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.
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
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's
Married with three children, Poisson now lives in the Dutch colony Een
Copyright © Oliphant Chucklebutty,
April 1st 1999