Today is the second day of a Level 4 lock-down in New Zealand – where all non-essential services are closed and all New Zealanders not working in essential fields are quarantined in their homes. The world has suddenly become very small and very quiet due to a pandemic virus that is spreading across the globe – Covid-19.
It is a strange and unsettling time.
Apart from the occasional wash of sound from passing cars on wet roads, the soundtrack in our house is the low hum of the news which is a constant in the background. Punctuating that sober texture is the ebb and flow of my children, who are swinging on a pendulum between cabin-feverish excitement and excruciating boredom.
Everywhere in the world, we see people turning to the arts to sustain them through an uncertain and isolating time.
I’m going to post here about New Zealand music as our confinement continues. For anyone interested in following my musical stream of consciousness over the next few weeks, please feel welcome to come and visit me here.
Where possible, I will provide links to this music on paid subscription services. If you love anything you hear, please pay for it… and share it far and wide. Our music community is taking an enormous hit at the moment.
To begin, I’m going to share a piece of my own – a private track, not available for sale.
‘Goodnight Kiwi’ – a Landscape Prelude I wrote for the pianist Stephen de Pledge.
In 2004, Stephen commissioned twelve New Zealand composers to each write a three minute piece that reflected upon some element of the New Zealand landscape. A genius idea that resulted in a spectacular set of pieces that you can hear in their fullness, recorded by Henry Wong Doe on Rattle Records, HERE – and which you can purchase HERE.
Rather than evoking a physical feature, I chose to write an emotional landscape inspired by an animated Kiwi from my childhood, who symbolically ended the television broadcast every night by turning out the lights, flicking a switch and then climbing a flight of stairs to fall asleep in a satellite dish, with his cat.
I’m posting this piece now, because the Goodnight Kiwi switching off the world feels like a mirror of the current times. And more than any other piece I can think of at this particular moment, it reflects how I’m currently feeling.
Stephen made this recording himself, shortly after the piece was completed. It was recorded by my friend Andre Upston at the Helen Young Studio – Radio New Zealand – the site of many wonderful recordings and happy musical experiences over many decades. This lovely studio was also switched off in 2005 – dismantled and repurposed – for no good reason I can think of. I miss it still.
I played this recording to my Mother as she lay quietly in the Mercy Hospice, also slowly shutting down and switching off in 2004. I miss her too.
This is the last piece of mine that she heard and for that reason, this will always be my favourite recording of it.
At the time I wrote ‘Goodnight Kiwi’ Mum and I were going through a process of looking through her old photographs as she told me the stories behind them. Doing this was a kind of preparation for her imminent departure, a peaceful and beautiful undertaking, and a memory I will always treasure.
I remember looking at my gorgeous young mother in wondrous foreign places with friends… riding camels in the Sahara, visiting the pyramids at Giza, marvelling at Petra… and then at the much frailer version of her next to me. I wondered what her young self would think if she could have seen the two of us looking back at her… what it would be like if photographs were two- way doors.
I think there will be many strange and bittersweet memories created during this time in 2020 – photos taken of all of us sequestered in our newly diminished worlds, reeling at the thought of what is happening around us, reconsidering our existence and reforming our priorities at an unprecedented moment in our history.
I hope we will be able to look back on ourselves, as we are captured at this defining moment in our world, and find beauty and insight in what we see.