So, it’s now the 12th of September, the months of work that went into our 20 minute RWC Opening Ceremony have disappeared in the blink of an eye, it’s all done and dusted and I’m at home listening to music that has nothing to do with the Rugby World Cup, for the first time since March. It will be hard to avoid cliché as I write about this experience, because it was so extraordinary. Something like this only comes along once in a lifetime and I want to do it justice, but I guess to an objective reader there’s a certain threshold for positive adjectives, so I’ll try to bear that in mind in the next few paragraphs.
It goes without saying that this was a huge thing to be a part of. I had no idea what I was in for when I took the job. There was a moment of realisation somewhere along the way, not long after I began. I was walking down the street after a meeting where we’d started to discuss the musical requirements in detail and the reality hit me. I stopped dead in my tracks, broke into a cold sweat and thought ‘How on earth did I get myself into this – and (more importantly) how am I going to get myself out?’ So, take it as a given that there were some long hours and some stressful moments along the way. But all of those things pale into insignificance in the context of the event – and that isn’t just hindsight talking.
The personal highlight of this experience has been stepping inside my own culture and seeing it from a totally new perspective. We live where we live and we are who we are, but how many of us ever really explore our immediate environment? We’re much more likely to explore the culture of a foreign country than we are our own. I work in a lot of different areas within the music industry here and so I’m aware of the musical landscape in New Zealand, but I also tend to work within my area of experience – so stepping into unfamiliar worlds and getting involved in them has been illuminating and inspiring for me. Music is the perfect career for an idealist like me, because I think it’s one medium where it really is possible to create an ideal world and bypass the stuff that plagues reality. And if there was ever a forum for an ideal musical world, it would surely be an international event – where you have an opportunity to not only show a huge number of people who you are, but also who you could be, or who you should be.
So, some highlights (and I can’t fit them all in this post, so more will follow in other posts):
1. We gathered 50 Maori men to perform a Pukaea fanfare for the ceremony. What most people watching wouldn’t know is that these men travelled to Auckland from all over New Zealand – and that making up this group were representatives from every single Iwi (tribe) in the country (made possible by Te Puni Kokiri). I guess with the lights and the costumes and the spectacle, it’s easy to imagine that these things are all done for effect… but this group of guys were amazing and I was really overwhelmed to be part of a complete assembly of whakapapa (genealogy) and to witness such an incredible display of pride. When the guys weren’t rehearsing, they kept themselves busy doing Flash Mob Hakas, managing to score a few hundred thousand You Tube hits in the process.
2. I’d heard Cook Island log drums (Drums of the Pacific) performed many times before, but nothing can prepare you for the moment when you’re standing, watching a group of drummers set up, and then one of them starts noodling on a rhythm while everyone else is still talking… your inexperienced ears think he’s just fooling around, and you don’t really discern what he’s doing because it seems to be part of the background noise, but what he’s actually doing is telling the other drummers what pattern they’re about to play and how long they’re going to play for… at which point everyone suddenly and unexpectedly erupts in furious and precise synchronicity for a few seconds – and then, as quickly as they began, they stop and resume talking as if nothing happened. (And you’d think that the drummers would talk very loudly too, because the drums are LOUD, but they don’t – they hardly get above a whisper!)
3. It was pretty great to walk into a meeting with the creative team one day and say ‘I’ve had an idea… I want to get a huge group of ukeleles for the World in Union arrangement…’ and have them say, ‘Great!’ And then to head out into the community and find a person who’s actually capable of assembling a group of ukelele players (New Zealand Ukelele Trust). And then to gather some professional ukelele players in a studio to record the parts – discovering along the way an incredible musical eco-system of passionate performers and fierce educators who can happily burst into any song you can think of. And then, a few months later, to find yourself in a rehearsal room with 100 ukelele players – many of them kids – and hear them start playing a chord that sounds like a flight of butterflies, rendering the rest of the room (about 500 other musicians) silent with such a tiny, gorgeous instrument.