Extract from an article written by Philip Norman

An extract from an article written in May 2010 by Philip Norman for Rock Runner, the magazine of Rathkeale College, Masterton

One of my enduring memories of Rathkeale is of teaching St Matthew's girls to sing "burn the bra, oh burn the bra". This was in 1971, my final year at school, in a comic operetta about women's liberationists and parliamentarians I had written with fellow student John Farnsworth. While the operetta itself has since languished at the bottom of my wardrobe, appreciated only by silverfish, I recall it well as my first significant outing as a composer. 

Study at the University of Canterbury through the 1970s fuelled my interest in the arts and led to work as a freelance composer even before I had graduated - eventually with a PhD in musicology. Back then, the idea of composition as a career was not considered the product of a sound mind, but it being the 1970s, the notion was simpatico, as they used to say, with the spirit of the times. After all, 30-hour working weeks were just around the corner.

It was perhaps inevitable I would end up working in some area of the arts, for an interest in music and in creating things from scratch was in the genes on both sides. My mother, Faye, the biggest influence on my early musical development, was the first music teacher at Rathkeale. My father, John, was the college's foundation headmaster.

My father's day job may have been moulding boys into men, but at heart he was a sculptor of landscapes, through tree-planting, path-laying and the creation of value-added edifices in a medium he eventually mastered - concrete. Who else but an artist (a post-modernist before his time) would relish the incongruity of a classical Greek amphitheatre nestled in a rural New Zealand setting and have the tenacity of vision to see its construction through to completion. Not that EJN would have described his arena as art; to him it was a practical, and in time elegant, solution to the problem of how to seat the school and parents at prize-giving.

Something of his approach has rubbed off on me as a composer. I've always preferred my creations to be of use rather than be art for art's sake. I respond enthusiastically to large-scale challenges and I've found myself inclining to do the unexpected rather than swim with the prevailing current of convention. Sometimes this has transformed the practicalities of raising a family of four children into an adventure sport, but more often it has bought rewards of its own.

Thanks in no small part to my wife Alison's enduring patience and support, I find to my surprise that 38 years have now elapsed since I promoted undergarment incineration at St Matthew's, and I still haven't had, as we say in the arts, ‘a proper job'. For all the challenges of being a composer in New Zealand - and someone once suggested  that it must be like being a matador in Finland - I count myself fortunate not only to have been able to pursue a passion as a career but also to have been able to do so without leaving home.