9 Apr 2024

More Mana for the NZ String Quartet

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 9 April 2024
Violinist Mana Waiariki

Violinist Mana Waiariki Photo: Will Wragg

Mana Waiariki is four weeks into her internship with the New Zealand String Quartet, and she's loving it.

"It's a lot of fun to learn about what the admin side of the Quartet does. I mean, we know what they're like on stage which is amazing, and the team behind is sensational."

Waiariki's official title is 'Events Assistant' and the job's been made possible through the support of Toi Māori Aotearoa, in a programme fostering more Māori management in the arts.

Other arts organisations are also taking advantage of the scheme. In the same intake as Waiariki are budding managers heading off to Artspace in Auckland, and the New Zealand International Film Festival in Wellington.

It's Waiariki's first full time job since she completed her violin performance degree - under the tutelage of NZSQ's first violin Helene Pohl - at Victoria University last year.

Not that she's been idle. As a freelance musician, Waiariki's been doing everything from teaching the children's ensemble Arohanui Strings, to being part of Callum Allardice's 40-strong jazz orchestra at Hannah Playhouse last month.

NZ String Quartet performing Hine-pu-te-hue

The New Zealand String Quartet. That's Mana Waiariki's violin teacher on the left. Photo: Aotearoa NZ Festival of the Arts

But, as she told RNZ Concert host Bryan Crump, Waiariki has always been an organiser.

"I would really like to pursue a professional performing career, but I'm really not ruling out arts management. I've really come to enjoy it these past four weeks."

As well as helping with the day to day running of the quartet, arranging travel and accommodation, Waiariki is also using her internship to set up a series of concerts called The Racket Lounge.

It's a follow up to a series of concerts run by Leah Thomas (who was an RNZ Concert presenter until she moved to New York to study arts administration) called the Pōneke Sessions.

Those sessions featured a mix of classical musicians performing outside the usual concert venue. Instead of a concert hall, it was a bar.

The New Zealand String Quartet Trust plans to become the umbrella organisation over this new project which Waiariki says is very similar to what Thomas and her Pōneke Sessions tried to achieve.

"It's a concert series that will be held at the [Wellington] bar Bedlam and Squalor, and it'll just be a little hub of creativity for university students and freelancers and even salaried professional musicians to come together, network, and play fantastic music."


Mana Waiariki's idea of a good place to hear Bach, Beethoven and Brubeck. Photo: 123rf.com

The idea, Waiariki says, is to create an environment for the performance of music that gets away from some of the usual more formal trappings of the chamber music scene, where folk - who might like to listen to a bit of Mozart - don't have to worry about what to wear or when to clap.

"And we don't want to limit it to classical music, we want to branch out into jazz, and another thing we're looking at is collaborating with poets."

You could describe it as classical music getting out of its comfort zone so potential listeners don't have to get out of theirs.

And to some extent, the Toi Māori Aotearoa support is enabling Waiariki to extend her comfort zone too, especially when it comes to her own Māori heritage (Te Whanau a Apanui).

Waiariki's mother is Japanese and she's always had a strong bond with that culture, but her father grew up in a family where Māori language was sacrificed in the name of getting on better in the Pakeha world.

"My Dad, his father, grew up in a time when he was beaten at school for speaking Māori, and so he never passed it onto my Dad ... and so I've had to kind of go out of my way to learn Māori, which I think is kind of ridiculous ... but this internship has actually helped me. When I was applying I had to talk to a higher-up [member] of my Iwi which I hadn't done before and it was kind of digging into the family history... That's been quite a special moment and I hope the momentum goes through with that."

And after the internship, will Waiariki go back to freelance playing?

"I miss playing so often now. I hope my teacher isn't listening, but I haven't been practising every day."

We hope her teacher will be understanding. After all, she's getting the benefit of Waiariki's organisational skills.