No Colourbars in Music
A Tale of Old New Zealand
The writer met a prominent visitor from England the other day. He was half Maori and it transpired after much conversation that he was a son, one of four, of the Noti in the story which follows.
Some sixty or so years ago, prior to the first World War, Wanganui, known in New Zealand as the River City, was about as cultured a town as could be found from Stewart Island right up to Cape Reinga, the jumping off place for the spirits of those Maoris who had been signalled ‘Kua mutu, Kua mutu’, (enough) by the Great Spirit.
Because so many Wanganui citizens had brought Victorian culture from England and also because of the number who with business success knew that a home should be more than a place of rest—that it should display the emblems of success—table grand pianos were as plentiful as the cooking pots at Putiki Pa across the Wanganui River.
It was by these splendid, expensive instruments, visitors strolling on a spring morning were enthralled, even more by the streets with a succession of lovely, perfumed, and colourful gardens; by the works of Lizst, Chopin, Mendelssohn, and other masters of the pianoforte.
This of course was at a time before young ladies discovered that fingers supple and skilled practising arpeggios, etudes, and exercises, buttered few parsnips; whereas a fraction of the skill applied to a much smaller keyboard, the typewriter, enabled them to preside in and grace business offices, besides bringing home the bacon.
It was too in Wanganui in those days that courtship embraced culture, for there on jasmine-scented porches, high contrapuntal ritual with lines by Omar Khayyam and other poets gave poise and form to events which in less favoured localities consisted of uncultured handholdings, embraces, and deep sighs.
But the moon danced on the wavelets on the river between the town bridges and romance was in the air.
‘Awake for morning in the bowl of night, has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight.’
On the front verandah the approved and eager chap in the stiff white collar opened the proceedings while the maiden languidly lay on the rattan divan in a Grecian pose.
The girl, who knew her onions, at once gracefully arched the splendid column of her neck, and lifting her head murmured soulfully:
‘Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough, a flask of wine, a book of verse and thou.’
fair words which added flavour to the cream sponge baked in sweet anticipation, to be daintily eaten with the hot cocoa after the spirits of the two lovers had ceased to flutter in the heavenly vistas.
While the prelude to mating and propagation of the Pakeha species was thus on the up and up, Maori culture and romance was staggering under the influence of the Pakehas, so that tribal grading based on endurance, bravery, and warrior skill was gone in favour of a scale of values where a stiff white collar gave social standing; and the Maoris were shirtless. While the wahines, dressed only in cotton dresses, nothing more, for all their freedom were unable to get bare feet on a rung of Wanganui's social ladder. So much was this the case that any fond mother, enthralled while daughter drew magic from the piano with Beethoven's ‘Moonlight Sonata’, would have required something stronger than smelling salts had her offspring encouraged a Maori youth onto the front verandah.
But on the other hand there were male tangata Pakeha (men) unable to resist Poly-
nesian loveliness, those who married a Maori girl whose bare feet had never trod a carpet.
Major Smith Hampshire was one. He had done just this some eighteen years previously, at a time when many of the good people of Wanganui had yet to discover the finer things of life, after he had bought an upriver farm.
The Major, who was heading for forty and considered to be a confirmed bachelor, created some dissonance in Wanganui society although the girl was beautiful by the standards set by Mother Nature and was the daughter of a Chief descended from a long line of Chiefs.
Naturally, the sour note was pedalled that the well-to-do Major had been blinded by savage beauty, which of course was nonsense since true loveliness is the constant reflection of inner beauty, of largeness of heart, of generosity of spirit, which draws all men regardless of colour, age, or social position.
Actually what finally prompted the Major to take to wife the lovely barefooted Noti (Naughty) was a weakness. A weakness for the aristocracy, for aristocratic people: and Noti, a natural aristocrat descended from a line of aristocrats, was a sublime example of Mother Nature's creative powers, and as different from a money-made aristocrat as is a glorious garden rose from its artificial imitation.
Without being deterred the Major did also give some thought to Noti's obvious weaknesses—her clinging to the belief in Io the Supreme Being known only to Maori aristocracy and her failure to conform to the teachings of the Anglican Church in spite of the years at an Anglican School.
The Major also realised that the lovely child of nature would never understand the Pakeha idea of the family; an island of warmth plenty and comfort established in a bleak sea of struggling humanity, as in the Victorian days; that her very nature in addition to her wider tribal outlook would extend her charity and love to every child and adult within cooee.
