From 23 February to 17 March 2017, the Modern Māori Quartet ( mmq) joined the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for their annual Summer Pops Tour. The tour included twelve performances throughout Aotearoa, taking place in venues such as Auckland's Town Hall, Wellington's Michael Fowler Centre, and Dunedin's Town Hall. Audiences were treated to both cover versions of popular songs and original songs by the quartet, with orchestral adaptations by seven arrangers: Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper, Claire Cowan, Robbie Ellis, Matthew Faiumu Salapu (aka Anonymouz), Gareth Farr, Chris Gendall, and Mark Dennison.
The promotional material for the Summer Pops Tour clued audiences in [End Page 251]that this was not going to be a typical symphony experience. The posters and program cover featured the mmqmembers—Francis Kora, Maaka Pohatu, James Tito, and Matariki Whatarau—dressed in the expected suit jackets and ties. However, the rest of their ensemble included swim trunks, bare feet, and beachside accessories. Through such imagery, the Summer Pops Tour promised a night of orchestral performance and close harmony singing as well as memorable fun.
Formed in 2012, the Modern Māori Quartet is part of a long genealogy of Māori showbands. During the 1950s and 1960s, groups like the Māori Volcanics, Māori HiFive, Quin Tikis, and the Howard Morrison Quartet indigenized Euro-American showband music by integrating Māori song, dance, storytelling, and humor. All mmqmembers graduated from Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School (the country's foremost and oldest national drama school), and they demonstrate a wide range of musical and acting skills. The foursome uses their combined artistry to enrich and expand the Māori showband genre.
Those in attendance were treated to enthralling musical performances by the quartet and orchestra, but the strength of the Summer Pops Tour lay in the show's garage-party narrative. This innovative approach to the tour made symphonic music more accessible to Māori and Pacific Island communities while also making Māori music accessible to nonnative audiences. While Māori garage parties may seem like a contemporary occurrence, these get-togethers are part of a longer legacy of community gatherings. Pacific Islanders have been meeting since ancient times in order to bring together a family or clan not only to celebrate but also to take care of social, spiritual, and cultural obligations. Bringing people together helped to strengthen bonds between family, friends, and the larger community.
The storyline for the "flashest garage party Aotearoa has ever seen" comprised five parts: Nau mai, Haere Mai (Welcome); Kai is Ready; Full of Aroha; Play Something We All Know; and One for the Road. This framing is one of many ways that the Modern Māori Quartet makes their music meaningful, inclusive, and accessible to people from a range of backgrounds. While Kora, Pohatu, Tito, and Whatarau offered running commentary between songs to engage the audience, the printed program provided a guide for those less familiar with Māori culture. Each section of the performance was described in vivid detail to help create a multisensory experience of a Māori garage party. For example, the "Kai is Ready" portion explained that "the bbqis crackling away, the salads and parāoa [bread] are laid out and the smell is emanating throughout the neighbourhood. Old war stories and waiata [songs] are shared by Kuia and Koroua [elders] who are looked after with a kapu tī [cup of tea] and some fresh rēwana [or rēwena; traditional sourdough potato bread]" (11).
Along with these evocative descriptions, the program also included a te reo (Māori language) glossary, which encouraged the audience both to listen and to be more engaged in the story. In keeping with the garage-party [End Page 252]tradition, the quartet called out to the audience to sing along and be part of the music making. Families were also encouraged to attend the concerts by the family-friendly "pay-your-age...