Maori leaders have paid tribute to Whanganui kaumatua Morvin Simon, an exceptional composer, choirmaster, kapa haka leader, academic and historian.

Mr Simon died in Wellington hospital yesterday.

He was born at Kaiwhaiki Marae, and educated at Upokongaro School then Hato Paora, before going on to study philosophy and sociology at Holy Name College in Christchurch. He also studied Maori language and oral literature at Victoria and Massey Universities.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia paid tribute to Mr Simon's skills as a composer, teacher and cultural leader.

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"Like te awa tupua, his waiata could move from tempestuous rapids to smooth waters that caress your every trouble away.

"E riporipo ana nga wai - the one comfort we can turn to is to know the river flows on, and the melodies will be taken up by all our mokopuna to lift our hearts at this time of sorrow."

Mrs Turia said Mr Simon had created the magical sound that was now associated with Hato Paora College; with Nga Paerangi and of course the beautiful harmonies of St Peter Chanel.

"Morvin was a distinguished composer, choirmaster, and kapa haka leader.

"Whether it be over three decades of leadership for the Hato Paora boys; generations of families who have demonstrated their talents at the annual Hui Aranga, or the more recent initiative of Te Taikura o Te Awa Tupua, his tutelage has brought out the most exquisite singing and polished performances that leave audiences in absolute awe."

Dr Pita Sharples added that in November 2012, Mr Simon was acknowledged with an honorary bachelor degree in Maori performing arts from Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi.

"It was an historic event because both Morvin and Dr Ngapo Wehi were honoured for their outstanding contribution to kapa haka at the very first national symposium celebrating haka excellence.

In the 2013 Queen's Birthday honours, Mr Simon and his wife, Titikura, were awarded MNZM and QSM honours for services to Maori.

Mr Simon was a cultural adviser, a te reo Maori tutor, a historian and a passionate follower of the Maramatanga.

He is survived by his 11 children and almost 50 mokopuna.