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Tribute to Jenny McLeod (1941 – 2022)


There’s a time to live
There’s a time for dying
There’s a time to weep
And a time to stop crying
So, sleep my darling, no need to wonder why
And I will sing a lullaby.

– Jenny McLeod (text for There’s a Time to Live, from Childhood)




We were very sad to learn of the passing of New Zealand composer Jenny McLeod on 27 November, at the age of 81. Jenny’s association with NZCF goes back to the very inception of the Choral Federation, with her piece Hymn for a Lady commissioned for performance at the NZCF inaugural conference in 1985. Jenny composed He Iwi Kotahi Tātou – We Are One People for Māori choir, chamber choir and massed choir for NZCF’s Sing Aotearoa festival in 1993 and in the preface to the work, she wrote: “My hope is that He Iwi Kotāhi Tatou might mark a sort of watershed in Māori /Pākehā relations.”

Karen Grylls writes: “I was part of the performance of He Iwi Kotahi Tātou, performed by the delegates of the Sing Aotearoa Festival, NZ Youth Choir and people of Maungarongo, and I felt I was in the presence of musical royalty. In that score there is a page of notes where Jenny wrote “I have tried to provide a vehicle for the members of the NZ Choral Federation and other pākehā to be able to express something of their (and my own) real affection for the Māori people to be able to write some simple words from my heart.”

Karen’s most recent collaboration with Jenny was her work The Poet: A Song Cycle for Chamber Choir and String Quartet (2007) on poems by Janet Frame, a joint commission from Voices NZ and the New Zealand String Quartet. She writes: “I have been privileged also to prepare and record many of her choral works: with the Auckland University Chamber Choir The Courtship of Yonghy-Bonghy Bo (1986); with the University of Auckland Choir Hymn for the Lady (1986); with the New Zealand Youth Choir Childhood (1981) – poems from Ring round the Sun (1980); with Voices New Zealand Dirge for Doomsday (1984). And the Godsongs and the Sun Festival Carols (2001). There are no words to express such a great loss… Moe mai rā e rangatira, moe mai rā e hoa!”

Roy Tankersley, Chair of NZCF Manawatu-Whanganui, was close to Jenny and was privileged to be with her in her last hours at Palmerston North hospital. Roy says: “I sang Jenny’s composition Light of Lights to her more than once in the twilight of Monday. It was a precious experience as I feel it helped her to pass beyond the veil into the afterlife. Look towards the light and carry on. Let the simple heart and hope among us keep our family strong. Thank you, dear Jenny, for the delight in working alongside you bringing some of your new compositions to life.”

Jenny McLeod turned 80 last year and her contribution to NZ music is celebrated in this article Still Burning Bright | Jenny McLeod at 80 published by SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music.

Elizabeth Kerr’s tribute to “one of New Zealand’s most brilliant, inventive and mercurial composers” can be found on her blogsite Five Lines: Jenny McLeod at 80: “to me I’m always me…”

Norman Meehan is working on a biography of Jenny McLeod, scheduled for publication by WUV Press in 2023.