The story of Hawke’s Bay’s classical musical life is filled with a large cast of players, passionate supporters and fine musicians, many of whom have devoted their lives to bringing classical music to our communities.
We are a region blessed with musical opportunities thanks to the dedication of many people over the years – too many to name in one story – who have paved the way for what we enjoy as a thriving classical music scene.
For a provincial region with a modest population, we’re punching above our classical musical weight.
We have a smorgasbord of musical offerings on our doorstep: country music clubs, rock bands, jazz groups, orchestras, a soul choir, and everything in between. We also have a deep pool of talent; people who have always called Napier and Hastings home and those who have chosen Hawke’s Bay as a place to live and who are willing to share their talents with us.
The thing about provincial towns and cities is that their cultural life often lies underground, out of sight and undiscovered. Uncovering Hawke’s Bay’s classical musical life is to find a region full of rich experiences and opportunities for young and old, the talented and the enthusiastic.
How as a region we came to have such a bountiful classical musical offering is complex and made up of many moving parts.
One of the key ‘players’ is José Aparicio, a leading light in Hawke’s Bay’s musical life, and energetic proponent of the benefits music brings to us as people and as communities. He is music director of Napier City Choir, principal conductor of the Hawke’s Bay Orchestra, artistic director of Project Prima Volta (PPV), and a private singing and flute coach.
José says the region is enjoying a “golden era” of cultural offerings.
“Hawke’s Bay sits in a place that is appealing to Aucklanders and Wellingtonians and has a fabulous level of culture on offer for the population that it has. Art and culture have always been in Hawke’s Bay’s soul, with strong traditions in theatre and music and people who have dedicated their lives to furthering those traditions.”
When José first arrived here from Alicante in 2009, he and wife Anna (opera singer Anna Pierard) “immersed themselves” in the community, seeing opportunities to develop the existing musical offerings.
“There is no doubt musical and artistic life existed here at that time, but we were keen to create different programmes and new ways of delivering them,” says José. “To do that we needed the full support of the community, which we’ve had from day one. We were so lucky to meet people like Ruth Thomas and Raewyn Newcomb, who played major roles in the musical community at the time.”
José says that any artistic group is of vital importance to the health and wellbeing of communities and societies.
“Not only do these groups bring focus, joy, expression and a sense of achievement to all of their members, it also reminds our society of the great beauty of arts in a deeper way, at times when artifice is the common denominator in entertainment.”
Many strings to our bows
Hawke’s Bay’s orchestral life is rich and varied, catering for people of all ages and abilities.
Peter Williams is a musician who has been instrumental in shaping Hawke’s Bay’s classical music scene.
Peter arrived in Hawke’s Bay in 1966 to take up a teaching position at Napier
Boys’ High School and was music tutor at the Community College (now EIT) from 1975 to 1989. He formed and conducted the Evening Orchestra – part of the extensive night class programme at NBHS – which became the Hawke’s Bay Regional Orchestra.
Peter was also the president of the Institute of Registered Music Teachers, the Trinity College London local representative for 27 years, and conductor of the Trinity Methodist Choir and the Napier Civic Choir. Many will know him from reading his concert reviews and previews in local newspapers, which he wrote for 50 years. Violinist and teacher Norma Smith played in the Evening Orchestra when she was in her 20s and says Peter was a “driving force” in the region’s classical music scene.
“We put on some great performances with concert pianists, including Maurice Till and Diedre Irons in the 1980s, with the orchestra made up of local players. Today I still play alongside musicians who were in the Evening Orchestra – it’s been a long association.”
The Regional Orchestra stopped making music when Peter Williams retired in 1989 but emerged again a few years later in a new form as the Hawke’s Bay Orchestra (HBO).
HBO is a unique group compared to other regional orchestras. A core of local players is supplemented come concert time by professional musicians from around the country. This allows HBO to become a full-strength symphony orchestra and play repertoire of significant standard. The orchestra also regularly accompanies the Napier Civic Choir and works closely with Festival Opera.
José, HBO’s principal conductor, has worked with many professional orchestras in his career and says Hawke’s Bay is very lucky to have professional musicians living here.
“It is exceptionally good for a group like HBO, because the amateur players in the orchestra get to play alongside phenomenal quality players every week, which enhances their playing and also raises their expectations. The concerts have a standard of playing uncommon for a group the size of HBO and definitely a level above most regional orchestras.”
