I sometimes apologise for my Catholic upbringing and say I am a “recovering Catholic”. But, just as venerable historian Michael King did,  I still find myself clinging to some elements of Catholicism: love of text, a sense of ritual and an affection for  the smell of incense and Feast Days: the Feasts of Saint Christopher  the patron saint of travellers and Saint Francis  the patron saint of animals. And of course Saint Patrick's Day when we celebrate  the patron saint of drinking.

 It was late in my music career that I learned that Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music. And I only learned that from reading the back of a Dr John CD where he talked about the origins of Litanie Des Saintes (Litany of the Saints) which he recorded with the Neville Brothers in 1995. A potent gumbo of Cajun and Catholicism; Voodoo and  the crucifixion .

ANZAC Day occurs right at the end of April and heralds the month of May – New Zealand Music Month.  Both are occasions to celebrate identity and a sense of patriotism.  Not to be confused with militarism and jingoism.

 Musicologist Tony Mitchell observes that our history and our songs are interwoven and that the unique character of the  New Zealand landscape accounts for our song lines. The melodic arcs which our songwriters compose trace the curve of the horizon and mountain ranges, their chords reflect  the textures in the long white cloud hanging over our volcanic islands .

On ANZAC Day Radio New Zealand (RNZ) broadcast a series of music programmes which showcased New Zealand composers.  Among them was Chris Cree Brown’s monumental radiophonic sounsdscape Pilgrimage to Gallipoli and John Psathas’ Songs for Simon. It was very moving. Radio for grown-ups.

RNZ also played some other works by modern composers from around the world including the pastoral Theme to Downton Abbey by Scottish composer John Lunn. I went to iTunes and downloaded a number of neo classical tracks including the tracks played by RNZ on ANZAC day and some other pieces by Argentinean composer Astor Piazolla. 

I compiled a mix CD and a few days later I gunned the Caldina along the new Tasman highway listening to the tracks on the car stereo. The drive from Dovedale to Nelson is exactly fifty minutes -the length of a standard album.  Flanked by the picturesque Mapua estuary on one side and the rolling Moutere hills on the other the music fitted the view like a film score.

 I was struck by how well the New Zealand compositions compared with the international pieces. Yes, Psathas has absorbed his Greek heritage into his work (as well as Steve Reich’s ostinatos and Eno’s random electronics) but his compositions are quintessentially music from Aotearoa. Songs for Simon resonated beautifully with the landscape is I tore into the sunset on the Tasman  free way. You had to be there

It was refreshing  to reflect on New Zealand Music month and to be listening to some pointy headed music for a change - not  to be thinking about the annual avalanche of all-so-ran pop releases that jams the airwaves every May.  Big ups to Saint Helen for instigating  New Zealand Music Month in 2000....but,  after 12 years of the inner circle of Kiwi music backslapping each other each May, are we not  post- identity? In a globalised music world are we really still Men Alone?. 

Another new annual music event was launched last week – International Jazz Day. The day was initiated by United Nations jazz ambassador Herbie Hancock who helped organised concerts, media events and workshops throughout the world. This is a natural extension of Hancock’s work as a musician, facilitator, practising Buddhist and world peace maker. Jazz as communion.


 So, I am still a sucker for Feast Days: ANZAC Day, Music Month,International Jazz Day and The Feast of Saint Cecilia sit well with me.  We need moments of pause in a globalised cacophony to stop and think. And be grateful for the work that musicians do to keep our hearts open, our spirits raised.

 Driving into the sun  Memories of converstaions with Hirini Melbourne. My eye on the sparrow swooping; in Mapua skies. (You had to be there).