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The legacy of WSCM2020

On Saturday 11 July the largest, most prestigious international choral event ever to visit our shores would have launched with a bang!

That evening an eager international audience was to be treated to a spectacular theatrical opening concert in Auckland’s Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, featuring top kapa haka groups, the NZ Secondary Students’ Choir, a combined Pasifika choir and community choral singers from all over the city. Then on Wednesday an exciting collaboration with the Matariki Festival would have brought together six Kiwi composers, kapa haka performers and leading NZ choirs in a ten-movement choral celebration – entirely in te reo – of the Matariki star cluster that heralds the Māori New Year. And to round off our local contribution: on the final night a rendition of Haydn’s masterwork The Creation by an NZ Symposium Choir and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

The rest of the world wanted to show off too. Over the intervening seven days, 24 of the finest choirs on the planet, as well as the brilliant ensembles VOCES8 and The Idea of North, were preparing to entertain us as never before. Fifty choral experts were set to address us on a vast range of fascinating topics, and the trade expo was ready to tempt us with sheet music galore. Meanwhile local and international choirs were to sing side by side in our Surround Sounds fringe festival. It was to be a far-more-than-you-can-eat in-one-week musical feast.

Feasts, though, are a lot more fun to attend than read about. Mr Covid arrived to spoil the banquet and those of us who’d toiled in the kitchen for the past four years (there were a lot of dishes!) were left devastated by the wastage. We took some solace from the wave of messages that swept in, from selected choirs, presenters and registrants alike, expressing not just their own disappointment but also genuine understanding and sympathy. Yet they couldn’t allay our sense of loss for the NZ choral scene – for all the conductors and choirs who would, we believe, have received a lifetime’s worth of inspiration.

But at least the pandemic has given us time to reflect. Along our journey we have become close colleagues of and even friends with many top world practitioners, and have developed an excellent relationship with the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM). Choral people everywhere seemed to like both the look and the substance of what we were planning and were keenly anticipating our Symposium. If Aotearoa NZ wasn’t on the world choral map before, it is now.

WSCM2020’s engagement with tangata whenua has ignited relationships between NZCF and the national kapa haka body Te Matatini, as well as Auckland’s Matariki Festival with whom we still hope to develop the exciting work mentioned above, in 2021. Our Symposium theme ‘People and the Land | He tangata, he whenua’ was warmly embraced all around the globe and the many commissions it sparked will sit in overseas choirs’ repertoires for years to come. Christine’s article for the American Choral Journal (also featured in this month’s eBreve) gives a sense of their overwhelming response.

We’ve gained a vast amount of experience along the way. We’ve learnt how to do a feasibility study, present a bid, make large applications to government and civic funders… as well as how to market, design, negotiate with venues and suppliers, and build artistic and logistical plans on a truly international scale. These invaluable skills are not just vested in the management team but have become part of NZCF’s institutional knowledge. We’re even starting to talk about how to apply them again in the not too distant future.

WSCM2020 can certainly lay claim to being the best Symposium that never took place. In fact, I was so proud of our preparations that I even dared at times to think we might be the best ever to take place. For that I have to thank the many workers, volunteers, funders, creatives, performers, donors, suppliers and registrants who gave us so much support. Please forgive me for singling out just two of them here. Kylie Sealy has been a superb Festival Manager over these past 18 months – diligent, knowledgeable, well-connected and thoroughly committed. Juliet Dreaver as Relationships Manager has walked with me throughout the Symposium journey and has been a wonderful problem-solver and companion.

When we embarked on this expedition, we knew it would be a challenging ascent. An avalanche may have blocked us from enjoying the views at the top, but the long climb was still hugely worthwhile.

John Rosser
Artistic Director