Hoki mai raAugust 11th, 2014
Next time you visit older relatives with a piano, it could pay to look through their stack of sheet music – you never know what you might find.
A unique find
In 2007, while staying with an aunt and uncle in Australia, I was searching for music to play when something unusual in their piano stool caught my eye. Among the classical items and popular songs was an old manuscript score of the Māori love song ‘Pōkarekare’. The manuscript included an English translation of the lyrics and explanatory notes, together with a beautifully illustrated cover.
What also got my attention was the date on the cover – Xmas 1923 – which made the score one of the earliest musical notations for ‘Pōkarekare’ and one of the earliest copies of the lyrics. In April 2014, a digital copy of this unique score was deposited with the Alexander Turnbull Library and is now available to view in the Katherine Mansfield Reading Room.
Pokarekare; for vocal and piano, 1923. Hubert E Carter. Ref: MSDL-2241.
‘Pōkarekare’ is one of New Zealand’s most iconic songs. Performed countless times since the early-twentieth century, the song has also been recorded and published on many occasions. It’s celebrated and discussed, online, on television, and in academia (Allan Thomas, '"Pokarekare": an overlooked New Zealand folksong?', Journal of Folklore Research 44/2-3 (2007), 227-237).
The enduring fascination with ‘Pōkarekare’ (also known as ‘Pōkarekare ana’) partly derives from the many transformations the song has undergone over the years. The lyrics – a plea for a maiden to return to her lover’s arms – have been translated into various languages, adapted and parodied. The tune has also been borrowed, most famously in New Zealand for the 1986 America’s Cup song ‘Sailing away’.
There has also been much interest in the song’s uncertain origins. Various items in the Turnbull Library collections document its early history. Before explaining how the 1923 score contributes further to our knowledge, it’s worth briefly reviewing these early publications.
A noble sacrifice
The lyrics of ‘Pōkarekare’ seem to have been first printed in the ca. 1921 second edition of a waiata booklet published to support Māori veterans of the First World War, A Noble Sacrifice , also known as Hoea ra te waka nei, or Come where duty calls.
Lyrics for 'Pōkarekare' from Paraire Tomoana and Apirana Ngata (eds.), Hoea ra te waka nei = Come where duty calls, ca.1921. Record page.
The ca. 1919 first edition had been compiled by two notable Māori leaders of the early-twentieth century, Sir Apirana Ngata and Paraire Tomoana. They probably also edited the later expanded reissue which includes ‘Pōkarekare’. (Unfortunately, the title page is missing from the only known copy). An introductory note describes the song’s origins and subsequent popularisation among Māori servicemen:
These ditties emanated in the North of Auckland, were popularised in Narrowneck Camp, and eventually drifted to Torere in the Bay of Plenty, thence to the East Cape. There they took the present form with appropriate action, and acquired close association with the last drafts of single men from the East Cape and Wairoa districts, known officially as the 19th and 20th Maori Reinforcements.
The song was next published around 1926, in two different voice and piano arrangements: the first by the composer Alfred Hill, the second by “Hemi Piripata” (believed to be a pseudonym for expatriate English musician James Phillpot), each with lyrics in both Māori and English. Several other versions were published over the next ten years.
Early publications of ‘Pōkarekare’ did not name the composer, but a new arrangement appeared in 1964 which credited the song to Paraire Tomoana. (Sam Freedman, Songs of New Zealand: Maori Music: A Complete Collection of Maori Favourites. Wellington: Seven Seas Publishing, 1964.) Others have since claimed that Apirana Ngata wrote ‘Pōkarekare’. While neither man ever acknowledged authorship themselves, both were famed composers of waiata with European-style tunes and could well have had a hand in the song’s composition. Some resolution occurred in 1988, when the Tomoana family registered the song with the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), declaring that Paraire had composed the song in 1912 while courting his second wife, Kuini Ripeka Ryland. They were subsequently granted copyright.
Who is E.B.?
