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No. 36 (September 1961)
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Still Popular after
Thirty Years

How Rotorua Club Made First
Recordings of Maori Music

An increasingly large number of Maori records have appeared over the past two years bringing a surge of interest in Maori music by ordinary Pakeha New Zealanders as well as overseas visitors. However, this availability of recorded Maori music is nothing new, for the first large scale recordings of Maori songs in this country were made as long ago as 1930 by the Columbia Graphophone Company Pty. Ltd. Today when many records and artists enjoy only a very brief period of popularity it is worth noting that these early Columbia discs, after 30 years, are still selling well and have recently been re-released collected together in three long playing recordings.

The recordings were of a group known as the Rotorua Maori Choir. A former musical director of the Columbia Graphophone Company, Mr Gil Dech, is now a music teacher in DUNEDIN and conducts the 4YA studio orchestra. Mr Dech was musical director of this pioneer Maori recording venture. Mr Dech is a Londoner and his first acquaintance with New Zealand music was in 1927 when he accompanied on the piano and conducted an orchestra for a series of recordings made in Sydney by Ernest McKinley. McKinley was a Scottish tenor who had made a study of Maori music and collected together a number of tunes and published them in an album.


The Rotorua Maori Choir had already been in existence for some time when in 1929 a Rotorua Solicitor, Mr Simpson, who was in charge of the Choir's affairs, suggested to Mr Arthur Eady, head of a well known Auckland music publishing firm, that some recordings be taken of this Choir. Mr Eady passed the suggestion on to the Columbia Company and on behalf of the Choir a contract was signed by three of its members—Geoffrey Rogers, Tame Petane and Rotohiko Haupapa (better known as the first carving instructor at the Rotorua School of Arts and Crafts). A recording expedition headed by the late Mr W. A. Donner, Managing Director of the Columbia Graphophone Company, was sent over to New Zealand in 1930 with Mr Reg. Southey as recording engineer and a mass of equipment to take the recordings.

It was three months before the job was finished. The Columbia Company seems to have spared no effort and the expense of keeping their musical director and a technical staff in Rotorua for so long must have been considerable even in those more leisured days. This was not Mr Dech's first visit to New Zealand—he had toured some years before with a J. C. Williamson Company—but this was his first really close acquaintance with Maori music and, as he frankly admits, he had to start off by sitting down and learning the songs by listening to them over and over again. Then came the job of welding this large group into a polished choir for recording purposes.

Mr Dech recalls somewhat ruefully the difficulties which plagued him. The first and biggest was trying to get everyone to rehearsal at the same time. Then order had to be established and everyone got working. He soon found that the most effective method of enticing singers along was by promising to play the piano to them after rehearsal. More than once he had to go around Rotorua in his old car dragging choir members out of mud pools with a mixture of threats and cajoling and take them to rehearsals. Of course all the choir had their regular jobs during the day and rehearsal was carried out at night. Some of the recordings were made after gruelling sessions lasting until two o'clock in the morning.


The choir worked in the historic Tinohopu meeting house at Ohinemutu, the principal village of the tribes of Te Arawa. Most of the choir were from Ngati Whakaue, one of the tribes of the Arawa confederation. The principal soloists were Rotohiko Haupapa (bass baritone), Te Mauri Meihana (soprano), Mere Amohau (contralto) and Tiawha Ratete (tenor). Inside the meeting house the women hung shawls and carpets from the roof and walls to deaden the echo. A sort of control room for the complicated recording equipment was set up in the porch of the meeting house. Mr Reg. Southey, the recording engineer, is now Director of the Recording Division of E.M.I., the leading firm in the field in Australia. He recalls “it was rather a unique experience. It was certainly the first time that any electric recordings of this nature had been made in New Zealand—and probably elsewhere.” The actual recording was done straight onto wax impressions which were then sent back to Australia where the master discs were made out of copper. The wax impressions were quite expensive and if a mistake was made whilst recording was actually in progress

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there was no way of erasing it as there is with today's tape recordings. A mistake meant scrapping the wax impression and using another. At least two masters of each item were secured.

Wherever possible Gil Dech let the choir harmonise naturally but sometimes everyone would sing in unison and then he had to write parts and teach them to the various singers. He conducted the choir in all their recordings. At first they were amused at the Pakeha standing up in front of them waving his arms about. The great difficulty was to get everyone to take it seriously and give their undivided attention to the conductor. After all, what did it matter if someone in the back row went on just a little longer at the end of a line? Gradually however, one tune would be polished up and recorded and then another and so on.

The end product was over thirty Maori folk songs, love tunes, farewell and welcome songs. Originally they were released on the old shellac ten inch 78 rpm discs. Now they have been retaped from the master discs and all except a few of the tunes are included in three long playing records. These recordings seem just as popular today as when they first came on the market. The original Rotorua Maori Choir has of course long since been disbanded but through its records it is still enjoying public recognition over a quarter of a century after its heyday.


Maori carvings have been presented to the Taupo Borough Council for the erection of a Maori house in Taupo. The gift was part of the will of the late Mrs Lucy Rongoekumi Reid. The carvings were the work of the late Tene Waitere, an uncle of Mrs Reid, who died in 1931 at the age of 77.

Tene Waitere was survivor of the Tarawera eruption of 1886, after which he lived at Rotorua. His work is a notable example of Arawa carving

When the late King George V, as Duke of York, visited Rotorua, he was presented with one of Tene Waitere's most notable carvings, a model of the Arawa canoe. When the Duke of Windsor, as Prince of Wales, visited Rotorua, he was presented with a carved flag pole made by Waitere. He was also responsible for the carved model pataka presented during the visit of the late King George VI and the Queen Mother, in 1926.

Other works are: the carved gateway over the model pa at Whakarewarewa, the well-known carved house there, the carved gateway at the entrance of the Taupo sports ground. The carvings now donated to the Borough Council were his last major work.


A magnificent new Kiwi long playing record presents a selection of music sung unaccompanied by the Maranga Maori Club of Auckland.

The choir of 40 voices sings these fine works composed by Arapeta Awatere:

The Lord's Prayer

Maranga: Anthem No. 1

Maranga: Anthem No. 2

And a selection of Action Songs, hymns and other music.

KIWI 12 inch L.P. No. LC-3 Price 39/6

These other leading Maori choirs are also available on KIWI:

Putiki Maori Club

Concert Party, 2nd Battalion in Malaya

Waihirere Maori Club

and others.

From all record dealers.

A. H. & A. W. REED

, 182 Wakefield Street, Wellington