Music is my first love. I attended music classes at high school and studied composition with Jack Body, Ross Harris and David Farquhar at the then Victoria University Department of Music (during the 1980s.) I now compose music for chamber and orchestra groups. I have also composed for choirs, have written popular song/waiata and have experimented with traditional Māori approaches to music making. Occasionally, I perform music too and there is a strong storytelling dimension to my music making as well.
In 2017, I was honoured to deliver the Douglas Lilburn Memorial Lecture at the National Library in Wellington where I presented an overview of my music career thus far and shared many of my experiences and views regarding music. To learn more about me and my music, see here.
Orchestras are extraordinary musical ensembles. They can be so powerful and yet subtle and delicate. They are also a little bit intimidating too to compose for but I love working with them. One of my early orchestral works is Overture Twelfth Night (1985) which I composed for a Victoria University Drama Club production of the famous Shakespeare play. 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 by the Waikato University Orchestra, Hamilton, featuring Howard McGuire. 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. It was first performed by the Waikato University Orchestra in 2011 and then again in 2014 by the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra, Duluth, Minnesota, USA. In 2017, I composed a work entitled Whitiora for chanting voice, cello and orchestra which was first performed in that year by the Manukau Symphony Orchestra. I am now working on a new commission for the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra to be performed by them in 2019.
I love chamber ensembles too. It is quite amazing what can be achieved with a single instrument, or a small number of instruments such as with violin and piano, or piano and voice. 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 composing after a significant break. In 2010, I composed Baxter Songs for baritone and piano and in 2011, Pride for baritone, saxophone and piano.
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 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 Āio chant, 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 Reo including 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 and digital textures by Paddy Free. I also composed two haka pōwhiri (welcome dances) entitled Whakatau mai and E taku manu. All these compositions are experiments in utilising the Māori language – reo.
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 album 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.
‘Searching for Reo, Searching for Voice’: The Journey of a Bicultural Composer
The 2017 Lilburn Lecture, National Library of New Zealand
In 2017, I was honoured to receive an invitation to deliver the annual Lilburn lecture in honour of the late New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn. It was a wonderful experience to prepare and deliver that lecture as it gave me an opportunity to summarise my composition career to that point. I touch on a number of things in the lecture including biculturalism and why I compose. You can read and hear the lecture on the Radio New Zealand website here.