Saffron Restaurants reservation Amazing godwit journey, the star of the Renaissance Singers concert in Palmerston North

Amazing godwit journey, the star of the Renaissance Singers concert in Palmerston North

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The godwits are the star of a new work for choir and guitar to be performed in Palmerston North on Saturday. Photo / Robert Gibb

Far away! Bar-tailed godwits, which can be seen at the mouth of the Manawatū in summer, fly non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand.

Palmerston North choir Renaissance Singers commissioned poet Anne French to write a song cycle about the amazing journey of the godwits, set to music by composer Anthony Ritchie.

The result will be staged in Palmerston North on Saturday.

The choir is accompanied by Matthew Marshall, one of New Zealand’s top classical guitarists, and a nine-piece guitar ensemble of teenage and adult students led by teacher Jeanette McGrath.

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Renaissance Singers music director Christine Archer-Lockwood said no New Zealand composition had ever been written for this type of ensemble.

French used to sing with the Renaissance Singers and understands how poetry is set to music.

“I love this partnership,” said Archer-Lockwood. “It was just beautiful, it’s been going on for almost two years.”

The collaboration between different disciplines has been a real pleasure and Archer-Lockwood finds it exciting to be on the edge of new things.

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She felt a “bubble of excitement” while on a Zoom call with poet, composer and birdwatcher and realized they were on the same page.

Although local authority boundaries mean the Manawatū Estuary and Foxton Beach are not officially part of Manawatū, Archer-Lockwood offers an emotional picture.

“It feels like it’s the other arm, it’s the beach part of Palmy. It is our beach.”

Classical guitarist Matthew Marshall recently returned to New Zealand after three years as professor of music and dean of arts at Sunway University in Kuala Lumpur.
Classical guitarist Matthew Marshall recently returned to New Zealand after three years as professor of music and dean of arts at Sunway University in Kuala Lumpur.

In preparation for the lyrics, French President and Choir Chairman Robert Gibb attended the Manawatū Estuary Trust’s spring welcome for the godwits, consulted Te Kenehi Teira of Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga on the place of kuaka (godwits) in their Māori lore and tradition, and Manu Kawana on the iwi’s use of karanga to welcome kuaka to their home in Manawatū.

They also spoke to godwit researcher Dr Phil Battley from Massey University about the latest data on godwit migration using GPS tracking, which has revealed the routes taken by godwits on their direct flight from Alaska to New Zealand.

The second New Zealand work is by Ritchie Coveringsan exploration of renewal inspired by little blue penguins that molt and renew their feathers.

Although choir and classical guitar performances are very popular abroad, each is part of the Saturday concert Far away! Godwits and guitarsis being performed for the first time in New Zealand.

The international part of the program takes the audience from James Joyce’s Ireland to Roberto Di Marino’s Tre Liriche to gypsy life in Spain with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Romancero Gitano.

Anthony Ritchie's new work Godwits can be seen in Palmerston North on Saturday.
Anthony Ritchie’s new work Godwits can be seen in Palmerston North on Saturday.

Marshall and the choir will also perform David Conte’s arrangement of three Mexican national anthems And Jeffrey Van’s settings of Walt Whitman’s Civil War poems.

Spanish is the language of classical guitar, but is new to most Renaissance Singers and offers a nice extra challenge. Bass Paul Lyons speaks fluent Spanish.

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The details

What: far away! Godwits and guitars

When: Saturday, May 18, 3 p.m

Where: Trails at St Andrews

Tickets: $25, $20 concession, at the door