Asni: harps and imagination - newsletter #4 - January 2007
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Hello, kia ora and welcome to the fourth Asni: harps & imagination newsletter!

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GUILT AND T-SHIRTS

In this newsletter:
UPCOMING EVENTS * PARIHAKA REVISITED * JOURNEYS THROUGH A DARK CENTURY * SUMMER SKETCHING * SHOP NEWS

So I'm back from my belated summer holiday – plans to spend Christmas with friends on Kapiti Island (a native bird sanctuary just off the Wellington coast) unfortunately came to nothing due to the fact that my ongoing colds suddenly developed into full blown pneumonia, and I was forced to spend the holidays in the company of the whanau at john-howe.com. Not the worst company, mind you, but sometimes even the most hopeless internet addict craves the bodily presence of friends…

Seeing that my health problems were apparently caused by the wonky air conditioning system at my workplace, I made some radical decisions about my life, quit the job at The Bridge Networks and will be taking time out from work until June. That does not mean that I won't be busy – I'll be recording, editing, and hopefully producing my Travels in Middle Earth cd. I've got various art and photography projects in the pipeline and I'll be teaching and performing, of course.

UPCOMING EVENTS

I am quite excited to announce the imminent start of the series of evening classes I will be holding at Wellington High School's Adult Education Centre. "Music History in Six Easy Steps" will give an overview of European music history from the Gregorian chant of the early Middle Ages right through current international developments in music – touching on Renaissance polyphony, the development of Opera and concerto, classical symphony, Romantic Lieder, 20th century impressionism, twelve tone music and other experiments, and ending up with an outlook on contemporary music, film music and "world music". The classes will run from 15 February to 22 March, weekly on Thursday nights from 7.30 to 9.30.

There will also be a class to "Learn to read and write music" which will cover the basics of music theory and music notation, from scales, staves and clefs through to chords, modulation and the circle of fifths. It will enable you to start deciphering that mysterious sheet music and give you the basic tools to start writing down your own songs if you are so inclined. This course starts on 14 February and runs to 21 March, Wednesday nights also from 7.30 to 9.30 pm. Both courses will take place at Wellington High School and bookings will close soon, so get in touch with the Adult Education Centre, ph (04) 385 89 19 or email them. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me with your query.

In other news, one of my photos from the Hobbiton film set up in Matamata recently graced the top of a page in the Finnish newspaper "Helsingin Sanomat" – I don't quite know what the article is about since my knowledge of the Finnish language is very limited (and whatever Estonian genes I have don't seem to help much) but it seems to compare hobbit holes to modern attempts at building ecological and heat-efficient "earth houses". So much I can make out from the pictures. It's also increased my market value as a photographer by 300 percent since I last sold the rights to use a photo, so I am very well pleased.

check here for: news updates * upcoming concerts * workshops and courses

PARIHAKA REVISITED

I eventually went on my long postponed summer holiday, just in time for the second instalment of the Parihaka International Peace Festival, which I had already visited last year. This time, however, I was faintly disappointed. Sure, the music was great and the festival grounds, if possible, even more beautifully set up and decorated than last time – and the weather was definitely warmer. I arrived late though and had to put up with a very inferior spot for my tent – next to the exit road, so whenever a car passed, my tent would be submerged in a cloud of dust.

Also, I missed the opportunity to be brought into the spirit of the festival by participating in the official powhiri, the opening ceremony. Then there were minor things – there seemed to be substantially less toilets and showers than last time, or perhaps that was just because I was camped in a less convenient camping spot. I went without a hangi meal on both days because somehow they had run out. Some of my favourite features of last year's festival where not there any more, among them the miraculous seafood man and the all-night open stage. There were three stages this time, unfortunately the "Vision stage" which featured mostly singer-songwriter acts had to fight a lost cause against the noise from the main stage, and the jammer's stage had been moved into the main food stall area, where those brave people who got up there had an even harder task to make themselves heard.

Spending time in the healer's tent, watching them work and joke with each other was my personal highlight of the festival, and being part of one of their group healing sessions almost the only thing that truly got me into the festival spirit. Well, that and having several people I knew from Wellington but hadn't seen in a while walk up to me to say hello and ask how I was…

But there seemed to be an ever so slight shift in spirit this time around. Last year it was a great big "we're in this together" that made the festival stand out – a Maori community opening itself up to outsiders and enabling them to participate in what was essentially a hui, a Maori affair done the Maori way, something from which the Pakeha and particularly the recent immigrant population of New Zealand is usually excluded.

This year, there was the Guilt T-shirt. At the festival information tent I found these t-shirts for sale which had a list of all the injustices committed in Parihaka printed on the back – the plundering, the raping, and every other detail. On the front it said "arohamai" (that means "I'm sorry"). Now don't get me wrong – I am all for saying sorry, and it grieves me that these things have happened, and have not been appropriately acknowledged by New Zealand society at large to this day. But this was a form of guilt-ridden chest-beating that, as a German, I can confidently say does not lead anyone anywhere.