The Hawke’s Bay Orchestral Society, the longest running organisation of its kind in the country, has a mandate to “provide opportunities for musical education and cultural experiences” and does just that through its stable of three orchestras.
For young people there is the Training Orchestra designed to develop the skills needed to progress on to the Youth Orchestra. It’s an audition-free group taken by Mary McHattie, and the only thing needed is an ability between grades 2 and 5, and a bellyful of enthusiasm.
The Youth Orchestra is made up of more advanced young players, introducing them to the challenges of symphonic repertoire and presenting both formal and informal performances. Conducted by Sue Melville for more than 25 years, the baton is now held by Kimbali Harding.
For adults who are either coming back to music after an extended break or have started learning an instrument later in life, the Community Orchestra taken by Charlotte van Asch is the perfect place to start.
The Community Orchestra is where my orchestral journey restarted. The last group I played in before moving to Hawke’s Bay was the New Zealand Secondary Schools orchestra way back when. Picking up a cello after a 30 year hiatus was done with equal parts trepidation and excitement. I needn’t have worried. The Community Orchestra was full of people like me and the perfect place to ‘get back on the horse’. We laughed as much as we played and it was a fabulous grounding for what was to come.
A few short years later, I am now a cellist in the Hawke’s Bay Orchestra, playing alongside some incredibly talented musicians and experiencing the thrill of playing huge symphonic works and interesting repertoire.
Smaller scale string groups are also an important part in Hawke’s Bay’s classical life, two of which are Concord Strings and Cathedral Strings.
Vincent James established Concord Strings over 40 years ago, a string orchestra performing more intimate chamber music works. Concord accompanied many guest soloists over the years and regularly performed with the Linden Singers and Hastings Choral Society. When Vincent retired in 2019, the group morphed into Cathedral Strings under the baton of Anthony Tattersall, accompanying the Napier Cathedral Choir and also presenting their own concerts.
“It seems that there is a lot of opportunity for players at all different levels,” says Norma Smith. “There’s a lot of talent and it’s wonderful to see people return to the Bay sharing their talents. Playing in these groups is such a lovely pleasurable thing to do.”
The Hastings Music Society’s origins date back to the 1930s when it was known as the British Music Society. Today, it holds monthly concerts at St Matthew’s Church in Hastings. Vocal and instrumental musicians of all ages are given the opportunity to perform in front of a loyal audience, and rewarded with a cup of tea and a scone at the end. The Society also organises the monthly “Around the Piano” free concerts in Havelock North.
Mention must be made of the exceptional work done in schools to encourage the next generation of classical musicians.
Long-time Hawke’s Bay music educator Ngaire Shand delivers free violin and cello lessons from a team of dedicated tutors through her Orokohanga Music Trust for students in the community who would not otherwise have the opportunity to learn an instrument. Another, Or-ches-trate, is a young emerging artist programme that provides educational and performance opportunities for Hawke’s Bay school students. Or-ches-trate is coordinated by Raewyn Newcomb and principal guest tutor and conductor Gregory Squire of the NZ Symphony Orchestra. The Hawke’s Bay Youth Orchestra has also benefited from professional input through the NZSO’s outreach programme.
Many schools have strong orchestras, as evidenced by the annual ‘Play In Day’, where students from more than 20 intermediate schools gather for a day of learning new pieces culminating in an afternoon performance.
“There’s always been a huge amount of music happening in the Bay,” adds Peter Williams. “I think we absolutely punch above our weight and there have always been many opportunities for musicians here. There was always a youth orchestra in both Hastings and Napier and numerous choirs.”
Sing your heart out
If there is something Hawke’s Bay isn’t short of, it’s choirs. There’s the Napier Civic Choir, the Linden Singers, Hastings Choral Society, community choirs, Project Prima Volta (PPV) and while not classical, a newly formed soul choir.
Each year 30 teenagers from diverse backgrounds are accepted for PPV, a year-long programme of coaching and mentoring culminating in a performance in a fully staged classical opera. PPV students also present their very own opera as part of the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival each year. While the focus is on singing and stage performance, the teens also develop leadership skills, resilience and self-confidence.
In 2013, Anna Pierard and Sarah Walmsley launched Festival Opera to utilise talent in the region to bring world class opera to Hawke’s Bay stages.
