1979 Music


Chamber ensemble (2-7 players)

For violin and piano

Okuru was written in 1979, while I was composer-in-residence for Northern Arts, United Kingdom and a Fellow of Newcastle University.

About the work

On one level the composition is a 4-section working out of a complex mensural canon, and on another is my response to the arrival of spring after a particularly rigorous winter which I spent in an isolated cottage on the Northumbrian moors, north-west of Newcastle.

Score and recording

The score and part were published in 1991.

Contemporary Australian Violin: thirteen compositions for solo violin — publication

A recording was released on CD as part of a major project to record new Australian music.

Anthology of Australian music: 17 — CD

For Timothy

Solo instrument

For guitar

I wrote this work when I was living in Northumberland to celebrate the bar mitzvah of Timothy Fox.

About the work

For Timothy is in 4 short movements. The 2 middle movements are based on 2 folksongs — Binnorie, O Binnorie, a Scottish song dating from the 1650s, and a Northumbrian ballad, Buy Brooms, Buzzems. These are preceded by a prelude which is repeated as a postlude.

Score and recording

Contact me if you are interested in seeing the score.


Matthew Marshall has recorded this work.

For Timothy — video


Chamber orchestra or large ensemble

For chamber orchestra

Hoata was written for the Northern Sinfonia, who, conducted by David Haslam, gave the first performance during the 1980 Newcastle Festival.

About the work

I wrote Hoata, named for the Māori phase of the moon when the new moon is barely apparent, while I was living on the Northumbrian moors north of Hexham and while I was composer-in-residence for Northern Arts and a Fellow of Newcastle University. It was a cold winter, and the snow around the small remote cottage, which was not well insulated, lay on the ground for 4 months as blizzard followed blizzard, and something of the isolation and the environment seems to have got into the piece.

Hoata consists of sections built up in a mosaic-like manner, separated by freer sections, which may be cadenzas, or have a degree of improvisation; there is at times perhaps a suggestion of birdsong.


Hoata is scored for: 121(+bass clarinet)2; 2000; timpani and strings.


Buy or borrow the score, or hire the parts from SOUNZ.

Hoata — SOUNZ

The Tinker’s Curse


Children’s opera for 6 adult soloists, 2 children’s choirs, 10-piece ensemble and 6-piece children’s percussion ensemble

Libretto by Joan Aiken

The Tinker’s Curse was written with a grant from 1YC Telethon Trust for the Year of the Child while I was composer-in-residence for Northern Arts, United Kingdom.

About the work

The Tinker’s Curse was tailored for performance in Cumbria, United Kingdom, involving local schools and musicians. Because of publishing deadlines not being met, the performances were cancelled. The story is particularly appropriate for Northern England or Scotland, but maybe not appropriate elsewhere.

This opera is dedicated to my parents, Marjorie and Ivan Whitehead.


Act 1

A travelling tinker, seeking shelter in a moorland house, is killed for his possessions and his body is thrown in the lake, and his angry ghost, lamenting, promises ill fortune to any who hear his voice.

Many years later a young couple settle in the house. When his wife is in labour, the husband, who wants a son, runs off to fetch the doctor. His wife hears the ghost of the tinker, and when her husband returns, his wife has died in childbirth, but the child, a girl, is alive. The husband refuses to accept the situation.

14 years later, the child, Helen, who has been born deaf, is teased by the local children, and admonished by her father, who considers her useless and lazy. She tries to play with the other children, but it is discovered that she has the ability to find what is lost. She is befriended by Andy, who explains how people should talk to her.

The doctor comes past, and recognises the place where the tragedy took place many years before. Eventually, with Andy’s help, he can talk to Helen, who helps him find his watch, lost 14 years before. The doctor tests her hearing, and says he can give her an operation which will restore her hearing.

Act 2

The second act begins in the hospital, with the nurses and matron. The operation takes place successfully — it’s an operation quite outdated today — and everything is finally resolved back home outside the cottage.


The cast consists of 6 adult soloists and 2 childrens’ choirs.


The opera is scored for string and wind quintets with childrens’ percussion (6 players). It can be accompanied by piano.


Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

The Tinker’s Curse — SOUNZ