Waiheke: Island music

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright visits the Whittaker's Music Museum and finds a great excuse to day-trip to Waiheke, even on a rainy autumn day.

Whittaker's Music Museum on Waiheke Island. Photo / Supplied
Whittaker's Music Museum on Waiheke Island. Photo / Supplied

The wind is howling, but inside Whittaker's Music Museum, just off the main street of Oneroa on Waiheke Island, it's cosy and nostalgic.

Hosts Lloyd and Joan Whittaker are taking a dozen people on a musical journey, showcasing their collection of instruments including pianos, organs, harpsichords, a dulcitone, harmonicas, concertinas and piano accordions.

The show starts with Lloyd's personal story, which began in small-town New Zealand in the 1930s. He first became interested in music at 5 when he got a mouth organ for his birthday. At the time there were harmonica bands around the world, and he shows us a photograph of one in Christchurch that had 23 players.

By the time he was 10, Lloyd had taught himself the mouth organ, accordion, piano, pedal organ, mandolin-guitar and concertina, as well as accompanying the school choir and playing at country dances.

He first learned to play by ear, and then re-learned - first with nuns in "the most boring year of my life" and then with an accomplished and inspiring music teacher, Jordan Rogers, who introduced him to classical music.

"With the right teacher, you'll learn," says Lloyd, who went on to have 30 years of teaching, broadcasting and recording experience.

He shows us many different types of harmonicas including a German barrel mouth organ and a version with six harmonicas stuck together "for amateurs who can't change key".

There's also a concertina that makes chicken noises in a quaint version of Old McDonald Had a Farm and a dulcitone sitting in the corner which is more than 250 years old and unable to be tuned or played. Joan tells us about its history, before leading us into a discussion of the origins of the clavichord and piano.

The clavichord has a tiny sound, and was played mostly as entertainment in people's homes between the 1400s and 1600s. Joan plays a sweet little song on it, then she and Lloyd team up to play a Mozart duet on a harpsichord.

Throughout the show, the passion of Lloyd and Joan for music is always evident.

As soon as the octogenarians are up on stage performing or showcasing their instruments, their eyes come to life and their demeanour lightens to that of much younger people.

Zithers line the wall and a "bandoneon" - a cross between a concertina and an accordion - is played to the tune of Edelweiss. It sounds like an orchestra rather than just one instrument - its big sound fills the room. Lloyd then plays I Could Have Danced All Night on a beautiful piano accordion encrusted with 670 diamantes - it looks heavy, destined to be the centre of attention.

Joan takes over with Do Re Mi on a giant xylophone and later, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas on an automatic piano-orchestra with ornate leadlight features. This instrument plays piano, 24-note glockenspiel, bass and snare drums, triangle, cymbal, tambourine and woodblock from paper rolls re-creating original music arrangements.

In between performing, the Whittakers share personal stories about their own musical journeys, as well as their travels around the world following their passion, such as a visit to the Mozart Festival in Austria.

Their collection is impressive. There is a piano built in Paris for a sailing ship, with its foldaway keys, and a London-built version with moveable keys, built for those who play by ear - when it's time to change key, simply shift the whole keyboard along.

This style was popular with people who played by ear, rather than those who had been formally taught music, and often used in picture theatres while silent films were shown.

"It was a great job for 'ear players'," says Lloyd.

"They could play in the dark and make up music on the spot rather than having to read sheet music in the light."

Under the watchful eye of prominent composers lining the walls in intricate frames is Paderewski's Bechstein concert grand piano (1897). Paderewski was known as the "King of the Piano" and toured the world, including New Zealand, with this very piano.

The show is a 90-minute stroll down memory lane for the older audience members and a history lesson brought to life for the young ones, with the thrill of being able to try out all the instruments after the show.

It takes a special person to own such valuable and historic pieces, and then encourage little hands to touch them, but it seems this is the purpose for the museum, to inspire everyone to love music as the Whittakers clearly do.

TRAVELLERS' TIPS

* Whittaker's Music Museum is at the Artworks Complex, 2 Korora St, Oneroa, Waiheke. Ph: (09) 372 5573. Show times are Saturdays at 1.30pm or by arrangement. At other times a DVD presentation runs at 1.30pm daily. Tickets are $12.50 for adults and $8 for kids, under fives are free.

* Fullers Ferries is running a Waiheke competition called The Right Royal Giveaway for a month. Book through them and be in to win a weekend on Waiheke with three nights' accommodation from Waiheke Unlimited, three days' car rental from Waiheke Rental Cars, ferry tickets and a wine tour from Fullers, as well as a helicopter ride with Heliscene.

- NZ Herald

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