As a music writer, reviewer, and collector, I am always fascinated by places that value music, and acquire collections of it. Not only public libraries, who provide access to material that may not be always available in this country, but also institutions like Radio NZ, whose (internal) music library is vast, providing listeners with the opportunity to hear things that they would may never had come across before.
Apart from the Alexander Turnbull Library (ATL) in Wellington, few heritage institutions have substantial collections devoted to solely local music of all genres and eras. Hocken Collections in Dunedin is one of these places, and I, as their music/AV librarian, manage, maintain, and (the most fun part) develop the music holdings, adding to the already sprawling, detailed, and unique range of sound and vision.
Like the ATL, the collections are in-house, and closed stack – to protect the heritage items they stay in the library, and the stacks can’t be browsed, though you can search through the catalogue and request items.
Dr Thomas Morland Hocken settled in Dunedin in the 1860s, and was the city’s coroner for 22 years. A collector, he amassed 4000 ‘items’ (books, pamphlets, artworks, and other pieces) on how NZ came to be, and bequeathed these items to the people of New Zealand, to be managed by the University of Otago. The original library opened in 1910 in a wing of the local museum, and today is located in the former Otago Dairy Co-operative building. Hocken Collections is therefore a mix of public and university libraries, balancing the requests and demands that each type of collection brings.
Originally there was no music (recorded or notated) in Hocken’s material, and it wasn’t until 1977 that recorded music performed or written by NZ artists started to be collected seriously. (In-between the years of 1910 and 1977, music that was considered ‘high art’ or ethnographically significant was chosen for preservation.) Recorded music was collected intensely from 1977 to the early ’80s, and then music posters, publications, ephemera and sheet music were added to the acquisition policy, with local radio stations and record stores taking part in the drive to acquire. It was from this point that second-hand music in good, playable, condition was accepted for inclusion. While we represent all forms of NZ music, we do focus intently on that written or recorded by artists from Dunedin and the lower South Island – this is our base, so our focus is here.
Today Hocken has over 16,000 items of recorded music on formats including 78rpm disc, vinyl, cassette, CD, VHS video and DVD, equating to over 5,500 listening hours. There are over 2,500 pieces of sheet music, and hundreds of books and journals, including those that had a very short lifespan. And, all of these holdings continue to grow – part of my role is to always looking for new (and old), local, music, of which there is a lot!
We have a very large collection of music posters that cover all genres from classical concerts to current tours and gigs, and in our ephemera collection you can find gems such as personal music certificates from the early 20th Century, to programs, stickers, and badges. Our digital collections are growing, but as we have few items from our stacks digitised, we provide access to the original items, and have a listening area especially for this.
What’s in the vaults? Rarities, hit albums, video collections, some of the first recordings of music in New Zealand, Maori and Pacific music compilations and archival material, recordings by artists on obscure, independent labels, rare sheet music… a history of NZ music in riches. Our earliest recording is from 1905: a recording of Maiden of Morven by Wellington-born baritone John Prouse. Recorded in London, there were only 12 copies of this pressing sent to Australasia. This recording is a true gem, and one we are incredibly lucky to have.
There is a significant collection of original recordings by Ana Hato and Deane Waretini, the first artists to record in NZ (in Rotorua, 1927 for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York). There is also a substantial selection of TANZA discs, a collection of APRA Silver Scroll-nominated songs on 45rpm disc from 1965 to 1978 (thanks to a generous donation from APRA in 1978), and an ever-growing collection of Kiwi Hit Discs, courtesy of NZ On Air.
Hocken is fortunate to have a wide-ranging collection of original-release material from Flying Nun and Xpressway artists: we were collecting the material when it was released as many of the musicians were (and still are) locally-based.
What I’ve listed above really only scratches the surface of the holdings. Dig deeper, and you can find unreleased live recordings, back catalogues of forgotten local hit-makers, limited releases, 45s of Maori language pronunciation, spoken word recordings of poetry and drama, political satires in song, large box sets… the list goes on.
You will find rare and fragile first and second editions of the sheet music to God Defend New Zealand, songs that document our involvement and attitudes to war, and sheet music of waiata. Delve into Hocken’s archives, and you will see historical records and photographs of early local music associations, bands, societies and groups, as well as the personal papers, and music by contemporary composers and performers such as Dr. Anthony Ritchie and Maurice Till. In our stacks, treasures are plentiful.
Why keep the music in an institution like this, especially in an increasingly digital era?
So much music from our past has been lost, with little of it digitised and re-issued for the modern age. Heritage repositories like Hocken Collections keep these items as a musical record of who we are as a country. These collections show how our tastes and tolerances change; what we take from international styles and cultures and assimilate it into our own unique approach; how we have developed our own sounds and styles. Preserving all recordings allows us access to our past cultures, and reminds us of the talent we have fostered.
What next for the collection?
Expanding the holdings for obscure local material, filling in gaps, exciting projects, and exploring more options for digitising material, along with continuing our acquisition of a broad overview of NZ audio and visual musical material are among our priorities. We are always wanting researchers, writers and musicians to explore our holdings, and hear our treasures, and are constantly keen to accept donations of NZ music: we never know when the next rare musical gem will appear. Maybe you can help us locate it.