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Charles Royal: 2019 Te Arapūoru Community Commission

Meet the 2019 Te Arapūoru Community Commission - Dr Charles Royal, of Marutūahu Ngāti Raukawa and Ngā Puhi. 

What is the APO’s Te Arapūoru Community Commission at the APO and how did you come to be appointed?

This commission grew out of an earlier initiative to appoint a community composer for the orchestra. I applied for the role and was offered a commission to compose a piece of work which would assist APO's outreach programme to connect with Māori communities of Auckland City. I belong to a number of Auckland iwi and my papakāinga (home) is located just inside the southern boundary of Auckland City on the Firth of Thames, at a place called Waimangō Point. Our iwi there is Ngāti Whanaunga and my family is known as Te Whānau-a-Haunui.

What was it that inspired you to get into composition?

Love... love of musical discovery, of exploring sound, melodies, expressions, textures. Of working and working on a composition until something pleasing comes out. And then handing over my experiments to competent musicians to bring the music to life. It is that part that I especially love. Hearing my music for the first time... it's amazing.

How do you manage to fit professional composition around your role as Director Ngā Manu Atarau at Te Papa?

It is very challenging. Unfortunately, it is difficult to be a fulltime composer in New Zealand and so I have had to work it around my job commitments. There is the obvious challenge of creating time to compose but the other aspect of the challenge is that sometimes even when I have time, I can still be psychologically dominated by my job. Many a time have I sat down to compose and nothing comes because I'm still thinking about work. And then, mysteriously, I'm standing on a bus and something comes to me.

It is challenging to hold down a fulltime job and be an artist but it is not as impossible as one might think. It's hard to know what exactly the ideal circumstances would be because I know that my job can stimulate me at times as an artist. I also know if I were a fulltime composer there would be periods where I would get nothing done. There can be a positive yet tense relationship between job and composing but it requires focus. One simple way is that my job constantly creates deadlines for my composing - that is, because something is going down at work, I have to get a piece of music completed by a certain time. Sometimes this can be a pain, but sometimes it can be helpful too.

What is the Fullbright Scholarship and how did you come to be awarded this?

Fulbright is a US based organisation with offices throughout the world. It funds scholarships for people to study and research in the US and for US students to research and study in other countries. I was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship in 2001 to research indigenous worldviews in the US. I visited indigenous/native scholars in Hawai'i and New Mexico. I also spent some time in Toronto, Canada with Iroquois people. It was a very rich and rewarding experience that remains with me today. It was also a very dramatic time as I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during September 11, and visited New York three weeks later. I spent a week in the New York City library writing my report for Fulbright. It was a fantastic trip. 

How do you plan to represent a convergence of musical cultures in your commission?

I have been and continue to be on a long journey with respect to exploring the intersection between so-called classical music (orchestral, chamber, choir) and what I call the 'materials of the Māori world'. I use the term 'materials' for the many kinds of things I can draw from in Māori which can help inform the composition of a work. These materials include ideas about music and music making through to the use of the Māori language through to mōteatea chanting and taonga pūoro (musical instruments). I am particularly interested in voice/reo and language and how to utilise them in orchestral composition. Ultimately, I create music that I like to listen to and which draws from or connects to in some way, some aspect of my experience, my identity, the world as I see and experience it. More and more I find that my composing is about really getting to what is going on around me rather than creating musical gestures which are designed to impress an audience. Don't get me wrong. I definitely want to impress and move audiences. But I want to do this out of my own discoveries not through empty gestures.

Do you have any advice for young Māori who may be interested in composing for an orchestra?

My advice for young Māori interested in composing for an orchestra is 'kia kaha'. Follow your heart, follow your passion and don't be discouraged. Work hard, stay focused and the rewards will come. Don't be intimidated by the orchestra or the community around it. If the orchestra features in your musical imagination, well, get in there.

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