It's curious that with Gillian Whitehead's Maori heritage, she was less inspired by the sounds of her own tradition than by those more classical and European. This all changed when she happened to hear a presentation of the sounds of singing treasures or "nga taonga puoro" given by the master himself, Richard Nunns.
Nunns is not Maori, but a "pakeha" - a European New Zealander. Nevertheless, he is the authority on Maori traditional instruments and his beguiling playing convinced Ms. Whitehead to begin writing music for tradtional ensembles interwoven with these unusual, earthy sounds.
Ms. Whitehead wrote "Hineputehue" on commission for the Wellington International Festival. It was 2002 and George Bush had just made his State of the union speech before the invasion of Afghanistan.
"Hineputehue" - the woman of the gourd - is the Maori Goddess of Peace. Ms. Whitehead explains she did not intend the work to celebrate peace, but rather to tell a story from the perspective of someone hidden in the bush, hearing hostile sounds and hoping to avoid confrontation.
Richard Nunns plays a variety of instruments with the New Zealand String Quartet:
Pahu pounamu - greenstone bell
Poi awhiowhio - small swung gourd
Pumotomoto - shakuhachi-like wooden instrument
Ku - mouth bow
Ngru niho paraoa - whaletooth flute
Hue puru hau - large blown gourd
Putatara - shell trumpet
Pukaea - war trumpet
Ororuarangi - flute
Tumutumu - tapped percussion
Koauau ponga ihu - gourd nose flute
The New Zealand String Quartet and Richard Nunns performed "Hineputehue" at Luther College on April 3, 2009.