During the 1970s, 80s and 90s, residents of the Tasman district were treated to wonderful house concerts at the Pangatotara home of local Baroque music connoisseur, Herbert Helm, who had a superb organ in his music room. Many of the patrons of these concerts became the first members of the Motueka Music Group.
In 1975 Herbert was approached by the Music Federation of New Zealand, who were planning an associate group of concerts which would run parallel with the main concerts held in cities. The concerts would be by professional artists, but informality and friendliness would be the key note. The Federation (later to become Chamber Music New Zealand) hoped that Motueka could be included in their itinerary. Professionalism, informality and friendliness have continued to be hallmarks of Motueka concerts.
The inaugural meeting of the Motueka Music Group was held on 29 April 1975 at the home of Ron and Elizabeth Scott. This was followed by the first concert, on 1 October by Robert Oliver and Milton Parker. They presented a concert of lute songs and guitar solos in St Thomas’s church hall, for a total fee of $60. After this successful concert, a public meeting was called, at which a committee was formed, with Herbert Helm elected president. Three concerts were booked for 1976, and the group started holding some concerts in the St Andrew’s church hall.
In April 1976 it was suggested that fund raising should be started for a piano. In the early days transporting either a private piano or the council piano to the concert venue was an ongoing challenge. In 1977 fund raising began in earnest. In July of that year a Yamaha piano was purchased using bridging finance, and the St Andrew’s Parish Committee agreed to house it permanently at the church. By early 1979 the piano was paid for in full.
By 1977 the Music Group was independently inviting artists to perform in Motueka as well as booking the Music Federation concerts. The following year the group presented the first of what was to become an annual event – a youth concert, by young people and for young people. As a further encouragement to the young artists of the area, the Music Group in 1979 started donating an annual music prize at Motueka High School. Another joint effort with the high school was the design of a logo, chosen as the winning entry in a school art department competition. The distinctive logo was designed by Thor Besier in 1991.
In December 1991 the Motueka Music Group was offered a home of its own. Peter Goodman offered the group the use of his Family Trust’s property, the old St Peter Chanel Church on High Street. Following this hugely generous offer the Music Group took responsibility for the building, using it for concerts, and renting it to other users. In May 1992, following the building of a stage and the purchase of new seating, the Music Group moved into what has become the Chanel Arts Centre. A grand opening was held, at which the performers were the New Zealand String Quartet. Artists love performing in this beautiful marble church building, with its lively acoustics and tranquil atmosphere.
1993 saw the Music Group once more fund raising for a piano, with then president Yo Wood and piano devotee John Kilmartin leading the enterprise. In May 1994 a 6 foot 6 inches ebony French Rameau was purchased. The new piano was unveiled at a gala concert, given by Richard Mapp, who had been very generous with advice and fund raising, having given a concert for which he charged no fee, all the takings going to the piano fund.
The Chanel Arts Centre had no artists’ room until 1999. Artists changed in the small kitchen, amongst the supper preparations. In 1997 plans were put in motion to build a new rimu stage and an artists’ room and to make the hall accessible to wheelchairs. On 21st May 1999 a celebratory party was held in the newly altered hall to which all the builders and special friends of the Music Group were invited.
Over the years the Motueka Music Group has presented an amazing variety of concerts. We have hosted such artists as New Zealand pianists Michael Houstoun and Diedre Irons, Russian pianists Konstantin Scherbakov and Oleg Marshev, string ensembles the New Zealand String Quartet and the Turnovsky Trio, instrumental soloists Alexa Still (flute) and William Feasley (guitar), instrumental groups Saxcess and the Nairobi Trio, singers Deborah Wai Kapohe and the vocal group Sings Harry, and jazz violinist Fiona Pears. And so many, many more…. We have been thrilled by upcoming young musicians when we hosted three winners of the Michael Hill International Violin Competition and the New Zealand top Graduate Ensemble, the Tasman String Quartet.