Vocal duets and ensembles


Vocal duets and ensembles, Voice and instrumental ensemble

For mezzo-soprano, male voices, piano and bassoon

Text by Claire Beynon

F/Wh/Fugue was first performed on 8 October 2008 by Ana Good (mezzo), Joyce Whitehead (piano) and Ben Hoadley (bassoon) with a male voice ensemble from Dunedin’s St Paul’s Cathedral Choir led by David Burchall.

About the work

F/Wh/Fugue evolved during a 6-day journey by 10 artists to Dusky and Doubtful Sounds in Fiordland, and particularly to the Camelot River, which drains into Gaer Arm in Doubtful Sound. Both the journey and the performance were part of a fundraising drive by the Caselberg Trust, to complete the purchase of the Broad Bay house, that belonged to John and Anna Caselberg, for use as an artists’ residency.


Resonant ceramic vessels, modelled on the steep sides of the fiords and made by Katherine Glenday and decorated by Claire Beynon, can be incorporated into the performance. At the first performance  they were played by Claire Beynon and Greg O’Brien.


Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

F/Wh/Fugue — SOUNZ

Ngā haerenga

Choral music, Vocal duets and ensembles

For 2 sopranos, 2 altos, percussion and male narrator

Various texts including Bill Manhire, Ernest Shackleton and the composer

Ngā haerenga was commissioned with financial assistance from the Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council by Voiceworks. They gave the first performance in 2000 conducted by Francis Greep with Daryl Pratt (percussion) and John Pringle (narrator).

About the work

Ngā haerenga, which translates from Māori as ‘journeys’ tells stories about mythical, legendary, allegorical and actual journeys.

Part I

The piece opens with a soundscape evoking central Australia. Across the sand and rock by day and night, through heat and cold, Kuniya, the Woma python, is travelling to Uluru where she will lay her eggs. Her timeless journey spans the piece.

Part II

The second section needs some background. By perhaps 6,000 BC, because of huge glacial melting in Baffin Bay and elsewhere, the sea level had risen 120 metres over roughly 4 millennia — this is reflected in the descriptions of flooding in the creation myths of most civilisations. A tribe then living on coastal lowlands, now underwater on the Sunda shelf in Indonesia, took their language, knowledge, traditions and artifacts with them as they and their descendants moved continually to higher ground to escape the rising water, and over time spread through Asia, Europe the Pacific and America, where traces of their culture survive.

In the second section this story is briefly told and a prophetess warns her followers of the impending inundation as the water levels rise. After a continuation of the story of Kuniya, we hear in Māori the song of Kupe the legendary discoverer of Aotearoa New Zealand. In mid-ocean, Kupe, at the prow of the waka, or canoe, asks for a calm and speedy journey over the waters, travelling with dolphins and flying fish along the paths of the great whales, to the south where the sun, trapped in the net of Maui, stands still.

Parts III to V

Where the sun really seems to stand still is in Antarctica in midsummer. It is December 1914, and Ernest Shackleton is setting off in the Endeavour on his epic journey to cross the icecap. Only the first part of this 3-year series of epic journeys is told here.

The entire journey, which taxed the resources of the expedition to the utmost limit, involved being trapped in ice for 10 months until the ship was crushed by the pressure of the ice. This resulted in a trek across the ice to open water, 2 dangerous journeys in southern seas in open boats and a final march over uncharted highlands and glaciers to reach help. Thanks to Shackleton’s superb leadership, every member of the crew survived.

Over soundscapes evoking the Antarctic, the narrator tells Shackleton’s story in short excerpts from his writings. The singers elaborate the story with excerpts from Shackleton’s diary, with 2 wonderfully evocative poems by Bill Manhire, and with a quotation from Job which Shackleton tore out of his bible and kept with him throughout his ordeal.

Part VI

After the Endeavour is crushed in ice, the piece ends with an allegorical journey of the soul. In this 9th century Latin poem, a swan is flying over the ocean, lamenting his unfortunate state, his exile from dry land, his failing strength, his inability to rise above the level of the water. He calls on Orion to light his way, to sweep away the clouds. As dawn comes, his strength returns and he rejoices and praises God as he reaches dry land.

