Music is my first love. Some of my most important memories and experiences during childhood involved music. I remember placing my ear against the side of my mother’s piano as she played. I remember playing in Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band at 10 and my first time as a 13 year old trumpeter in our school orchestra. My first music teacher asked me to describe my music through pieces of bark glued to a piece of paper. Presenting my 'composition' to him, Father Bruce Goodman stated to me, “Mr Royal, you are a romantic". I didn't really know what that meant and so he told me how my 'piece' had a dramatic structure - it had rises and falls, swells, tensions and releases all in the right places. 

My first composition teacher, Jack Body of Victoria University School of Music, asked us new chums why we wanted to compose. I answered by saying that “I want to control people…” not getting my meaning out right. I meant that, in keeping with my romantic outlook, I wanted to move people (to move myself!) through my music... in the same way that I was moved and inspired by music I had heard. (I studied composition under Jack Body, Ross Harris and Professor David Farquhar, New Zealand composers working at Victoria University’s School of Music.)

During my time at Music School, my journey took an unexpected turn as my interest in my Māori identity, which had been simmering underneath for some time, suddenly swelled violently, breaking through and demanding attention. In 1984, I thrust myself into the world of Māori language learning, into the culture of my Māori ancestors. Such was the power of the spell that I immersed myself almost completely.

Quickening the pace was a desire to learn and be inspired by a musical style and language drawn from these shores. To that point, the centre of musical gravity was firmly in Europe - Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Messiaen. Boulez was a particular favourite. But now I turned to study mōteatea, Māori chanted song poetry, and I submerged myself in it. I was fortunate to attend our tribal college, Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa, where there remained a number of elders who were experts in mōteatea. I received instruction from them and I completed a book on mōteatea-song poetry in 1994 under their guidance. (see Kāti au i konei).

Following my time at Victoria University School of Music, I continued my study of the culture of my forebears and completed a doctorate in the Film and Theatre Department of the same university. My doctoral dissertation concerned the whare tapere - pā-village based ‘houses’ of entertainment, storytelling, music and dance. This project enabled me to combine my interests in composition and performing with further research into the culture and knowledge of my iwi and beyond. (see

Through all these experiences, music has remained important to me. Today, I find myself marrying all these interests into a new whole. More and more I see my interest in music, performing and research into traditional knowledge emerging into some kind of synthesis. 

Orchestral, Chamber and Electronic Composition

My earliest compositions include Overture Twelfth Night (1985) for small orchestra and He Timatanga (1989), an electronic piece composed on the old Fairlight synthesiser at the Victoria University, School of Music. In 1991, I completed a first version of Te Arikinui for tenor, strings and percussion. It was revised in 2006 and finally performed in 2010. In 2007, I composed Dance for piano, strings and percussion following a visit to France. This piece became the first movement of Four Scenes for piano, strings and percussion, completed in 2014. In 2008, I composed Reclamations for violin and piano, for my friend, violinist, Elena. It is a small homage to music making and marks my return to music after a significant break. Elena too had a break from music before returning. In 2010, I composed Baxter Songs for baritone and piano and 2011, Pride for baritone, saxophone and piano. I also completed a first version of Matariki for voices, taonga pūoro, digital textures and chamber orchestra.

Mōteatea-Chanted Song Poetry

Following my time at music school, I studied mōteatea, traditional Māori song poetry, as part of my search for a music indigenous to Aotearoa. I began to compose mōteatea and so I completed Te Kairuirui, a waiata tangi-lament for Rev. Māori Marsden, in 1993. In 1994, I composed Tekau mā rua rangi to commemorate the arrival of taonga pūoro-instruments to Ōtaki in that year. In 1995, I composed another waiata tangi, this time for Tūkawekai Kereama, of Ngāti Raukawa, entitled E noho ana ahau i te koko o tōku whare. Later I began to compose items for the whare tapere including the Āiochant, Rangimārire and Te Take o te rākau, all of which appear in the dance work entitled Te Kārohirohi: The Light Dances (2010-2012) by Louise Pōtiki-Bryant. I composed other pieces too for our music group Reoincluding I haere nei koe. These pieces with Reo involved collaborations with taonga pūoro exponents James Webster, Horomona Horo and Al Fraser (as well as vocal improvisations by Erina Daniels). I also composed two haka pōwhiri (welcome dances) entitled Whakatau mai and E taku manu. All these compositions are experiments in utilizing the Māori language – reo.

Popular Song

I love playing in bands and composing and performing popular songs. It’s a kind of a chronicling of life’s moments. My first project of this kind was the CD entitled Tohu: Mauriora of 1998. Following this, I worked on a number of similar projects with artists such as Toni Huata, Dallas Tamaira and Jacqui Keelan. I completed a follow up CD in 2009 called Tohu: Whakawhiti and in 2014 launched a third CD called Ascension and Other Stories: Songs by Charles Royal. I greatly enjoy composing songs as they can tell stories powerfully and can move us in striking ways.