W is for
2 sopranos, clarinet, trumpet, drum set, keyboard, violin & double bass [9’] 1997, revised 1999
Commissioner: Dogs of Desire, Albany Symphony Orchestra
Funder: Albany Symphony Orchestra
Premiere (revised version): Marty Elliott & Susan Lewis sopranos, Michael Lowenstern clarinet, Charles Lazerus trumpet, Danny Tunick drumset, Elizabeth di Felice keyboard, Andrea Schultz violin Maureen Llort double bass, Steve Mackey conductor, Taplin Auditorium, Princeton, October 20, 1999.
Living in New York, looking wistfully back to my 1970s New Zealand childhood, my curiosity was sparked as to the origins of Maori action songs — a hybrid form combining traditional movements, borrowed Western melodies and Maori lyrics. Introduced into schools by an enthusiastic physical education specialist in the late 1940’s along with Maori children’s games, it was noted that they were ‘exceedingly good for the body of the pakeha’ (non-Maori). In the 1980s, language nests or kohanga reo further boosted the revival of Maori.
W is for is my response to those early years spent dancing and singing in Maori. The text is an excerpt from a Maori-English dictionary. It begins at waka (canoe) and passes through wakainga (true home, far distant home) and warawara (yearning), arriving finally at wareware — forget, forgotten, forgetful. In a nod to my second language as a new Canadian, the final line comes from Jacques Brel’s ballad ‘On n’oublie rien’ — you forget nothing.