Dr Kathleen Turner is a singer, songwriter, community musician and researcher. She is Course Director of the MA Community Music at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance and this year’s recipient of the Jerome Hynes Fellowship, supported by the Arts Council of Ireland. She is currently in New Zealand on a cultural trip as part of her fellowship with the Clore Leadership Programme. Here she writes about her experience in New Zealand:
Have you ever had the feeling that you are in just the right place at precisely the right time to experience something truly spectacular? I had this feeling last Friday evening, as I sat in Wellington Harbour, New Zealand, and watched an extraordinary event unfold in front of me. The event was the launch of the New Zealand Festival and I was attending as part of a series of cultural visits during my fellowship with the Clore Leadership Programme. (Clore supports the professional development of 26 cultural leaders from UK, Ireland and around the world and I am delighted to be this year’s Irish fellow, supported by the Arts Council of Ireland.)
As I sat in Wellington harbour, I watched with an audience of thousands, as singers, actors, a mass choir and a fleet of traditional Pacifica boats (Waka) played out the story of renowned Māori voyaging ancestor, Kupe the Navigator. One soloist stood boldly with his arms outstretched, on a platform 30 feet above the water, proclaiming the story of Kupe’s Odyssey. He called out to his great love, a singer who stood on a twin platform on the other side of the harbour and she sang back to him. The mass choir joined her in song and, gradually, as the sun set on Wellington, the story of Kupe unfolded around us. The music built, the fleet of Waka arrived to cheering in the harbour and finally 1000 voices roared into the night in a special Haka. It was a once in a lifetime performance, and I was there to see it.
I have been considering the impact this performance had for me as a professional artist / researcher as well as an audience member. It served as a mighty reminder of the dedication it takes to make great art happen. The performance of Kupe’s Odyssey involved two years of planning, a crew of hundreds and a cast of over one thousand. Each person involved brought expertise, representing thousands of hours of training and years, sometimes decades, of professional relationships. There were singers, actors, composers, professional sailors and navigators, teachers, holders of tradition and culture, specialists in lighting, sound, staging and rigging, not to mention the support professions of security, hospitality and health and safety. The soloist who played Kupe (Te Kohe Tuhaka) alone is just one demonstration of how much work this performance entailed. His posture, diction, breathing, gesture, dynamics – not to mention the sheer guts it must take to stand 30 feet above the ocean with a vast audience looking on – were the culmination of years of professional dedication.
Kupe’s Odyssey reminded me why we do what we do at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance. Why the hours of rehearsal until muscles ache and fingers stiffen? Why the hours spent debating the politics of our artistic decisions? Why the business plans, the funding applications, the internships and workshops, the tech runs and lighting calls, the endless cycles of listen, play, listen back, repeat? Why all of this hard work? Because the work culminates in shared experiences and celebrations of our culture – or cultures. (There are over 40 nationalities represented at the Irish World Academy.)
Perhaps this is why the arts are paired with the humanities. The art we make reminds us what it is to be human, to have a shared sense of story, language, history and personhood. Through arts experiences we have the opportunity to pause and take stock of where we have come from, consider where we are and plan how we move forward. We are navigators, and Kupe’s Odyssey has sharpened my sense of direction.
For further information on Kupe’s Odyssey, visit https://www.festival.co.nz/2018/events/kupe-festival-opening-night/