Rotorua Maori Choir Profile

Michael Alexandratos
12 Apr 2017

With songs that “charm the ear and haunt the memory” members of the Rotorua Maori Choir set in wax over 50 titles during their legendary 1930 recording sessions.

Anglican clergyman Frederick A. Bennett first formed the group in the early 1900s, and in 1930 the Columbia Graphophone Company in Sydney decided to send a special recording outfit to New Zealand in order to record the group. Comprising 27 members at the time of recording, the male-female choir were mostly from Ngāti Whakaue and sang a variety of material, from poi songs, stick games and love ballads, to Christian hymns and songs by composer Alfred Hill.

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Flyer for the Rotorua Maori Choir recordings that took place in April 1930
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Tunohopu meeting house
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A window display for the Rotorua recordings from the Bristol Piano Co. in Dunedin, published in the Australian Phonograph News in August, 1930
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Columbia Graphophone's catalogue listing its artists and the recordings they have released, including the Rotorua Maori Choir, c. 1930 
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Rotorua Maori Choir outside the Tunohopu meeting house, where the Columbia recordings were made over 12 days in April in 1930
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The lorry that transported the Columbia recording outfit from Auckland to Rotorua for the "Maori Recording Expedition", April 1930
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Another vinyl re-issue of the Rotorua Maori Choir's recordings: this one, thought to be from the late 1960s, also features recordings by the Aotearoa Maori Choir
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Columbia Graphophone's catalogue listing the Rotorua Maori Choir's recordings, c. 1930
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Inside the flyer for the Rotorua Maori Choir recordings, April 1930
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'Haere Haere Ra E Hine' - canoe poi song - by Paraire Tomoana, recorded by the the Rotorua Maori Choir in their first sessions on 14 April 1930, and released by Columbia 
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The Rotorua Maori Choir's 1930s shellac recordings were re-issued as a 10-inch vinyl album c. 1961
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'E Pari Ra' recorded by the Rotorua Maori Choir, 1930
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A Maori warrior is prominent in this display for the Rotorua recordings in the window of W. Gordon Ltd. in Wellington, featured in the Australian Phonograph News, September, 1930
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When the Rotorua Maori Choir discs were released in 1930, they were heavily promoted by New Zealand retailers. Among the innovative window displays created by the retailers were those by Moore’s in Auckland, who recruited “charming Maori wahines” to sit in the window and make kete. Howie’s, in Newton, Auckland, exhibited a Māori pā in their shop window.