Shirley Smith was launched by the Hon. Grant Robertson at Unity Books, Wellington, on Monday 10 June. It was an honour to have Grant launch the book. He gave a great speech, pointing up the significance of Shirley Smith and her relevance in our lives today. My thanks to others who spoke and all who made the launch such a success, especially VUP and Unity Books who hosted the event. No wonder your readers love you!
I’m delighted and deeply honoured to be chosen as the inaugural speaker for the Friends of the Turnbull Library in their proposed three-year sponsorship of an event at the AWF. I will be highlighting some of the many primary sources I used from the treasures held in the Turnbull Library. This is a FREE event.
Sunday 19 May, 11.30 – 12.30 p.m. Waitākere Room, Aotea Centre.
The Jewish Community in Szombathely has opened a new exhibition with special emphasis on women. I’m delighted to learn that The Violinist was a useful source. The sharing and recovery of the past continues. See the leaflet: leporello-elekt_eng
Róbert Balogh, who has translated the curator’s narrative and forthcoming album from Hungarian to English, sent me photos that historian Krisztina Kelbert located in the Savaria Museum of Szombathely. (I went there in 2008 but came away empty-handed!)
I found it particularly moving to see the happy face of young Klári in 1940 and the striking picture of her mother Zsuzsa (1941) that captures her warmth and wisdom. I’m only sad that Clare (Klári in her former life, before she came to New Zealand) did not live to see this. She struggled hard to remember her mother’s face. The third is Klári’s aunt, Rózsi Brill (1938), who survived the Holocaust and came to New Zealand with Clare. An earlier photo of Klári and Mihály shows they would rather be outside playing – or in Klári’s case, playing the violin! But it’s wonderful to have all these.
On Tuesday 24 March The Violinist was ‘launched’ in Hungary with a public event held in Veszprém, hosted by the University of Pannonia and the Library of Veszprém County. This event was inspired by the article András Dési wrote in Népszabadság (see my previous post). András was invited to take part in the presentation. He sent me this account:
First, I have to say that I’m still under the emotional impact of the event.
It was very well organized, about 50-60 students of the University of Veszprém attended.
I can only appreciate the highest standards of the efforts of the organizers, Ms Eszter ADAM specialist at the Eötvös Károly County Library, Ms Boglárka FALUSSY, Director of the American Corner Veszprém and Ms Judit PALMANN, Director of the County Library. They really deserve all acknowledgement and honour.
The event began with music, two students played violin pieces of Béla Bartók.
After I read the message of Sarah, I introduced Sarah, and spoke about the book, and Boglarka read some excerpts of The Violinist.
Eszter found on the internet a video interview with Clare which was made on the occasion when she donated her two violins to music students in NZ.
It is an excellent video. Clare was saying that one violin was a “female one”, the other a “male one” and how much the latter one complicated her life. Some times she hated the male one, but mostly loved it.
The video was played and followed by a video message of Tibor Weinberger (Tibby Weston).
At the end of the event an old Jewish song was played from the internet, performed by a very famous Hungarian folk singer.
I think everybody attending the event was deeply moved.
Tibby’ Weston’s video, just over 5 minutes, is well worth watching. Tibby, now aged 95, was Clare’s first love and as far as I know, the only living person who knew her before the Holocaust. They found each other again decades later and he remained her dear friend to the end of her life. Tibby was hugely helpful to me in my research and I’m thrilled to have him on record here, from his home in Texas. He answers questions the organizing committee put to him, reading their questions in Hungarian, answering in English. (The questions are understood by his answers.) He illustrated his answers by reading extracts of Clare’s letters to him, again in English.
Tibby himself is quite something. It was originally suggested he should have a Skype interview, but he has a hearing problem which makes that difficult. Undeterred, he came up with this alternative idea, taught himself to make his ‘movie’, then posted it on You Tube! http://youtu.be/wcc2KwqB0Vo
During our email conversations with Klara Szentirmay, who helped organize the event from Wellington, Tibby suggested the music to end the event. He explained:
There is an old Hungarian Jewish song that people in the death camps were singing, that men in the labor camps facing death sang at night to find peace. Here is a version sang by Marta Sebesteny with a violin crying the melody. I am not sure this is being heard in Hungary today, but the song was written in the 15th century and it is the equivalent of Amazing Grace, the melody of the slaves. Listen to it and see how it makes you feel. It was part of the music I sent Clare. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siZtBxCCTDs
While Clare’s feelings about Hungary were complicated, she wished her story to be known there. And it’s appropriate that this first presentation was to a predominantly young audience. She was very involved in Holocaust education for the young, and since she donated her violins to what is now called the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University, she took a close interest in and supported the young musicians who earned the privilege of playing her beloved instruments. Here is the video that András refers to above: https://vimeo.com/53551302
I’d like to thank everyone mentioned above, and anyone else who helped make this event a successful and memorable occasion. For those working towards a Hungarian translation and publication of The Violinist, I hope the response is promising.
