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"Let's Sing a Kiwi Song" - Songs and Stories of
Martin Curtis had been performing occasionally at schools since the 1980’s, but in 1998 he was commissioned to write the linking song for the Otago Primary Schools Pageant celebrating the 150th anniversary of the landing of the first three emigrant ships in Otago. The song "Otago My Home" was soon learnt by every school in Dunedin, and on the strength of this Martin was booked to present his new programme entitled "Let's Sing a Kiwi Song" at a large number of schools in the city. Such was the response of both children and teachers that soon afterwards he sold off the bulk of his small transport business in order to concentrate on his schools heritage work full time. Since then he has toured from Bluff in the deep South to New Zealand’s most northerly schools near Cape Reinga, and has delighted children in more than 300 schools. He is already receiving repeat bookings from many schools he first visited in 1998.
The show is not strictly a performance, but more of a workshop. The children are actively involved in the singing of the choruses and towards the end of the show even get to participate in a three part round. As well as teaching the children a little about music, poetry and even the fun of songwriting, the programme also fits into several subjects on the curriculum. Songs about the settlers and goldminers are often projects in social studies, and his songs about New Zealand's endangered wildlife are enthusiastically received by teachers as part of the science programme.
This may all sound very serious, but of course it isn't! Or at least it isn't presented that way; otherwise the children's attention would very soon wander. And there are a number of straight out fun songs, that keep them listening, whilst still getting a message across - that New Zealand is our own unique country, and we should cherish it and protect it. Martin has been quite amazed how a roomful of 5 to 11 year olds will sit still for a full hour on a hard floor, and join in every song. The programme has been designed to cater for a wide age range of children, and even though some of the songs are a bit "grown up" for the younger kids, they enjoy singing the simple choruses, and get carried along by the older ones. The "silly" songs in between hold their attention, and all children seem to love Martin's poem about two keas on a hut roof, performed with actions that have them in fits of laughter.
Since 2001, Martin has taken the show to many schools in the UK where it becomes more of a geography subject. It has received the same enthusiastic response from the children of the Shetland Islands and Somerset as it does in New Zealand, Martin has even entertained enthusiastic audiences of children in schools in such diverse places as Norway, Sikkim and Bhutan.
The show can be adapted to suit high schools and colleges, and can also be changed to suit local interests, history and environment.
The CD and cassette Lets Sing a Kiwi Song is an album of the show, and is available with a booklet giving all the words, music scores, background notes and suggestions for teachers. It has been immensely popular since its release. It is not a flash studio production either - it was recorded live with children in their school halls with only a brief run through, and gives an accurate picture of the show and the beautiful singing of choruses that Martin has experienced in many of the schools he has visited in the past four years. That doesn't mean it is not of studio quality - far from it! Modern computer technology and the skills of guitarist and recording technician Graham Wardrop has ensured that this album has captured the fun of a live performance without sacrificing clarity and quality in any way.
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