ATL100 Douglas Lilburn

The composer Douglas Lilburn (1915-2001) was one of the Alexander Turnbull Library’s major benefactors. As well as helping instigate the Archive of New Zealand Music and donating his personal collection, Lilburn established the Lilburn Trust, which supports New Zealand music with grants, awards, and other initiatives. During the ATL100 centenary period, we will be highlighting collaborations between the Turnbull Library and Lilburn Trust.


Dame Gillian Whitehead standing at a lecturn after delivering her lecture.Dame Gillian Whitehead. Photo: Mark Beatty.

Breath of the birds – Lilburn Lecture 2019

On Friday 1 November, a full house of 180 people gathered in the National Library auditorium for composer Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead (Ngāi te Rangi) to deliver the 2019 Lilburn Lecture. Dame Gillian’s lecture was entitled ‘Breath of the Birds: The Revival of Taonga Puoro’ and covered the recent revival of traditional Māori instruments involving Hirini Melbourne, Richard Nunns, Brian Flintoff and others, and how she has incorporated the taonga into her music. The talk was followed by a performance of her 1999 composition Hineraukatauri, played by NZSO principal flautist Bridget Douglas and taonga puoro exponent Alistair Fraser.

"When I first started working with Richard”, Whitehead recalled, “people would often ask how I felt about writing music that would have a short life, as, particularly after Hirini’s death, we weren’t sure whether the revival would continue or diminish and disappear. I wasn’t that fazed. To have even once the possibility and privilege of writing for these new sounds that connected to my heritage was enough… Twenty years on, there are a number of highly skilled players - Horomona Horo, Alistair Fraser, Rob Thorne, James Webster, Ariana Tikao, to name a few - with their individual backgrounds, sets of instruments and playing techniques, who work across a variety of genres, and perform nationally and abroad. And a growing number of composers who are working together with them, discovering new ways to work together. It’s very exciting.”

Hear a recording and read a transcript of Gillian Whitehead’s Lilburn Lecture courtesy of RNZ Concert

Read ATL Endowment Trust deputy chair Suzanne Snively’s speech about the work of the Trust, which was part of the Lilburn Lecture introduction

View more photographs of the Lilburn Lecture 2019 (and also on the RNZ website here)

View from the back of the auditorium showing a full house.Dame Gillian Whitehead delivering her lecture to a packed National Library auditorium. Photo: Mark Beatty.

The vote of thanks for Gillian Whitehead’s lecture was given by Toni Huata, Kaihautū Puoro Māori (Director of Māori Music) at SOUNZ.

The annual Lilburn Lecture has been held since 2013. Previous speakers have been Eve de Castro-Robinson, Charles Royal, Jenny McLeod, Chris Bourke, William Dart and Philip Norman. See this page for links to recordings of all previous lectures.

John and Jan sitting at desk together.John Meads (Chair, Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust) and Jan Hellriegel (Songbroker) with some of Douglas Lilburn’s published writings. Photo: Michael Brown.

Songbroker: Protecting Douglas Lilburn’s musical legacy

The Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust holds the copyright in the music of Douglas Lilburn’s music, with proceeds going to the Lilburn Trust to further the growth and development of New Zealand music. In April 2019, the Endowment Trust appointed Songbroker Music Publishing to represent the music of Douglas Lilburn. Owned and managed by Jan Hellriegel, herself a singer-songwriter, Songbroker has extensive experience in the area of copyright licensing and administration.

Lorde on the PowerPoint during Eve de Castro-Robinson's 2018 Lilburn Lecture.Eve de Castro-Robinson referencing Lorde during her 2018 Lilburn Lecture. Photo by Mark Beatty, Alexander Turnbull Library

Wide blows our banner – Lilburn Lecture 2018

On 2 November, Douglas Lilburn’s birthday, 130 people gathered in the National Library’s brand new auditorium to hear acclaimed composer Eve de Castro-Robinson deliver the 2018 Lilburn Lecture. Her talk, entitled ‘Wide Blows Our Banner: How far have women composers in New Zealand come since Suffrage?’, drew on musical examples from Willow Macky, Victoria Kelly, Lorde, and de Castro-Robinson herself, as she reflected on her journey as a composer since the 1980s.

“Is this whiff of old boys' network, toxic masculinity before its time? Is it still around?”, de Castro-Robinson asked. “Yes it sure is, certainly in business, in politics, definitely in the law, and in institutions - universities oh yes, but, much less so I think in composerly circles themselves. We tend to stick together, and support each other, knowing that we're all in the same position. We're competitive of course, it's a creatively perilous business, and we're up for the same commissions and jobs from the same musicians and organisations. It's a tough living, and we all know it. But is it tougher for women composers?”

Hear a recording and read a transcript of Eve de Castro-Robinson’s Lilburn Lecture courtesy of RNZ Concert

Eve de Castro-Robinson delivering the 2018 Lilburn Lecture.Eve de Castro-Robinson delivering the 2018 Lilburn Lecture. Photo by Mark Beatty, Alexander Turnbull Library

The vote of thanks for Eve de Castro-Robinson’s lecture was given by Diana Marsh, executive director of SOUNZ. Read the text of her speech here.

3 Lilburn Research FellowAlexander Turnbull Library curators (left to right), Michael Brown, Barbara Lyon and Keith McEwing with Lilburn Research Fellow Daniel Beban. Photo by Mark Beatty, Alexander Turnbull Library

Lilburn Research Fellow 2019

On 17 May 2018, the Turnbull Library and the Lilburn Trust announced that Daniel Beban had been awarded the prestigious Lilburn Research Fellowship for 2019. Mr Beban formally takes up the Fellowship in late 2018, using it to further his study of the Braille Collective musicians in Wellington. They were a loose grouping of musicians who performed and recorded original and improvised experimental music in the 1980s. Members formed various musical ensembles, including the Primitive Art Group, Six Volts, and Family Mallet, among many others.

A selection of Braille Collective posters, preserved in the Alexander Turnbull Library.A selection of Braille Collective posters, held in the Alexander Turnbull Library. Photo by Mark Beatty, Alexander Turnbull Library

Listen online to a set of live recordings from the 1980s by Braille Collective groups Our Name is Our Motto, Jungle Suite and the Flaming Anvil Brothers.

Mr Beban studied ethnomusicology and composition at Victoria University of Wellington, with improvised and experimental music being the focus of much of his subsequent research, writing and radio broadcasting work. His research on the Braille Collective musicians will draw on the Turnbull Library’s extensive collection of their work, contained in the Archive of New Zealand Music. This includes their LP releases, numerous live recordings, posters and other ephemera.

The Lilburn Research Fellowship has been offered on a biennial basis since 2013. See this page for a list of previous recipients.


More about Douglas Lilburn and The Turnbull Library

Alexander Turnbull Library blogs about Douglas Lilburn: ‘Centennial Offerings’ and ‘Happy Birthday Douglas!’

Detailed information about the composer and the Lilburn Trust: www.douglaslilburn.org

Te Ara Encyclopedia entry on Douglas Lilburn

‘A Matter of Trust’: Roger Flury’s article from the Turnbull Library Record (2015) about the Lilburn Trust’s recent history

Photo by Chris Black of Douglas Lilburn (1960s). Ref: PAColl-7737-3-01Photo by Chris Black of Douglas Lilburn (1960s). Ref: PAColl-7737-3-01

By Michael Brown

Michael Brown is Music Curator at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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