The Major broke the news of his taking a Maori girl to wife, to his mother in England, in a letter which read:
I know this will be something of a shock to you and many of our friends, since I was regarded as a confirmed bachelor, but I am married to the most beautiful girl in the world. Noti is my wife's name. She is the daughter of a Chief. The Chief of the big Maori Pa which straddles the headland above the big rapid at Okopai close to the landing.
Noti is just eighteen and I cannot hope to describe her to you, Mother Dear, but of one thing I am certain: the spirit of all beauty touched Noti with his wand when her spirit was speeding earthwards to add loveliness to a lovely land. And truly, Mother, never have I known such beauty, intelligence and pride combined with such humility in a person, for although Noti is the proud descendant of a long line of Chiefs she will do any menial thing for those in need, especially children and the aged.’
When Mrs Smith Hampshire had read this far and the cat was out of the bag she dropped the letter and called faintly for her younger son, a solicitor, to bring the smelling salts, the
while moaning: ‘Geoffrey has married a native. My son has married a savage. He could have had the pick of the County. The girl must have cast a spell over him, and one day he will inherit the Hampshire estates. Oh Horace, whatever shall we do?’
Horace the lawyer son was not to be rushed, however. He had learned to read any letter or document over several times, then to chew it over like a cow chewing the cud, and to then remain cagey about the real meaning; and so strolling easily to his mother's room he brought the smelling salts, gave them to his distressed mater and picking up the letter read it several times. Finally he looked up with a grin. ‘I may be wrong Mater Dear,’ he said, ‘But the letter is worth finishing, since you obviously never read it through,’ and the son returned the letter to his mother, who read:
‘Noti was educated for about ten years at a good Anglican Boarding School for girls and although she loves to glide about the house barefooted she adds grace to any society, and I am certain she would tower like a queen in the best society in England. Noti is also sole heiress to a vast tract of land known as the Kurangi Maniapoto block.’
Without being a lawyer the poor distressed lady read the last sentence of the letter over several times, but she could only accept its contents. Slowly the tranquilising effect of the sentence calmed the mother so that she smiled weakly and calling the maid, ordered tea; over which the lady, completely restored by the cuppa, told her son how she had always had implicit faith in Geoffrey's good judgment and that she would shortly go to New Zealand to see the lovely young wife. Which was exactly what the good lady did do; and so much did she love her daughter-in-law that she braved the up-river journeys frequently, and in fact hated to part from the young wife whose admirable but transparent charity needed the protection of a person worldly wise: since Geoffrey never at any time tried to dam the flow of his wife's generosity, to divert the stream of Maoris who sought advice or help from one who knew the Pakeha ways.
Just one child, a girl named Waikura, was born to Noti. When of school age the child went to Wanganui and lived with her grandmother, who had established a lovely home on St John's Hill; after which the girl went to Boarding School.
Noti had eighteen years of wonderful happiness with her Pakeha husband, and then he was drowned crossing the swollen Wanganui on horseback just above the big rapid at Okopai.
At a time when it was customary for girls to be married in even the highest circles, when just out of school, Waikura, whose beauty caused all men to turn their heads and catch their breaths, was soon the reason for many male visitors at the home of her grandmother on St John's Hill where Noti was also living since Geoffrey's death. Many were the rubbertyred gigs and traps which drove up to the house, and even new-fangled motor cars chug-
ged their way towards the door within which was so beautiful a prize.
Most notable among the young and old moustached and bewhiskered men ushered into the home of Mrs Smith Hampshire because they had so much in common with the charming old lady, was the Hon. Vincent Vingloss, a pianist of some note in England who had studied under the Polish Master Paderewski, and who later became Lord Weldorn. The Hon. was Mrs Smith Hampshire's second cousin and on a three months visit to New Zealand, and when he offered Waikura advanced tuition the opportunity was welcomed by the ladies, so that most afternoons the Hon. appeared at the house and sat before the keyboard with the lovely Waikura.
This togetherness, although aimed at developing a finer technique in the lovely tapering fingers of Waikura, gave many keen observers the idea that the Hon., taking full advantage of his position on the inside running, would ere long be adding a couple of expensive rings along with the technique to the lovely tapering fingers.
But nothing happened, and the Hon. Vincent,
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and at Papakura, Papatoetoe, and Pakuranga.
due to leave for England in a fortnight, agreed to give a recital at the home of Mrs Smith Hampshire before departing.
Naturally Wanganui was surprised that there was nothing doing as yet. The Hon. Vincent was in his prime, just thirty years old and Waikura seventeen. Perhaps he would yet scoop the pool.
