Celebrating Māori language week in music with New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Te Tira Pūoro o Aotearoa

Kiwis around the country have been coming together to celebrate Te Wiki o te reo Māori – Māori language week, even under Level 2 restrictions which have prevented the usual parades and in-person celebrations. On Māori Language Day, Monday September 14, over 1 million Kiwis shared a Māori language moment – the largest in New Zealand’s history. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Te Tira Pūoro o Aotearoa is joining the fun on Sunday September 20 with a special whānau-friendly reimagining of an award-winning children’s story in Te Reo Māori.

Tio Tiamu, written by Kurahau and illustrated by Laya Mutton-Rogers, tells the story of a kind-hearted giant Tio Tiamu (Toe Jam) as he overcomes many challenges. The story won the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for Te Reo Māori in this year’s New Zealand Book Awards. The NZSO has commissioned composer Tane Upjohn-Beatson to create a musical accompaniment to this enchanting story, read by actor Maaka Pohatu. Maaka has previously toured with the NZSO as a member of the Modern Māori Quartet and is one of the stars of hit TV mockumentary series Wellington Paranormal.

“On first reading Tio Tiamu I was surprised and delighted to discover it was a story of great emotional depth ripe for musical expression,” says Tane. “I was also fascinated by how much more detail and resonance there was in the Te Reo Māori as opposed to the English version. Te Reo Māori has a rolling rhythm which spools this story out bit by bit, like a song.

“I wrote the music with the aim that even an audience member who understands little to no Te Reo Māori could still get caught up in the emotional journey, and enjoy the poetry of the language.”

The NZSO has previously done four instalments of the Storytime series, with original music by composer Claire Cowan accompanying readings of children’s stories Mrs Wishy-Washy’s Farm, The Bomb, The Stolen Stars of Matariki and The Little Yellow Digger. Tio Tiamu is the first in the NZSO’s Storytime series recorded entirely in Te Reo Māori.