20 Aug 2019

Southern history told through music

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 20 August 2019

The story of settlers of the south will be told through music this week thanks to the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra.

‘From the Southern Marches’ was composed by Anthony Ritchie with text written by the late historian George Griffiths. It tells the story of Māori, Scots, English and Chinese who have settled in Otago.

Cantonese miners at work near Waikaia

Cantonese miners at work near Waikaia Photo: Toitū Otago Settlers Museum

It touches on aspects of early pākehā settlement, interactions with the tangata whenua, the gold rush, the development of industry and the 1925 Exhibition, along with the cultural, social and economic development of the region.

Anthony Ritchie has made some additions for this performance of the work which is more than 20 years old. “I’ve added some taonga pūoro in the sections which involve Māori history,” he says. “The sound worlds would be enhanced by the instruments.”

He’s married the taonga pūoro with the words, including the Toko Toko (stones) used under the line “here lies the sharp-edged pipi shells”.

Dunedin composer, Anthony Ritchie

Dunedin composer, Anthony Ritchie Photo: Gareth Watkins / Lilburn Trust / Wallace Arts Trust

The work, which is about 2 hours long, is a “particular view point” Ritchie says and it “doesn’t pretend to be an accurate history”, but rather “entertainment”. The première of the piece had a full house and piqued locals’ interest.

But the piece does encompass a lot of true historical elements, including slave labour in the 1880s when women were put to work behind sewing machines in terrible conditions. “It’s not all roses and lovely things,” he says.

Alan Edwards was a family friend of George Griffiths. In fact, Griffiths would race around to Edwards’ house with the new composition as it was being put together by Ritchie. Edwards would sit behind the piano and try to interpret what was written on the page. “It was an exciting time to be at the gestation of that,” he says.

Beautiful cityscape after sunset. Nightlight. Dunedin, New Zealand.

Photo: 123RF

Edwards was also part of the choir that first performed the piece in the 1990s. “The Dunedin Town Hall was chocka and… there was a tremendous buzz in the hall,” he says. “As the music began a southerly front came in. [We were] blasted with torrential rain!

“It was some kind of divine intervention.”

The Dunedin Symphony Orchestra will be joined by the City Choir Dunedin, Southern Youth Choir, and soloists Emma Fraser, Anna Leese, Manase Latu and Joel Amosa to perform ‘From The Southern Marches’ at the Dunedin Town Hall on Saturday 24 August.