Taonga Moana - A Love Letter to the Ocean

Taonga Moana – A Love Letter to the Oceans

Hawke's Bay Arts Festival /
Choir: Voices New Zealand; conductor: Karen Grylls /
18 October 2019 /
By Julie Cumberworth

Standing on Marine Parade before this concert, a calm green/blue sea, gulls and a dark-lined horizon, I wondered how on earth a wholeness could be created out of the great risotto of influences identified in the programme notes. From sea serpents, whales, Mother Theresa, Māori, Finnish, Indonesian cultures, waka made of human bones, and so much more.

Seated in a full-to-busting MTG, I was carried along in the story by the grand expansive, though strangely intimate, backdrop videos of the oceans. The horizon calling the audience out onto the glimmering sea surface, while being bathed in the great variety of sound created by the human voice.

We accompanied the flight of the kuaka/godwit, from icy northern seas all the way down to a fragile sanctuary in Antarctica. The delicious irony, noted by many in the audience, of the kuakas’ wings on take-off, recreated by the sounds of the fluttering plastic bags on the hands of the choir members.

The relentless variety of song, stretched and challenged us to stay present on the journey forwards with the kuaka. I longed for a pause to breathe more deeply into the sea scapes and sounds.

The central point of deep quiet, accompanied by the visual of death on the ocean floor, ashen grey dead coral for miles, brought tears of knowing we have caused this damage. I thank the creators of this work for gently guiding us towards this visceral knowing.

Taonga Moana demanded presence and trust from us, the listeners, to keep going, to listen to the wisdom of the sea creatures, listen to the wisdom of those who’ve gone before us and those young ones coming.

Impressions of fellow listeners ranged from full blown despair to total joy and delight at the sustained intensity and quality of sound. The young couple seated beside me, though, remained bright-eyed, fearless, confidently moving forward into life while knowing what damage to the oceans needs repairing. That’s the gift of this extraordinary musical piece of work, this love letter to the oceans.

We were treated to a soothing, slow, buttery balm of an encore, a composition incorporating Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a wonderful world’. The question left hanging: what are we going to do about it?

Hāumi e hui e taiki e

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