A serendipitous thing happened to me sometime in 2013 whilst unravelling a soggy newspaper containing a steaming hot pack of fish’n’chips for the whānau dinner. I had been teaching music part-time at a tertiary provider for a couple of years and had been frustrated with some of the content being taught (outdated and uninspiring) – not only what we were delivering, but anecdotally what was being taught by many tertiary music providers around New Zealand.
This wasn’t necessarily the fault of the tutors or even the providers themselves. I felt this was a systemic NZ music education issue that could only be resolved by substantial ‘coal face’ investment into this crazy, fast-paced industry of ours. As I held back the whānau scrum and unpacked the pommes frites, there it was in all its vegetable oil, emblazoned glory: a Massey University logo with blue and gold trim in the employment section calling for a ‘Developer for Bachelor of Commercial Music Degree’. The Universe was whispering.
After a written application and a couple of hearty interviews, I was sitting at a small table with Head of School of Music and Creative Media Production, Andre Ktori (BAFTA, Milia d’Or, Millennium Product) and fellow content developers Nicky Harrop (Audio Culture / MMFNZ) and sound designer and tech wizard Neil Aldridge (King Kong, Avatar, Tintin, The Hobbit). I got the job and we were underway!
Long before I had arrived on the scene there had been considerable framework consultations with numerous stakeholders including NZ On Air, secondary schools, other universities, polytechnics, festivals, musicians, promoters and distributors. Once I had acclimated myself to the barrage of academic acronyms, it became very heartwarming to read in most of the founding documentation, that Māori and Pasifika values and approaches were to be implemented meaningfully into this new music programme. To read foundation gospel like “…the College of Creative Arts has developed a Māori Achievement Strategy that is integrated with the university-wide Kia Mārama Māori Strategy that identifies key initiatives to accelerate Massey’s academic and research agenda for Māori advancement”…well, I was buzzing. There I was developing academic content around commercial music practices, diatonic studies, digital technologies and weaving whakaaro Māori into it all – my dream job!
I initially started to develop the practice modules through genre study, but it became obvious pretty quickly how limiting that was going to be. My holistic thinking turned more towards conceptual and cultural study. Suddenly a giant kūwaha (door) opened up and the karanga came calling.
Our ‘Whakapapa: Informing Practice through Genealogy’ module came first. Birthed from an initial attempt to construct and design a ‘World Music’ focus (which is a ridiculous category to try to fathom!), the concept was presented as a directed study for our students to research their own whakapapa (ancestry) and bring a musical element of their choosing from their ancestry to their practice group. Even though whakapapa is a universal construct, many Māori daily observe this ubiquitous taonga. Our whakapapa module had given us a multi-tongued taiaha (Māori long wooden fighting staff). It validated the model of whakapapa – knowing who you are and where you come from and I believe the key factor to the success of this module has been to make it ‘culturally open’.
It broke the ice and created a safe environment for deeper insight, but it also encouraged tino rangatiratanga (self-determined) research practice into something applicable to all of our students. The output from this paper (and from our students) prompted many teary-eyed moments of joy for this author during performances of Korean folk lyrics sung over Scandinavian death metal bass, married with Celtic droning and Cook Island Pate beats. Stunning and unique.
The next kaupapa Māori implementation came from a fun-filled, informative Ako Aotearoa workshop for Massey Lecturers, led by passionate Kaihautū Mātauranga Māori Educator, Tama Kirikiri. Tama directed our group of lecturers to reflect on the importance of a really basic thing – learning someone’s name and taking the time to learn how to pronounce it properly. In a time where we openly propagate and accept the abbreviation of life by using LOL, OMG, FOMO, TBH’s and LMAO’s, is there an accepted culture of trying to fit more stuff into a day by truncating the quality of everything else? Maybe that’s another article…
Tama asked us to spend some time getting to know the person sitting beside us: their full name, where they came from and something odd about them. Then we each stood up to introduce our newfound friend (he mihi). This placed the onus on us to listen to our neighbour, cerebrally ‘upload’ their details and then recite back to the group – a simple but effective act of collegiality. The giggles and oddities broke the ice to create a space for us all to contribute openly to further discussion. I now exploit this method with all of our first year students as a way of breaking down those intimidating ‘day-one’ nerves so we can get stuck into the existential job of making music!
Finally, our whanaungatanga module revolves around methodologies of connecting with audience and fellow musicians. Encouraging students to meaningfully acknowledge each other’s investment of time and contribution and perpetuates the age-old principle of social inter-dependency (like hunting mammoth together).
In a BBC interview (2015) between singer/songwriter Sam York and French polymath and political advisor Jacques Attali, Sam asks Jacque how a musician can survive in this ‘crisis of proliferation’. Jacques answers, “…the only thing that is rare is time. People are ready to pay for a concert. Which means they are ready to pay for time to spend listening to your music.” If we value our audiences, not just economically, but how treasured their time is, maybe this simple acknowledgement could contribute towards the sonic alchemy that occurs in the studio or on stage.
There are so many kaupapa Māori ideas and values I aim to implement and add into our curriculum: Te Atamira (the stage as a sacred space), He Wāiata Arero (musical intention), Pūoro hei Rongoā (healing through sound), but a big part of our Whare Tapa Whā is to spend time with whānau.
So with my son due back from school any minute, I will leave you with this grouping of lyrics that have recently surfaced – Mai te Taiao, mā te Taiao – From Nature, for Nature.
I acknowledge you all in taking the time to read this article and I hope it might assist you in any future endeavours.
Ngā mihi maioha ki a koutou katoa
Warren Douglas Maxwell
Ngāi Tūhoe / Ngāti Kahungunu / Scottish / English / Norwegian
Reader note: This editorial is sponsored content.