13 Jun 2021

He Reo o Te Taiao - A Tribute to Dr Richard Nunns

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 13 June 2021
Richard Nunns, 2009.

Richard Nunns, 2009. Photo: Gareth Watkins Ref PADL-000550 Alexander Turnbull Library.

Te Ahi Kaa pays tribute to Dr Richard Nunns (1945 - 2021). The Ethnomusicologist left an indelible mark on Aotearoa Music and contributed to the revitalisation of tāonga pūoro.  

Dr Hirini Melbourne and Dr Richard Nunns began collaborating in 1989.

Dr Hirini Melbourne and Dr Richard Nunns began collaborating in 1989. Photo: Ross Clayton

In an archival recording in 1998 Dr Richard Nunns told Henare Te Ua about the moment he became interested in tāonga pūoro.  It was in 1961 copy of the Auckland Weekly News, in the centre section there was an article about the traditional instruments of the Māori at around this time, he was moving to Nelson and was close friends with tāonga pūoro maker Brian Flintoff.

“In my small ability to breath voice into these has meant that that kind of Siamese relationship, he’s the design engineer I’m the test pilot…and the final component of that working group has been Hirini Melbourne and his musical skills and his absolute facility with the reo…those three components has meant a very important working relationship in relation to the revival of the instruments.” He told Henare Te Ua in 1998.

But the pairing of both Nunns and Melbourne began in the mid 1970’s the pair met at a concert held at Pipitea marae, then in the 1980’s they crossed paths again at a wānanga about the tāonga pūoro. From the mid 1980’s the pair collaborated on created a large body of work, and creating a buzz and interest amongst those eager to learn tāonga pūoro. The 1994 album ‘Te Ku Te Whe’ is described as a passionate and spiritual album.

Horomona Horo shared a very close friendship with his mentor Richard Nunns.

Horomona Horo shared a very close friendship with his mentor Richard Nunns. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Horomona Horo describes himself as a ‘Piri Paua’ that is a close friend and student of both musicians. A practitioner of tāonga pūoro he travelled with Dr Nunns for many years. Horo remembers who the to establish the music collective ‘Haumanu’.  In an interview recorded this week, he recalled the way in which Nunns moved within Māori communities.

‘He was integral part to the whole revival of tāonga puoro, the connection he had with Hirini Melbourne and Brian Flintoff and the many others… the grieving winds of our traditional Maori musical instruments, the whole revitalisation speaks for itself, it wasn’t only Richard Nunns, Hirini Melbourne that were a part of the renaissance but they played an integral part, the way in which Richard was able to hold on to stories,  share those stories breath music into the instruments connect with people, both in the academic world and anthropological world the Māori world, and basically just sit on the marae and hang out with the whanau and have the whitiwhiti kōrero in the kitchen, on the paepae…he was basically a kōroua, a kaumatua who held a lot of knowledge.”

Richard Nunns and Horomona Horo from the film 'Voices of the Land - Nga Reo o te Whenua'

Richard Nunns and Horomona Horo from the film 'Voices of the Land - Nga Reo o te Whenua' Photo: Dr Paul Wolframm

In 2014 Film Maker and Ethnomusicologist Dr Paul Wolframm directed and wrote the documentary file Voices of the Land – Nga Reo o te Whenua. At that stage of his life Richard Nunns had been living with Parkinson’s for a few years, according to Wolframm he called it his ‘permanent wiri’. The film focuses on the relationship between sound, landscape and relationships. Dr Wolframm filmed on fifteen locations in the South Island, one of which included the Ngarua caves in Takaka.  While some of the locations were difficult to get to, it was importance recording tāonga pūoro in specific areas that mattered during filming.

“I guess it speaks to Richards determination but he wanted to work in this cave he said the sounds here were important it  was an interesting place, I went in and saw the 22 steps down….when he puts his mind to it he is well and truly capable”

At the 2009 APRA Silver Scroll awards Dr Hirini Melbourne was posthumously inducted in the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame. Dr Richard Nunns was also inducted where he gave thanks to the many Māori elders who had supported his music over the years, he also thanked and his fellow musicians and whanau. Te Ahi Kaa features coverage of the induction hosted by musician Moana Maniapoto and Horomona Horo.

Featured Music on Te Ahi Kaa

Te Wao Nui a Tane
Waiata: Te Putorino a Raukatauri, Rere Aorangi
Composer: Hirini Melbourne

Album: Te Ku Te Whe
Waiata: Tangi Koauau, Takapau Horanui, Hau, Raukatauri, Koau, Tumatakokiri, Porotiti
Composer: Hirini Melbourne, Richard Nunns
Label: Rattle

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