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Avril Ngaire Poisson and Europe

Take the British Isles, roughly topologically speaking, turn upside down and place in the southern hemisphere. Chop in two, discard Cornwall, Ireland and Wales, and voila! Aotearoa - the 'land of the long white cloud' with British-looking policemen and Scotland at the bottom - New Zealand to most of us.

New Zealand - South Island coastline

The little-known part-Maori composer Avril Ngaire Poisson was born on Stewart Island - New Zealand's third, southern-most island - in 1936. Following studies at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch (piano, organ and composition) she worked for a year as composer-in-residence at Charterhouse School in England and then toured Europe as an organist, followed by a year in Paris studying with Boulanger. This extended period spent in the Northern Hemisphere could explain the distinctly European influence in her music - listen to this short Dies Irae which seems also to conjure up an image of the wild South Island coastline.

Avril Ngaire Poisson
(born 1936)

Dies Irae

Avril Ngaire Poisson: Dies Irae

Returning to New Zealand, Avril became organist of Waiteata Cathedral, and made good use of her keen interest in organ building to instigate various new stops, including the so-called 'Holy Spirit' and 'Unda Mare', the latter being the first of its kind in New Zealand.

Poisson developed an interest in broadcasting, and became known to many as an announcer at Radio New Zealand's Concert FM. Her weekly programme Priceless Passion, and in particular her sensational interview with her lifelong friend, fellow New Zealander Annea Lockwood (famous for summoning up the ghost of Beethoven at a seance and drowning an upright piano in a lake in Amarillo) is still remembered as a landmark in NZ broadcasting history.

Skilled in Gebrauchsmusik and a naturally sympathetic composer, Avril Ngaire Poisson wrote for the sometimes surprising combinations of instruments made available in her various places of study. The most unusual must surely be her Fantasia Aprifulistica in which the percussion is formed from a row of carefully tuned human skulls. This piece dates from her early years, coloured perhaps by the influence of Annea Lockwood.

Avril Ngaire Poisson: Dies Irae Avril Ngaire Poisson's
Fantasia Aprifulistica

Married with three children, Poisson now lives in the Dutch colony Een April.

Copyright © Oliphant Chucklebutty, April 1st 1999