objected, but both protested as loudly as they could.

Baxter’s story is both harrowing and inspiring. Despite his actions being seemingly at odds with those of the soldiers fighting in the trenches, I don’t think it’s inappropriate for his tale to be told while we celebrate the men who fought. All of these men were fighting for what they believed in. They all had to find, within themselves, superhuman reserves of courage and strength. I’m sure all of them would have ended the war in an instant if they could have. The motivations and machinations of their generals and leaders must have seemed very distant abstractions to them as they lay sick, injured and lice-infested in the trenches.


1914 – British and German troops celebrate Christmas together having put their guns down and stepped out of the trenches to share some beer and cigarettes for a day. (Photograph taken from Eyewitness to History)

War commands people to cast aside their humanity at the same time as commanding them to fight for it. It orders people to kill other people’s children to protect their own. But just as I can understand Baxter’s refusal to engage in such a brutal event, how can I not be grateful to the soldiers who endured it in order to defend their freedom and way of life – and mine, 100 years later? The circumstances of war aren’t simple and if there were clear solutions to the problems at the heart of these conflicts, surely they would never begin. I feel that the subject is big enough to allow room for us to embrace more than one view, more than one story, in our attempts to better understand it.

So I am asking myself, in honour of this bittersweet anniversary – what am I doing to defend my freedom and my way of life? And I think that, if I want to honour the memory of the people who fought for those things on my behalf, I need to keep asking myself that question every day.

A hundred years have passed and wars continue to be waged all over the planet – no longer in trenches but now with drones, computers, satellites and, not least, the global media with its capacity to influence, persuade, distract and – horrifyingly – its directive to entertain.

In New Zealand, we live in peace. But here, and in many other parts of the world, issues like racism, widening economic gulfs, the corporate conquest of nature and the environment, and the pursuit of profit without social accountability are things that  compound and conspire to threaten the peace we are so fortunate to have. If we fail to consider how fragile this luxury of peace really is, how vulnerable our civility is in the face of violence, injustice and deprivation – and how high the standards to which we hold our leaders and politicians must be in order to protect our freedom – then I don’t think we are honouring the memory of our soldiers.

Every time we find ourselves distracted by celebrities, by clothing labels, by how we look, by how much we weigh, by how big our cars are, by how much we earn, we should ask ourselves; Why we are being distracted? Who is distracting us? And in whose best interests are we being distracted? I’m not talking about conspiracy theories – I’m talking about the ways in which we’re conditioned to make the meaningless meaningful so that we slowly lose our power, our autonomy, our self-esteem and our perception of value. We should ask ourselves whether we are awake to the ways in which our most basic freedoms are being threatened – quietly, insidiously and on a daily basis. And about how complicit we are in allowing this to happen – how willing we are to give our freedom up.

I don’t think the political forces that create wars appear suddenly, from nowhere. I think they gestate in the deep, discontented corners of ourselves. They reproduce themselves in living rooms, schools, offices and churches…

So when we remember our soldiers and the people who loved them, opposed them, were killed by them or saved by them, we should also think about the tightrope we walk during times of peace – what peace means and why we must never take it for granted.

Baxter survived being sent to the front. Owen was killed in action, exactly a week before the Armistice. Owen was a soldier as much as he was a poet – he wanted to fight, to defend “the language of Keats” as he put it. But he wrote not of patriotism and glory, he wrote about the truth of what he saw – horror and waste – just as Baxter did.

None of us are as different as our shadow selves would have us think. Delegations from New Zealand and Australia will be travelling to Gallipoli this month – to stand together with their former enemies in the place where their ancestors fought and died. In Memorial Cove there is a commemorative wall with these words, written in 1934 by Ataturk, who commanded the Turks military response to our Allied soldiers:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”