We now return to my aunt’s 1923 manuscript of ‘Pōkarekare’. Untangling the provenance of this artefact has necessitated considerable detective work in its own right.
The score was apparently inherited together with a piano, piano stool and other sheet music, from farming relatives in the Manawatu-Wanganui Region. How it first came into the family’s possession is not clear, although it was possibly acquired by my aunt’s aunt, Mary Kearins, who sang at public concerts in Palmerston North during the 1920s. The name on the cover, “Hubert”, presumably the transcriber, is another clue.
Signature detail from Pōkarekare; for vocal and piano (MSDL-2241); and signature detail from Moe mai koe (NZ/S-MOE.500). Sheet Music Archive of New Zealand.
After consulting with the Sheet Music Archive of NZ’s David Dell, we discovered that the handwritten “Hubert” almost perfectly matches the signature stamp on a score in his collection, for the New Zealand tenor Hubert Carter. Carter grew up in Palmerston North, beginning his professional singing career as a boy soprano with the Pollard Opera Company. Between 1924 and 1951 he lived mainly in England, performing and lecturing (including on Māori music), and came to adopt the stage name Hubert Milverton-Carta. In later years, he became a singing teacher in Auckland, whose students included Sir Donald McIntyre, Tom Sharplin and Bunny Walters.
Front cover sleeve of Hubert Milverton-Carta, Waiata poi (7" EP), ca. 1960; portrait of Hubert Milverton-Carta from back cover sleeve. Record page.
Given that both my aunt’s family and Hubert Carter had strong associations with Palmerston North (Carter returned for a few years in the early-1920s), there was likely some personal connection. The score appears to be a Christmas present. The identity of the translator, however, whose initials are given on the score as ‘E.B.’, remains a mystery.
Where did Hubert Carter learn ‘Pōkarekare’? Probably not from A Noble Sacrifice, as the 1923 manuscript text has several variations and corruptions. One possible source was the singer Bathie Howie Stuart, who performed ‘Pōkarekare’ at concerts from 1919 onwards. Stuart and Carter were undoubtedly acquainted: both joined the Pollard Opera Company in 1907 and probably crossed paths later on the New Zealand stage circuit.
A ditty, a toitoi
But even if its provenance remains slightly clouded, the 1923 score illuminates the early history of ‘Pōkarekare’ in various interesting ways. First, it confirms that, years before being published as sheet music, ‘Pōkarekare’ was circulating not only among Māori but also Pākehā, particularly those in the singing profession. Second, the score features the earliest known notated melody line for a song which at this time still existed primarily in oral tradition, in versions which might vary with each singer.
At the very least, the manuscript shows how Hubert Carter probably performed it. The 6/8 time signature used is also of interest. None of the early published versions feature 6/8 time, but this does allow for the same mixed sense of meter (the pattern of repeated musical accents) which has been identified with the song.
Lastly, the translator ‘E.B.’ (who was probably Pākehā) makes some curious observations in their notes. “The Whanganui natives, in my youth, would call it a ‘Toitoi’”, ‘E.B.’ explains. “It is hardly entitled to be dignified (according to the Maori idea) with the name of ‘song’”.
This usage and meaning of the word “toitoi” is unusual. Perhaps it was a Whanganui dialect term. Or did the translator really mean to compare ‘Pōkarekare’s apparent inconsequence with the wispy flowers of the native grass toetoe (sometimes misspelt as “toitoi”)? And, while their description now seems a bit unflattering, it is not entirely inconsistent with the term “ditties” used by Ngata and Tomoana.
The gorgeous Māoriland-style cover of the 1923 manuscript – with huia feathers, kōwhai flowers, hei tiki and taiaha – tells its own story, though. As far back as 1923, there was also apparently a strong sense that ‘Pōkarekare’ was a remarkable musical taonga.
Thanks to David Dell, and to my colleagues Ariana Tikao, Nicola Frean, and Chris Anderson for their help.