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.
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.
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.
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.