In our Meet the Board series we invite you to sit down and learn more about each SOUNZ board member. Today we introduce Chair | Toihau Elizabeth Kerr.
Give a brief introduction about yourself.
I’ve been privileged to work in music and the arts for about 50 years, in many different roles. I have three children and six grandchildren and live with my partner in Waikanae, though I’m a Wellingtonian at heart and spend a lot of time in the city. I think of myself as a “music person” but I’m also a voracious reader and take an interest in contemporary visual arts and film.
What do you do outside of your work at SOUNZ?
I write classical music articles and CD reviews for NZ Listener, contribute concert reviews to RNZ Concert, present pre-concert talks for NZSO and others and serve on the board of Tawhiri Limited, the organisation responsible for the NZ Festival and Wellington Jazz Festival and other events. It’s important for me to also find time to hang out with my family and grow vegetables in our Waikanae garden.
What is one of your earliest musical memories?
My mother played the piano and my maternal grandmother taught violin and piano so we always had a piano in the house. As a small child, I had lessons with one of those piano-teaching dragon ladies – she used to whack the music with her ruler when I played by ear and didn’t follow the score.
Provide a brief overview of your personal journey with music.
From childhood, I learned the piano and sang in any choir I could find. I also played guitar, recorder, ukulele and, when I got to university, the ‘cello as well. I’ve also played organ and harpsichord. I had no idea what I’d do with my music degree but declared I would not be a teacher. Inevitably, that was my first job – I trained in Toronto, Ontario and taught music in schools there for several years before returning to New Zealand. After that, I taught teachers as a music adviser to Wellington schools and then joined the music department at Victoria University teaching history and analysis with a 20th century bias, music education, and conducted the choirs. After 13 years as a lecturer I decided there was life outside academia and moved into arts management at QE2 Arts Council, then RNZ Concert, Creative NZ and NZ String Quartet. I also served on the boards of NZSO, Orchestra Wellington, the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies and the NZ String Quartet. I had a short period as CE of Heritage New Zealand and was on the Board of the Antarctic Heritage Trust. Two years ago I made my first trip to Antarctica – unforgettable!
When I was Music Manager at QE 2 Arts Council in the early 1990’s, I was approached by two NZ composers, Dorothy Freed and David Farquhar, about establishing a NZ Music Information Centre to join a growing international network. I worked with them and with composer Ashley Heenan, then Chair of the NZ Composers’ Commission, to set up the Centre for NZ Music, now called SOUNZ. I persuaded the Arts Council to provide funding, worked with a lawyer on the legal structure, and with Ashley on the appointment of the first Board and Executive Director. And the rest, as they say, is history – I’m very proud that the organisation has grown and blossomed over almost thirty years. From the beginning we agreed that we didn’t need to be a “library”; that role was covered elsewhere. What was needed was a promotional agency for the work of NZ composers, to increase the commissioning, composition, performance, broadcast, publication and knowledge about NZ music.
We always planned to expand SOUNZ’s reach beyond the work of classically-trained composers to include all kinds of music and it’s wonderful to see the recent development of our work with Māori composers and inclusion of jazz composers and sonic artists. When SOUNZ began, the internet was not part of everyone’s lives as it is now – with the development and enhancement of SOUNZ Online, our work is now reaching a huge global community. It’s been very exciting to be Chair of SOUNZ over the past ten years!
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