Dunedin, Aotearoa New Zealand, June 2020

Tessa Romano recorded this performance of Ross Harris’ ‘Wild Daisies’ with Blair Professor of Music Terence Dennis in her office in Marama Hall just after the move to lockdown level 2 in June 2020. At the time it was recorded, there were only two people allowed in this room at once and students were still barred from campus. This recording was originally made for a belated celebration of the New Zealand Music Month of May – a month which is normally filled with performances of music by Kiwi composers, many of which are premieres.

The music for ‘Wild Daisies’ was composed by Ross Harris in 1994 with a set of poems by Bub Bridges (https://sounz.org.nz/contributors/1049?locale=en). Bub’s poems along with Ross’ music vividly capture scenes of New Zealand nature and the change of seasons in a cheeky vernacular. Tessa found that the backdrop of COVID-19 leant new meaning to these songs because this year it felt as though the change of seasons from autumn to winter never occurred. By the time staff were allowed back on the university campus, all the leaves from the historic oak, the magnolia trees and the cherry blossom trees had already fallen and been swept away. It was as though the change of colours and the falling of leaves was always happening from afar, but not in one’s backyard.

The poetry for these songs is as follows:

Wild Daisies
If you love me
Bring me flowers
Wild daisies
Clutched in your fist
Like a torch
No orchids or roses
Or carnations
No florist’s bow
Just daisies
Steal them
Risk your life for them
Up the sharp hills
In the teeth of the wind
If you love me
Bring me daisies
That I will cram
In a bright vase
And marvel at

Gossip
Now that daylight saving’s ended
Summer is packing her bags
And down there beyond the mountain
Autumn waits
she may just pick up and come running
Because she knows the old man is not too far behind her scarlet heels
and he is drawn to that shady lady
He likes her style
She makes him forget he
Ever saw the sweet wild smiles of spring
Her garlands and green dresses
Her tipsy innocence
He’s perverse
I remember one Christmas
He came riding on the South wind’s back
Catching Summer unaware
He held her
Till the Old Year died and
We stayed indoors by the fire for a week
After he’d gone she
Blazed white hot and waited
But he had flown
It’s that red haired high stepping stripteasing Autumn
That winter Wants.

The Swans
Before I die
I want to see again
Something as perfect
As the sight
Of those nineteen black swans
that flew high against a bank of grey cloud turned Silver at the edges
In the cold winter light
Their wings glittering
Their cries Wild and lonely
Those fast dark birds
Heading south
In A long arrow
Stopped us in our tracks
And we two stood
Open mouthed and wordless
Grounded by the glory
Of that beating flight
Remember Jilly?
Remember
Their wild cries
And those white white
Wingtips flashing

In the City
It’s raining
Soft
Straight down
Rain
Falling
On the streets
And the cars
And the people who lift up their faces
Because there’s no wind
And it’s a pleasure
This sweet autumn rain
Falling in their hair
And on their skin
It would be nice to stand naked on this corner
Stamping the wet street and
Touching the shiny cars
That wait for the lights
To change
And touching your face
With the rain on it
Cool like clean tears

Summer’s Coming
I’ve been hibernating since June
Curled up
Sluggish with cold
Stiff in all my bones
With self pity
Wrapped round like a blanket
But now its November
And the sun
Licks the land warm again
So I’ve had my hair cut
And put on my red dress
My Pseudo silver earrings
Bounce big as bangles
As I walk
tomorrow I’ll go to town on my bike
to pay the gas bill
And all around the bays
With the promise of things to come
The sea will be dancing
And the hills the hills spilling with daisies

 

Tessa Romano is originally from Syracuse, New York in the United States. She moved to Ōtepoti Dunedin in June of 2019 to take up the position of Lecturer of Voice at the University of Otago/Te Whare Wānanga o Ōtākou. She holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts in voice and pedagogy from the University of Colorado Boulder, a Master of Music in Voice from the University of Michigan, and a Bachelor of Arts in Italian from Princeton University. Tessa performs internationally as a mezzo-soprano in the European classical style, and has premiered works by numerous composers. During the COVID crisis, Tessa also recorded a quarantine rendition of Grieg’s Kveldssang for Blakken, with pianist Elise Lawrence, who resides in Oslo, Norway. This video can also be viewed here:

For more information on Tessa, please visit her website: http://www.tessaromano.com.

Pianist Elise Lawrence maintains an active performing schedule around the world, performing in recital in the United States, Spain, Portugal, Austria and England. She is an alumna of the University of Southern California, where she received her masters in collaborative piano from the renowned pianist and composer Dr. Alan Louis Smith. Prior to USC, she obtained a degree in Piano Performance from the University of Michigan under Professor Christopher Harding. While in Michigan she cultivated her passion for chamber music and song interpretation, taking part in a variety of projects spanning from duo recitals to symphony band concert performances. In addition to performance, Ms. Lawrence also dedicates time to teaching the next generation of pianists. Currently she resides in Oslo, Norway.

Bub Bridger (1024 – 2009) was a poet and short story writer, who often performed her own work. She started writing at the age of 50 after attending a writers’ workshop at Victoria University run by historian Michael King. Bridger’s writing is known for its comedic energy and its idiosyncratic instances of fantasy. She was a noted live performer and her poems and stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. She also wrote for radio and television, acted on the stage and was a member of the women’s comedy group Hen’s Teeth.

Terence Dennis is widely regarded as one of New Zealand’s finest musicians, and has an international reputation as a highly sought accompanist. His performances throughout New Zealand and overseas have received high acclaim, and he regularly partners leading resident musicians and distinguished visiting artists in recital and recordings, for example German cellist Maria Kliegel, American violinist Ian Swenson, American soprano Alessandra Marc, American mezzo-soprano Kathleen Kuhlmann, Scottish soprano Margaret Marshall, British mezzo-soprano Sarah Walker and the German baritone Eike Wilm Schulte.

Ross Harris is one of New Zealand’s leading composers. He has written more than two hundred compositions including opera, symphonic music, chamber music, klezmer and electronic music. He has been a finalist in the prestigious SOUNZ Contemporary Award more times than any other New Zealand composer and won the award four times. Harris received a QSM in 1985 for his opera Waituhi with libretto by Witi Ihimaera, the CANZ Citation for Services to New Zealand Music in 1990 and the CANZ Trust Fund Award in 2016. His major works include six string quartets, six symphonies, a violin concerto (premiered by Anthony Marwood in 2010) and a cello concerto (premiered by Li-Wei Qin in 2012). His collaborations with poet Vincent O’Sullivan have produced two operas, two symphonies, three song cycles and Requiem for the Fallen.