About the text

Apart from the 9th century allegory and the 2 Manhire poems, I devised the text. The background information for the second section comes from Eden in the East by Stephen Oppenheimer and Ernest Shackleton’s South was the main source for his story. The Bill Manhire poems come from what to call your child, published by Random House New Zealand in 1999.


This work is scored for solo singers, but could be sung by a choir.

Score and recording

Contact me if you are interested in seeing the score.


Listen and watch online to videos from a 2013 performance.

Ngā haerenga: Parts I-IV — video

Ngā haerenga: Part V — video

Ngā haerenga: Part VI — video

Te mauri o te awa

Vocal duets and ensembles

For two women’s voices

Text by the composer

The first performance, by Ana Good and Ramonda Te Maiharoa Taleni, was in the middle of the bridge over the Waitaki, on State Highway 1, on Waitangi Day (6 February) 2004 at a festival celebrating the river and the Waitaha people of the area.

About the work

The text of Te mauri o te awa is in te reo Māori and celebrates the Waitaki River in Otago — this work is sometimes called Waitaki.

It describes the journey of the river from the first drop of rain, the first flurry of snow high in the Southern Alps to the dissipating of the force of the river in te moana-nui-a-kiwa, the Pacific Ocean.

Score and recording

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

Te mauri o te awa — SOUNZ

An archival performance on CD was released in 2004.

Pakiwaitara o te Pouakai; Te heke o te Maiharoa — CD 

The virgin and the nightingale

Choral music, Vocal duets and ensembles

5 songs for 6 solo voices and flute

The texts are translated from Latin by Fleur Adcock

The virgin and the nightingale was commissioned with funding from the Music Board of the Australia Council. The first complete performance was given in 1992 by The Song Company.

About the work

The songs are settings of 5 mediaeval poems about birds:

  • Courtship
  • The Swan
  • The Thrush
  • The Roasted Swan, and
  • The Anti-nightingale song.


Scored for soprano, mezzo, alto, tenor, baritone and bass. Some of the songs have been sung by choirs. Flute is used in 3 songs.

Score and recording

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

The virgin and the nightingale — SOUNZ

This work has been released on CD by the Song Company.

The Laughter of Mermaids — CD

Thin ice

Choral music, Vocal duets and ensembles

For soprano, mezzo-soprano and percussion

Text by Claire Beynon and other poets

Thin Ice was written to celebrate vocal ensemble Halcyon’s 15th Anniversary in 2013. They gave the first performance on 23 October 2013 at the NIDA Parade Theatres in Sydney, Australia.

About the work

Thin Ice is a setting of 2 poems.

The first, ‘Thin Ice’, by Claire Beynon is only 4 lines long, but has a world of meaning and defines creativity exquisitely.

The second, ‘It is all one water’, sees the ocean in various ways, but above all as exhilarating, calm, and linking those separated by distance. It is a collaborative poem, edited by Claire Beynon and created by poets from several countries — Marylinn Kelly (USA), Kay McKenzie-Cook (NZ), Pamela Morrison (NZ) , Elizabeth Hanscome (Australia) , Therese Clear (USA), Scott Odom (USA) and also Claire Beynon.


The percussion parts are scored for vibraphone and resaresa (1 player). This work could be performed by a women’s choir.


Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

Thin Ice — SOUNZ

Tongues, swords, keys

Vocal duets and ensembles, Voice and instrumental ensemble

For 8 solo voices and 4 percussion

Text devised by Randolph Stow

Tongues, swords, keys was commissioned by The Song Company with funding from the Music Board of the Australia Council. They, together with percussion ensemble Synergy, gave the first performance in September 1987 at the Verbrugghen Hall at Sydney Conservatorium.

About the work

The multilingual text explores ideas of coming together and parting — perhaps of tribes, or of nations, or of individuals. At times the work is ritualistic in character.


The work is scored for 2 sopranos, 2 altos, 2 tenors, 2 basses and percussion.


Buy or borrow the hand-written score from SOUNZ.

Tongues, swords, keys — SOUNZ

Buy or borrow a typeset score from the Australian Music Centre.

Tongues, swords, keys — AMC