Last month I completed a series of oral history interviews for the New Zealand Theatre Archive with a trip to Christchurch to interview Elric Hooper, artistic director of Court Theatre from 1979 to 2000. Originally a protégé of Ngaio Marsh on whose recommendation he got into the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) in 1958, Elric’s acting career then took off in what was a most exciting era of transformation in British theatre. Among other things, he was in Joan Littlewood’s iconic musical entertainment of 1963, Oh! What a Lovely War. He recently spoke about this in Appointment with Des Wilson on Radio New Zealand: www.radionz.co.nz/concert/programmes/…/audio/…/oh-what-a-lovely–w…
Nola Millar was sometimes described as New Zealand’s Joan Littlewood. After listening to Elric, I’m not sure the comparison is apt, but they were both courageous, innovative, political and extraordinarily individual. Elric worked for Nola Millar on a visit to New Zealand in 1972/3. He was struck then by how much the general level of theatre consciousness in this country had risen since his previous trip home in 1969. ‘Best of all,’ he observed, ‘there was a school. Nola Millar, that courageous and disconcertingly honest woman, was running a sensible full-time training scheme for aspiring actors in Wellington.’ (Landfall, ‘Making Our Own Mistakes’, December 1975.)
After we finished recording his life, Elric read Nola Millar: A Theatrical Life. I share his response here, compliments and all – shamelessly wanting new readers. More seriously, Elric’s reflections and perspective of my subject are of special value.
Finished your biography Nola Millar – A Theatrical Life last night. My admiration is boundless. I began with a sense of duty but was soon overtaken by the story and the enthusiasm for this history of the formative days of the New Zealand professional theatre. For example all the stuff about the financial history of the New Zealand Players – its origins, its work and its decline was new to me. I saw all their early work and was bowled over by its decor and glamour. Also the inner story of the philandering of Dick Campion was a revelation – and so bold to publish while he was still alive.
What an enigma your central subject was! When the name Nola Millar is mentioned now all I see is a tall slender apparition going out the door. The absence of a sexual life and her constant self-neglect – teeth and fish-and-chips – is made substantial only by her obsession with racing, her distant friendships, her occasional flaring of temper – and of course her great work in the theatre and the drama school. Yet she lives centrally through the book – a kind of ever-present ghost. I thought the death sequence particularly moving. How rare it is to read the details of decline and demise.
Also enlivening was the roll call – Maria Dronke (who I always thought rather odd and grand reciting Keats in a heavy Viennese accent) Ngaio Marsh, of course (seen from a distance and not always the Easter Island statue of authority and grandeur) Michael Langham (whom I worked for at the Old Vic intellectual and beset) George Webby (whose gnat-like humour was as much
decorative as useful) Mike Nicolaidi (whose down-to-earth attitudes got things done) Michael Haigh, Ray Henwood, Don Selwyn (all good actors) Anne Flannery (whose mental decay trumped her theatrical endeavours) and so many more.
You build a picture of a city aspiring and with that certainty of superiority that is necessary to get things done. I am still surprised by the literary quality of the plays from Shakespeare to Brecht. But as you say it was easier for amateurs without pay to stage some of the great monstrous works like Mother Courage and Three Sisters. (I sometimes wondered if the theatre group actually had the rights to some of the pieces done. Brecht and his heirs were very careful of his copyright and some of the West-end hits seemed too recent to be free – but those were the days when New Zealand was at the ends of earth not the internet.)
I could go on but suffice it to say, I think you have done a wonderful job,
Congratulations to St Matthew’s Collegiate School in Masterton, which this year celebrates 100 years of education. I had a happy Form II year there half a century ago. To anyone stumbling on this site who remembers me (Sarah Greville) I’d love to hear from you. I’d especially love to hear from my English teacher, Miss Bragg (Robyn?), to thank her. She’s one of many reasons why I’m grateful for my year at St Matthew’s. I was therefore delighted to be asked to write four essays for the book that was launched at the beginning of the weekend’s celebrations. I explained it to the launch gathering as follows:
For my first piece, about how the school began, I depended largely on the school archives, but I was able to add insights about the first headmistress, Evelyn Whitehead, and her sister Yetti, by talking to their relatives, including Yetti’s daughter, Kathleen Bell, now in her 90s, and Evelyn’s granddaughter, Barbara Simons. I was very taken with Evelyn and Yetti, who were both university educated in Dunedin, which was then the most progressive city in the country regarding women’s education – very different from Masterton. Aged just 24 and 21, they came here in 1914 to start St Matthew’s. They brought high ideals, and an attitude that girls can do anything.
Helen Dashfield’s comprehensive history of St Matthew’s, To the Stars published at the 75th anniversary in 1989, fills big gap between the beginning and my second narrative, which is on Senior College in the 1980s. Helen herself is an important figure in this, and in the story on integration. These were turbulent times and interesting for me to research. Others echoed Erik Pedersen’s recollection that it was a hellish period.
I interviewed many people about this decade. I haven’t referred to them all but they all helped me get a better understanding of the subject. I also waded through volumes of documents to get an overall picture that included Rathkeale and Hadlow, but my account is from St Matthew’s point of view and I don’t apologise for that bias. Ultimately it’s a triumphant story. Some of you have mothers and grandmothers who played their part as pupils, parents, teachers and old girls.
Lastly my final piece brings me to you today. I asked about the changes in society that are in turn changing school life, and I heard about the digital revolution. It seemed strange in the light of 100 years when the school struggled with two world wars, economic depression, free-falling pupil rolls and near bankruptcy that today the focus should fall on the mobile phone, but it’s a huge issue.
This isn’t specific to St Matthew’s but how it and other issues of today are dealt with at St Matthew’s are specific, reflecting the school’s Special Character as defined in the Integration Agreement. And that goes right back to the core principles Evelyn Whitehead and her sister Yetti brought to the school in 1914.
That’s one way of looking at it. The rest of the book, compiled by Jan Pedersen (Bowie) and Sue Franck (Bowie) is packed with photos, samples of writing and a timeline, telling many other stories.
For more about centennial projects, click on centenary.