Save It, Don’t Preserve It: A Vision for RNZ Concert’s Future
Jazz musician Umar Zakaria is glad RNZ Concert isn’t done for because it was never ‘done’ – it’s an unfinished project.
Despite all of the great work that RNZ Concert does to represent classical music, it remains an unfinished project with much potential for continued growth and improvement. This is especially true for New Zealand’s musical communities outside the realm of Western classical music, which is well-represented by RNZ Concert’s programming, and that of popular music, which is amply represented on NZ’s commercial and student radio stations. But the existence of RNZ Concert as a platform is what would allow any of this to happen in the first place. So, in support of saving RNZ Concert, let me share with you my vision for the station’s future. These are just the dreams of an idealistic jazz musician, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t come true.
One of those musical communities outside the realm of Western classical music is jazz. At the time that the announcement was made to axe Concert, RNZ presenter Nick Tipping had been making a huge effort to produce more coverage of jazz on the station, including a special effort to present original music by New Zealand jazz artists. As a New Zealand jazz artist myself, listening to Nick’s show has given me an opportunity to connect to the history of jazz in New Zealand, and to other contemporary New Zealand jazz artists producing original work. It also allows me to occasionally have my voice heard across New Zealand as one of those artists, even during periods that my work takes me overseas and I have no other contact with New Zealand audiences.
Jazz, taonga pūoro, folk musics from all over the world, and other musics I don’t even know about, or even music that hasn’t been invented yet, would have a chance to be heard by a broad audience of New Zealand music lovers
Nick’s show, Inside Out, which runs from 5–7pm on Saturdays, began in 2016. RNZ had covered jazz before then, but the appointment of Nick Tipping, an active jazz bassist, meant that we knew and trusted the person who was delivering the jazz show to us. And it meant that we could really trust the person who was delivering jazz to the broader audience of RNZ Concert. Whenever my music was broadcast on RNZ Concert, I could rest easy knowing Nick would represent it well.
For a 24/7 radio station like RNZ Concert, 2 hours a week is not a lot of coverage. But what I think Inside Out represents is the tip of an unexplored iceberg with regards to RNZ Concert’s presentation of great music not within the canon of Western classical music, and what I think Nick Tipping represents is the potential of passionate individuals to continue pushing that envelope and eventually bring about such change for Concert’s 24/7 schedule of coverage. This means that jazz, taonga pūoro, folk musics from all over the world, and other musics I don’t even know about, or even music that hasn’t been invented yet, would have a chance to be heard by a broad audience of New Zealand music lovers, despite not being suitable for more commercial radio stations.
The name of our beloved radio station, after all, is ‘RNZ Concert’, not ‘RNZ Classical’
The name of our beloved radio station, after all, is ‘RNZ Concert’, not ‘RNZ Classical’. There is nothing in the name of the station itself that would preclude further coverage of non-classical music, and in fact I believe that this would only serve to strengthen the brand. What really gives the station an identity even more than its name, however, is its presenters and producers that create programmes for us to listen to. With repeated listening, we have been able to build a relationship with the presenters of RNZ Concert and a familiarity with their personalities and interests which they share with us through their programming.
At the moment, Inside Out is strictly for two hours on a Saturday afternoon. Someone has to tune into RNZ Concert at a very specific time to have their attention turned to the musical world of jazz. Imagine an RNZ Concert with an even richer and more diverse range of musical interests and expertise among its presenters – passionate individuals just like Nick Tipping – each of whom is given multiple opportunities to present great music through a range of programmes – something that currently only happens within the station’s coverage of classical music.
With multiple programmes featuring diverse music throughout RNZ Concert’s schedule, a listener tuning in at any given time of day would not only have the opportunity to listen to great music that would enrich their lives and possibly extend their musical horizons, but would also have that music presented to them by someone knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
Someone who normally only listens to jazz would tune into RNZ Concert more frequently and may serendipitously discover the intricacy and elegance of a string quartet. While someone who normally listens to classical music might find themselves beginning to decode the mysteries of improvised interaction between members of a jazz group. Both of these listeners would also receive helpful commentary from an informed presenter.
This is a change that is worth fighting for, and Nick Tipping’s show is the foot in the door that is needed to begin making progress
Music is a creative artform that benefits from the influence of ideas from all spheres of thought, including forms of music other than what one is accustomed to. I have learnt so much from being exposed to classical music, including through RNZ Concert, that I continue to apply to performing and creating within the jazz community. There are also a great number of compositions within Western art music that draw on ideas and sounds outside the realm of Western classical music itself, many of which have been written by New Zealand composers.
A major increase in the diversity of RNZ Concert’s programming would benefit not only on people who experience their love of music strictly through listening, but also the musicians who perform and create for audiences across the country, whether it is in a professional capacity or for sheer enjoyment. It would stimulate the creativity of New Zealand’s music creators, the performers and composers of real-time musical experiences, both formally-trained and self-taught. It would enrich the musical landscape of New Zealand as a whole in a very major, and hopefully very inclusive, way. I believe that this is a change that is worth fighting for, and Nick Tipping’s show is the foot in the door that is needed to begin making progress towards that change.
If RNZ Concert is ultimately closed or its staff effectively removed from their positions – as some say the risk remains – all of the progress that Inside Out represents will be wiped out. All of the good that RNZ Concert has already done for the classical music community will cease to continue, and the small, but worthwhile hope for increasingly diverse coverage of non-classical music will be extinguished. RNZ Concert was never ‘done’ before it was announced that it would be ‘done for’. It is for this reason that, as a jazz musician, I support the cause of saving – rather than ‘preserving’ – RNZ Concert.
Feature image: Umar Zakaria, photograph by Ben Stewart