Meridian Energy have been working with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Ngai Tahu to help raise awareness of endangered kākāpō during their 2019 breeding season – hatching a plan to find NZ's "saxiest" saxophonist to compose a romantic tune to help get the kākāpō in the mood for breeding.
The effect of saxophone music on kākāpō breeding might not yet be proven but sometimes you have to think outside the box to save a species and, with the population currently at 147 birds, the team were willing to give anything a go.
Piers Dashfield was announced as the winner of the nationwide recruitment hunt and given the unofficial title of 'NZ's Saxiest Saxophonist' last week. A 23-year-old from Wellington, Piers has recently returned from London where he was playing in a band. Now he's back in New Zealand, Piers is ready to help #SaveTheKākāpō.
As the competition winner, Piers hit the studio last week to record a piece of music for our kākāpō. Listen to the finished song here. Could it work? We've heard news that 25 new chicks have hatched so far.
Q&A with Piers Dashfield:
How long have you been playing the saxophone?
I started playing when I was around nine. I was into it for a few years then, as you do when you're younger, I got bored with practising and left it in the cupboard for some years. I started playing again seriously when I was about 20.
What made you enter the competition?
I didn't know about it until my sister and two friends sent me the Meridian Energy link on Facebook. I thought it would be a good chance to have some fun (I dressed up and got a bit silly for my entry video), and a cool prize if I won. I knew it was for a good cause and would bring more attention to conservation efforts for the kākāpō and Meridian Energy's involvement, whether I won or not. My dad runs a pest trapline in the Eastbourne area, so I thought this was another way to try and make a small contribution to conservation efforts.
What are your favourite songs to play on the saxophone?
I don't really play many traditional sax songs, I was most recently playing saxophone in an indie-rock band in London, so pretty far away from jazz standards. I know they're pretty much just memes these days but people always laugh if you can slip in a line of Careless Whisper or Baker Street somewhere in a gig or a jam.
Does the sax make you popular with the ladies?
Hahaha. Errr, I dunno , I haven't tried to use it to win anyone over yet… Been single for about a year now so I guess it's not helping out. Maybe winning this competition will help?
What's the most romantic gesture you've ever done/received?
Once I organised a treasure hunt around the Wellington waterfront with my then girlfriend, revisiting old romantic spots. For things I received, I got a few numbers with winky faces put in my busking case in London.
Why do you think the saxophonist will help get kākāpō in the mood?
Just have a glass of wine, dim the lights and put on Kenny G greatest hits, tell me you don't get in the mood. Reee-ow. I could say the sax sounds like a crooning bird call but I understand the male kākāpō makes a low booming sound when they want to mate, so maybe they'd just prefer some nice punchy kick drum sounds. Either way I imagine sax will get them in the mood more than metal will!
How was the song recording process?
It was awesome. Meridian Energy kitted out the recording booth with all sorts of things to make it romantic. The lights were dimmed, there were flowers and petals all around, a little bottle of wine, a framed picture of the kākāpō. Definitely helped me to channel the 'saxy' sound they wanted, hopefully. Everyone at Meridian Energy and the agency were really cool to work with and patient with me when recording, not rushing or putting any pressure on.
Is this the weirdest thing you've ever done for conservation?
Without a doubt.
What do you like about the kākāpō?
I like that they're fighters. Like other New Zealand birds they were hit hard because of being flightless and yet clung on to survive. It's amazing when a species comes so close to extinction but can survive and are now growing their numbers. Also, from I've seen in videos, they seem to have character and be pretty crack-up birds.