Besides, who is supposed to wear these t-shirts? I suppose anyone who can claim even a fraction of Maori genes is exempt… So it brings it back to the question of race. An "us and them" rather than a "we're in this together and let's make sure it does not happen again". Which is a great big shame, because to me, it kills exactly that element of the festival spirit which made this festival so special to me last year round.

Later I found out that the initiative for these t-shirts had come from a Pakeha married to a Maori – and from what I could glimpse, it was not entirely undisputed among those involved with the festival organization. I sincerely hope that they did not sell at all well.

JOURNEYS THROUGH A DARK CENTURY

But then perhaps what kept me from truly enjoying the festival was that I was just too busy in my head with my own definitions of guilt and history. In my Christmas box of books there had been "The Wolves at Evelyn" by Canadian author Harold Rhenisch. I would probably never have heard about it if it wasn't for the fact that the author happens to be a former high school pal of John's, who had warmly recommended the book in a recent newsletter. What I had read about the contents of the book sounded sufficiently relevant to my own life to order it right away – curious to find out what this son of German immigrants in British Columbia would have to say about his family's journey through a dark century.

I picked up the book as soon as I got it, and I couldn't put it down. I was in turns spellbound, amused and horrified, recognizing so many of those experiences and attitudes that were so familiar from my own life, my own family – my parents must be roughly the same age as the author's – and as I read my way through the tangles of this family history I felt an increasing sense of gratitude that someone had had the courage and the moral fortitude to write this book. A book that tells what happened in all its bewildering complexity, as thoroughly and accurately as is possible from this distance, but which stays away from judgement.

There was plunder and rape in Berlin too in 1945, when the city finally capitulated to the Russians. There were vast amounts of people driven out of the lands they called home, in the areas of Eastern Europe that had been settled by Germans for centuries. My mother's family had lived in Estonia and other parts of the then Russian Empire since the late 16hundreds – well before any Europeans ever settled in New Zealand, the ancestors of those who now so naturally define themselves as New Zealanders and do not have to doubt their right to live here. My mother was eight years old when the war was over, my father was five. Yet my parent's generation never even could talk about these things – let alone demand that someone apologize. Because there was always GUILT. These children were shown images of the horrors of the concentration camps and told it was their fault.

And even I, the child of those children, have taken a long long time to even define for myself how I felt about all these things. In the process I have lived in four different countries, trying to run away as far as I could from the memory of those horrors, and never succeeding. So it is high time that someone talked – with honesty, integrity but without judgement. Because when there is a war, EVERYONE suffers, most of all the children - and Germans love their children too.

SUMMER SKETCHING

The rest of my holiday was of the fairly laidback kind – from Taranaki I drove up to the Waikato coast and parked myself on a lovely little campsite at Marokopa – a small coastal community in an area that used to be densely populated before the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand and still has a strong Maori community, along with what appear to be mostly holiday homes.

Marokopa is famous for its fishing – a fact I was not aware of when I first dragged my A2 sketchpad to the beach to do a drawing of the remnants of an old Maori fortification overlooking the river mouth, but which was soon brought home to me when the previously empty beach suddenly livened up with whole families and their fishing rods.

I must say, sitting on a beach with a large sketchpad while everyone else is fishing is an excellent way to get to know almost everybody in a small community such as this. People were for the most part entirely unshy in demanding to see the results of my work, but luckily they agreed, on the whole, that it was good art. It made for some great conversations, and at the end of the day they gave me free fish – to be sure, they gave everyone free fish because they had been pulling out the kahawai by the dozens, far more than they could eat. But I still like to think that this is what healthy artist economy should be like. And rather than shunning me as a weirdo, there was a real sense of appreciation that someone would take the trouble to take a sketchpad and pencil to their beach, which may well never have been sketched before.

I also spent a few nights at my favourite campsite in Ruapuke near Raglan – after many previous attempts to spend some time there had failed because it ALWAYS began to rain or storm as soon as I turned up, this time round I actually managed two sunny lazy days which were mostly devoted to sketching, reading, taking photos and being lazy. I did puzzle a farmer lady who came to look after her cows and found me parked in front of her paddock gate with an A3 pad on my steering wheel, happily sketching away… I'm not sure she was very impressed when I showed her the result.

On the way back I finally got to climb Mt Pirongia, which was another long postponed project. I stopped by at the Waitomo Caves and played my little harp down there – it's one of the few spaces in New Zealand that have something approaching the acoustics of a European cathedral… so it was well worthwhile. I headed back via Tongariro where I re-did a couple of sketches I had done there nearly exactly 3 years earlier – just to convince myself that there was some improvement apparent. And after spending a lovely day with my friend Jenny, whom I had failed to see over Christmas, it was back to Wellington and my brandnew exciting freelance existence… now, I've got a cd to record.

SHOP NEWS

There is nothing much to report from my shop today - of course I'll be working full steam on my new cd production Travels in Middle Earth, which I expect to release in June. I will also be working on some major website updates and expect that I will be able to make available some high-quality music tracks for (paid) download soon.

Last but not least, getting my photo galleries up to speed and offering prints for sale is definitely on the list of things to do... so keep checking back. I will keep you informed about any new products on offer.

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photo © Kirstin Wright


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