TAWHIRIMATEA (Press Release information)
June Pitman-Hayes
16 March 2017

About the Author:

June Pitman-Hayes is a creative writer, singer-songwriter, lyricist and poet of Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Pūkenga and Ngāti Maniapoto descent. Brought up on the shores of Tamaterau, a tiny settlement that hugs the Whangarei Heads Coast Road east of Whangarei, June was the youngest of three mokopuna raised largely by her maternal Māori grandmother, Tiria, who allowed her the freedom to roam the natural surroundings, develop her own appreciation for the natural world at a very early age, and her ability to see beyond what was immediately apparent to the visible eye. “Look into a dewdrop captured in a flower, and then look deeper to really see what is within. This is where the magic is!” June says.
It was her mother, however, who encouraged her daughter’s natural ability for music and song. June is one of Aotearoa’s well-known jazz singers, having performed at many events and festivals throughout the country. She also recently recorded the music to Joy Cowley’s Hush: A Kiwi Lullaby for a book &
CD combination for Scholastic NZ. Until recently, June lived near Wainui, Auckland, where she taught singing to the children of Meraki Montessori School.


The background:


When asked to teach singing to the children of Meraki Montessori School in Wainui, and to bring into that teaching some aspects of Māori culture, I had no idea that this would be a catalyst for embarking on what continues to be an incredible, creative journey in my singer/songwriter career.


In my quest to find suitable te reo waiata for new entrant/primary school children, my research revealed that resources were fairly limited and, in some cases, lyrically inappropriate. Traditional Māori waiata were heavily weighted with a strong sense of purpose and seriousness. I was searching for waiata
that were light, meaningful, and which would easily engage the children. 


The idea for Tāwhirimātea, A Song for Matariki, arrived with the wind one very blustery winter’s morning in June 2015. Both melody and lyric presented easily and effortlessly, and within thirty minutes a new and catchy waiata had been created.


Less than an hour later, the children of Meraki Montessori School were singing Tāwhirimātea with gusto! They explored, discovered and discussed the story within the lyric, learned the tune very quickly, and sang the song as if they had been doing so forever. A few days later, their Kaiako phoned to tell me the children had found a dead bird in the yard; that they had dug a hole, buried the bird, and held a ceremony where they all held hands around the little grave, singing Tāwhirimātea. This was the defining moment where I realised without doubt that I had been given a very special taonga to bring forth in creation.


The Lyric:


Tāwhirimātea’s lyrics not only evoke an understanding of the magic of our universe in duality, but also highlights values for living life: sharing, whānau connectedness, respect for our elders, and the spurning of greed, all of which is underpinned in the belief that Matariki (the Maori New Year), is a time to gather family and friends together, to reflect and honour the past, celebrate the present, and plan for the future.
When writing the lyrics, I called upon my Māori heritage and tupuna for guidance to ensure I was approaching this in an appropriate manner, mindful of the respect for Tikanga Māori, Te Ao Mārama, and our Atua: Tama-nui-terā, Ranginui, Papatūānuku, Tāwhirimātea, Tāne Mahuta, Tangaroa. I believe
they are the ‘waka’ underpinning this project, and why the creative process flowed and continues to flow with ease and grace.

Having observed how quickly the children learned and gained understanding through the Tāwhirimātea waiata, I realised it had the potential to be transformed into an illustrated children’s book with music. A few months later my intuition was validated when, after submitting a very sketchy proposal, I received word that the Scholastic Acquisitions Team loved it, and that they would publish my work as one of their 2017 new releases. How exciting is that!


The Illustrations:

The next ‘jewel in the crown’ in the Tāwhirimātea journey came in the form of Kat Merewether, whose work on other book projects I greatly admire. I had my own ideas around how the book should be illustrated, and instinctively knew that I wanted each of the Atua to be represented in subtle ways that
appeared as though they were the waka, carrying or supporting the story and the illustrations. I had also envisaged rich and luscious illustrations that brought to life the forest of Tāne – for example, being able to ‘feel’ plump Kereru feasting on burstingly delicious berries – illustrations that would transport the reader beyond what one immediately sees. Kat’s work and likeminded view has given the book all of this, and so much more. She is truly amazing!

The Recording:


When Mike McCarthy from Orewa’s Manuka Recording Studio and I get together to create music, magic happens. Mike has an innate ability to bring out the best in me as a recording artist. Together we work collaboratively in developing my melodic ideas into musical ‘road maps’ that suit the mood of the stories conveyed in lyric form and provide the most ideal vocal soundtracks. The recording process for Tāwhirimātea followed this pattern.


Throughout, Mike was right in the zone, guiding me from the other side of the sound-booth window with his gentle, encouraging, and always professional calm. With Ngaere Roberts’ guidance in pronunciation of te reo resonating in my mind, and the Scholastic team standing alongside offering suggestions and encouragement, Tāwhirimātea was recorded in English and in Maori.

With the recording ‘in the can’, we moved on to the final stage, where, sitting side by side, Mike and I got into what he describes as ‘the fun part’ – the creative art of digital embellishment, mixing and mastering. The outcome is a musical creation that is rhythmical, catchy, light, fun, and infused with whimsical sound effects that conjure up the magic of our natural surroundings. We proudly announced that Tāwhirimātea was officially, digitally ‘born’, before handing it over to its Scholastic ‘parents’ who would nurture it through the stages of the publishing journey.

A Personal Note:


I would like to express my deep and heartfelt gratitude to the Scholastic team for taking a risk on a singer with an idea, who has never before been published, and for believing in the magic that is Tāwhirimātea. I truly believe I was given a special gift from Universe to bring forth, and spread joy among those who share its messages through reading and song.