“We believe that communities that have music in them are healthier of mind and soul, so we work hard to build the audiences of the future through our outreach programme, delivered in partnership with PPV. Our huge team of volunteers is proof of the connection between giving your time for a community project and positively impacting wellbeing,” says Anna.
For the non-auditioning inclined, there are several go-to choirs.
Napier Civic Choir was formed in 1968. Each year, the NCC and HBO present choral and orchestral musical weekends featuring the choir with local, national and international vocal soloists and leading professional instrumental soloists.
The Hawke’s Bay Community Choir is a social singing group based in Clive. The choir has been singing its heart out for 10 years, now under the tutelage of tenor Tevivi Daniel. No experience is necessary and unlike the other choirs, neither is the ability to read music. The choir hosts small concerts, sings annually at Christmas at a rest home and every two years, takes part in a sing-fest with other choirs in the region.
Hastings Choral Society is also a community choir performing works by a range of composers including opera chorus, folk music, great sacred works, contemporary New Zealand composers and traditional choral repertoire under the guidance of music director Joe Christensen.
Singing teacher and performer Dianne Abraham has lived in Hawke’s Bay since 1989. The soprano has performed with Opera Hawke’s Bay, Napier Operatic and various other musical societies both locally and nationally. Dianne also is a regular soloist for local concerts, but says the opportunities for singers to sustain a career here are limited.
“Classical music is alive and well in Hawke’s Bay, however the professional opportunities lie in the big cities or overseas. There’s not enough classical work to perform consistently here – you must have other strings to your bow. We do have a very high standard of singers and in the past Opera Hawke’s Bay has benefited from some exceptional visiting directors including Raymond Hawthorne, Richard Campion and Sara Brody. They expected, and Hawke’s Bay was rewarded with, operas of an international standard,” she says.
Dianne is also a trustee and board member of Singing School New Zealand, which has been operating for more than 30 years. Established by Beatrice Webster and facilitated by members of the Song and Opera Workshop, the aim of the school is to grow voices of the future – singers not only in Hawke’s Bay but throughout Australasia across multiple genres including musical theatre, classical and crossover – the only singing school in the Southern Hemisphere to cater for all three. The school boasts a faculty of top national and international tutors and gives students an opportunity for one-on-one tutoring to develop confidence, professional links and career paths. The next school is scheduled for January 2023.
And the band played on
There is a small but thriving brass and pipe band culture in Hawke’s Bay. It has a long history, starting in 1868 with the establishment of the Port of Napier Brass Band. In 2014, the Port Band amalgamated with the Hastings Citizen Band to become known as Deco Bay Brass. Like its orchestral counterparts, Deco Bay Brass has invested in the next generation to ensure its future, with an academy band set up, led by the band’s trombone player, Carmel Spencer.
Havelock North High School head of music Robbie Cargill was Deco Bay Brass’ musical director for seven years and is a passionate conductor and horn player.
“Before Deco Brass, I played in the Napier Port Band, and also tutored the NZ National Youth Brass Band. Playing an instrument relies on regular commitment to make progress, but the rewards are worth it. I started playing when I was six and was attracted to the huge sound, size and variety of music a brass ensemble plays – from classical to pop and jazz.
“There are other opportunities for brass players in the Bay too – the Bay Cities Symphonic Band, the Napier Technical Band, plus orchestral brass players can play with the Hawke’s Bay Orchestra or in musical theatre productions as part of a pit orchestra.”
Raising the bar
With more and more people relocating to Hawke’s Bay for its lifestyle, including its cultural offering, the region’s musical bar is being raised. José says the key to any province increasing the standard and breadth of its musical life is developing people’s potential.
“One of the factors essential for growth is the expectation of excellence. You may get there or not, but expecting to achieve or to over-achieve is critical. I was very lucky to have a father who was a conductor and worked with community groups all his life. He pushed every one of them and they delivered to levels you wouldn’t think they’d be capable of. It’s contagious too – when a group is pushed to do their best it encourages everyone else to reach their potential or take on a project above the level of what they think they can achieve.
“I love taking part in those projects and working with those groups. It’s wonderful to see people extending themselves. There’s a sense of magic and it’s magnificent.”
While the opportunities to be involved in classical music here are numerous, the number of adults involved could be higher. I encourage people to dust off their violin cases, warm up their vocal chords and dig out their trumpets and join one of the wonderful groups in the region.
In the words of Plato, music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.
Top photo: Rachel Burt
Jose Aparicio and Peter Williams. Photo: Florence Charvin