Just in time for the festive season, our national chamber choir Voices New Zealand presents ‘Follow That Star’, a southern hemisphere Christmas collection of New Zealand Choral Music. In the midst of the pandemic, six New Zealand composers (five are represented here) were commissioned by Voices New Zealand and Artistic Director, Karen Grylls, to reimagine familiar Christmas tunes. The new works set old tunes, some with the atmosphere of centuries old traditions and some with the stories and traditions from New Zealand.
Karen Grylls shares her insight on the new collection:
The idea of the three kings being instructed by Herod to follow the star south to Bethlehem to find the Christ child, is at the centre of this collection. And so this EP invites you, the listener, to take a journey, a pilgrimage, much like the magi’s, but much further south to New Zealand, where the story continues.
The initial sounds of the Gregorian plainchant from the high-vaulted cathedrals of the North make their way South for Abel Tasman’s first New Zealand Christmas in 1642.
“The invasion of Ngāti Tumatakōkiri started at Golden Bay.
By the fall of night many wives would be widow’d,
And all just before Christmas Day.”
For the occasion, two pigs were killed and each man was given an extra ration of arrack (rice wine/brandy). History tells us the meeting of the Ngāti Tumatakōkiri and Tasman’s sailors was a fatal conflict. Wiremu’s deft and many-faceted textures bring together the worlds of the first Christmas in New Zealand and the sounds of the plainchant antiphon sung on Christmas Day in both ancient and contemporary idioms.
Anthony Ritchie’s work asks us to pause and consider the story from the mediaeval carol Es ist ein Ros entsprungen and so we are reminded, through his transcendent writing, about the Virgin Mary.
Gritton’s and De Castro Robinson’s works encapsulate the journey from the northern night sky (the star over Bethlehem most likely an astrological conjunction) to the southern sky’s constellation Southern Cross (an asterism of five stars represented here on this EP by five New Zealand composers). Gritton’s Follow that Star, a “slightly stompy” jazz arrangement, tells how tough it was for the three wise men to find the little town of Bethlehem and repeats Herod’s advice “Just follow that star.” De Castro Robinson’s work Star of Wonder is chant-like, ritualistic and effulgent. Phrases from the well-known carol We Three Kings tell the Christmas story with clearly defined musical constellations punctuated by a refrain of starry fireworks, accompanied by a drum. The final Hallelujah the earth replies is totally radiant.
They’d seen a bright light in the sky,
Without knowing, who, what, when, where, why,
They grabbed their gifts and off they went,
The news is duly celebrated with great acclaim and Christmas spirit. Artley’s Deck the Halls sets the familiar fa, la, la refrains with jazzy mixed metre textures and harmonic shifts. The two settings of Nova, nova tell the good news with Chilcott’s “hard and folksy” mixed metre setting and to end the EP, a setting by Samoan composer, Igelese Ete. Ete suggests his work lends itself to a cross cultural interpretation, through the colour of the texture. The burden opens with a solo in Latin and then in Samoan, including the use of the ‘clap’ (po) and the vocal chant at the end of the piece (ho). And so the mystery remains…
The Shepherds Godfrey Rust
It was done plainly enough.
The night sky was a perfect billboard,
the sound effects spectacular.
Only a few were awake
and in the right place
at the right time when heaven,
unable to contain its amazement any longer,
spilled out momentarily onto earth
and explained itself.
The message was clear as day
but his timing was, as always, surprising,
and the show ran
for one performance only.
Used with permission © Godfrey Rust, www.wordsout.co.uk