Mrs Smith Hampshire's drawing room or ‘salon’ as it was described by those privileged to enter, was a high-ceilinged room which comfortably held eighty people while another twenty or so could listen in on the wide porch along one side when the French doors were thrown wide. Maori mother and daughter both tastefully gowned in silk received the guests with the hostess, and both salon and porch were packed to capacity the afternoon of the recital by the Hon. Vincent Vingloss. Naturally those of note in Wanganui's musical world were present besides a leavening who qualified with an ear for music because of a nose for money.
As with any other feast, a feast of music provides varied fare. At some everybody is happy if able to neat the feet to what is provided. Many people ask only for rhythm peppered with music. Simple harmony is the dish of others or perhaps a good singsong warms the cockles of their hearts. And there are those who are attuned to hear the murmur of the music of the spheres. Those who interpret and are enraptured by the symbols, the dots and dashes of those great masters who projected their minds out into the beyond and found music which is out of this world.
The recital opened with a series of Chopin Nocturnes, in fact it was a Chopin Recital, and at the conclusion of No. 19 in E Minor played with great poignancy, many of those present were dabbing the corners of their eyes, while one widow of about thirty cried uncontrollably and was comforted and led from the room by Noti: which confirmed that sharing is essential to great emotional joy.
But while this emotional aftermath continued within the salon, on the porch was a chorus of Wanganui's financial maestros, some of whom were sensitive to symphonies which from distant echoes swelled to mighty music before receding out to the stars, while all of them, being humans of some calibre, were particularly alerted to a financial tide and the rise and fall of interest rates.
The leader of this group whose morning coat had shaded to a conservative greeny tinge, was known in Wanganui as ‘half-per-cent-
extra’ since borrowers discovered that his dearth of funds was not real but fancied, once an extra half per cent was suggested.
That there was music in the makeup of ‘half per cent’ was evident, since the moment the last notes of the piano had died away ‘half per cent’ took up the theme of a large block of Maori Land which could change hands for a song.
Which led to a muted but intense discussion about Polynesians. How little they understood business and business ethics. The way they handed over or ‘leased’ land to each other on the Eileen Mavourneen principle. The way they whacked up the tucker, even among their enemies, when food was in short supply. No, Polynesians had not a clue about turning a profit when the conditions were ideal and as for paying interest, they were simply hopeless.
All of which was true. But nobody among the Pakehas mentioned that Polynesians were reluctant to pay interest because any surplus was never advertised for good reasons, and that the Chiefs and Rangatiras in control of the Tribes had flat tight pukus (stomachs) if the rest of the people were that way.
That wild, predatory forays to restore economic balance when an adjoining tribe was flush with food and goods, although frowned upon by Pakehas, were not unknown to them; but that the Pakehas performed primitive acts in a gentlemanly manner with frock coat, kid gloves and belltopper hat. A business opponent was cornered, not with savage yells, but with a handsome proposition and during a shinning match good manners were maintained.
Then one financier present, momentarily forgetting things nearest his heart for the lighter joys of music said: ‘What I cannot understand is how any Maoris can pretend to understand the involved and difficult European music in the way our women-folk do. I think its beyond them. What do you think Doctor?’
A Doctor on the outer edge of the group had heard all and said nothing. He wasn't an investor, collecting as a rule about half his fees. But he was a student of human nature and Polynesian people in particular, and he loved music. The Doctor looked at the group and then said softly: ‘I think that the two Polynesian ladies are lovely women, that Noti is wonderful, and both are very musical. At the same time I would not favourably advise the Hon. about marriage to Waikura. She is much younger and her demands could be too great in the near future. For when Mother
Nature produces a creature of such great beauty and energy she also stimulates her reproductive urges with almost everything in nature. For instance, even beautiful scenery will …’ But at this stage the glorious tone of the grand piano resumed its heart-stirring to those who had ears, and the conversation ceased.
After the Hon. Vincent had played another number he called Noti to him and said softly: ‘Noti, if I may call you Noti, there is a slight continuous background noise in the room, quite noticeable in the rests. It is worrying. Do you think you could find it?’
‘Yes,’ Noti answered. ‘I have heard it all the afternoon, even above fortissimo passages, it will be the ‘Nuwhero’, probably one in each of the vases either side of the piano.’
And before the astonished eyes of the Pakehas who had heard nothing beyond the music, Noti's sensitive fingers plucked a tiny insect no more than half an inch long from each of the vases.
‘Let them continue their mating calls out in the open where they belong,’ laughed Noti, as she put them both on a shrub in front of the house.
Before leaving for England the Hon. Vincent was married at the pretty little church at Upokongaru, which sits on the riverbank a few miles upriver from Wanganui township, with just a few friends in attendance, and the lovely Waikura was bridesmaid to her mother, Noti, who was some six or seven years older than the bridegroom.