A timeline of key events in Christchurch’s musical history.
We’re piecing together this timeline and would like your help.If you’re able to supply new events or dates, or add to the information we already have, let us know.
Lyttelton Times announces regular meetings to practice church music.
Choral classes begin in Lyttelton.
Canterbury Vocal Society formed. Nine men in Christchurch founded a society called the Canterbury Vocal Union which shortly afterwards amalgamated with a St. Cecilia Society, male and female voices thus being brought together. After several changes of name, it became the Royal Christchurch Musical Society in 1920. The oldest continually operating choral group in New Zealand, on January 1, 1991 it merged with the Christchurch Harmonic Society to form the Christchurch City Choir.
New) Music Hall opens. Built by the Musical Society, it was soon nicknamed
the Barn. The site was in Gloucester Street, opposite the present Theatre Royal.
Opening of a 12-night season of Lyster’s Royal Italian and English Opera Company. The opera was
Lucia di Lammermoor.
Birth of John Bradshaw, organist, conductor, music educator. Organist and master of the choristers at Christ Church Cathedral, April 1902 to March 1937; Professor of Music, Canterbury University College, 1937-1941; conducted Christchurch Liedertafel and Christchurch Musical Union; Founder of the Christchurch Male Voice choir and conductor 1917 - 1940. Died January 16, 1950.
H.M. Lund - pianist, music teacher, sometime conductor and full time critic for The Press from c. 1905 - arrived in New Zealand and settled in Christchurch. Multiple sources including Lyttelton Times, 14 September 1877 and Helen Watson, Music in Christchurch, unpublished thesis.
The last twenty years of the 19th century constituted a particularly fertile period of musical instruction, and for this four men in particular were responsible. These were H.M. Lund, H. Wells, G. F. Tendall, and F. M. Wallace. Hermann Maier Lund was the first of these to arrive…Helen Watson, Music in Christchurch, unpublished thesis.
On his eightieth birthday, the city of Christchurch honoured the fifty year contribution he [Lund] had made to the city. At the time, many accorded him significant creditfor the high plane on which Christchurch music [stood]"Music Community to Honour HM Lund", The Press 25 June 1927
Famous international soprano Frances Alda born in Christchurch as Fanny Jane Davis.
Birth of Ernest Empson for many years a leading piano teacher and founder of the Eroica Club (Christchurch) 1920. Died 1970.
Inter-city brass band contest (New Zealand’s first) and choral competition draws an audience of 2500 to the Drill Hall. The winner was the Invercargill Garrison Band.
Christ Church Cathedral choir begun by choirmaster and organist Harry Wells.
George Fredrick Tendall (1845-1901) arrived in New Zealand from England. Private music teacher, first lecturer in music at the university and the second organist of the Christ Church Cathedral.
Woolston (now Skellerup Woolston) Brass Band formed.
August Wilhelmj concerts performed with Max Vogrich
the great pianist
Dunedin: 30 November at the Princess, Otago Witness
Otago: 8 & 9 December
Reigning Monarch of the Violin at the Volunteer Hall, North Otago Times
Christchurch concerts occurred here but no refs other than Wellington concerts postponed as a result of an extension to the Christchurch season (to the 23rd when the first Wellington concert was to take place).Wellington: 26 December
for a few nights at the Athenaeum Hall, Evening Post Auckland: 3 January 1882, Wanganui Herald
Addington Workshops Brass Band formed.
28 to 30 October
Christchurch Amateur Operatic Society performs comic opera Madame Favart at Theatre Royal. Digitised programme at the National Library
Charles Santley - later Sir Charles -
the chief English baritone performs four concerts in Christchurch: North Otago Times and the NZ Tablet
First public display in New Zealand of Edison’s phonograph.
World famous contralto Madame Patey appears in Christchurch: North Otago Times, Volume XXXV, Issue 7161, 11 June 1891, Page 2
Birth of Vitor C. Peters, conductor and teacher, who formed the Christchurch Harmonic Society. Died November 22 1973.
The first general meeting of the Canterbury Society of Musicians took place at the Girls’ Friendly Society’s rooms on Saturday night [25/07/1891]. There was a good attendance of members, and some visitors were present. The President, Mr. Lund, occupied the chair, and was supported by Messrs Hunt, Normington, Searell, Wallace and Wells, members of the Council, Mr. Searell acting as Secretary. Aplogies were read from Messrs G. F. Tendall and A. J. Merton, and from Mr. Sidney Wolff, of Timaru…
On the motion of Mr. Wells, seconded by Mr. R. T. Searell, it was resolved
That this meeting confirm the constitution of the Society, as drawn up by the Council.
Lyttelton Times, 27 July 1891
Ernest Rutherford transmits New Zealand’s first radio waves in his basement laboratory at university.
Birth of Vernon Griffiths, organist, composer, conductor and music educator; Professor of Music at Christchurch University College 1942 - 1962. Died November 23, 1985.
Bicycle Band formed.
Canterbury society of Musicians adopted a new name - the Canterbury Society of Professional Musicians. Canterbury Museum: Institute of Registered Music Teachers of New Zealand, Christchurch Branch Records 1897 - 1993 - 7 boxes (ARC 1993.40/1993.69/1995.14)
Sidney Hawker (1871-1956) wrote Young New Zealand’s national song, it was published by the Dresden Piano Company, it was popular with the troops in the Boer War - and was then forgotten.
See Papers Past, the Star:
10 March 1900 p. 5 - Mr Sidney Hawker has forwarded to the Addington camp Young New Zealand’s national song which was popular with third contingent;
12 February 1900 p. 4 - Hawker’s song had 'caught on' with the Canterbury Troop;
9 Feb 1900 p. 3 - Canterbury Troop - Hawker was sending copies of his song;
18 Nov 1897 p. 3 - Hawker’s Young New Zealand’s national song composed and written by him and published by Dresden Piano Company "The music is bright and inspiriting and is likely to become popular".
Sidney Hawker, New Brighton baker, Liedertafel and Christchurch Cathedral Choir member, wrote music which was published. Papers Past, Star, 24 April 1900, refers to his Defenders of the Empire, published by H. Paling & Co. of Sydney. It was
among the quantity of patriotic music for which the present war [Boer War] has been responsible.
Canterbury Caledonian Society Highland Pipe Band formed.
Singer Madam (later Dame) Nellie Melba gives concert.
Concert by pianist Jan Paderewski. He later became Prime Minister of Poland.
The first professional orchestra in New Zealand was formed for the International Exhibition held in Christchurch. It was called the Exhibition Orchestra and included 10 local musicians of 53.
Philip Jane, An Historical Survey of the Establishment of an Orchestral Tradition in Christchurch to 1939
First Dominion pipe band contest which was won by the Dunedin Highland Pipe Band. Held in conjunction with the 1906 New Zealand International Exhibition.
Dr Bradshaw was the organist at the 1906 New Zealand International Exhibition. He was the city organist from 1908. He gave recitals on the exhibition instrument at His Majesty’s Theatre in Manchester Street until 1917, when fire consumed both theatre and organ. In later years, Bradshaw made radio broadcasts from the Civic Theatre. Beyond Cathedral and College, Bradshaw was conductor of the Christchurch Musical Society and Liedertafel. In 1917 he fell out with the Liedertafel and created the Christchurch Male Voice Choir.
Birth of C. Foster Browne, organist, conductor, music critic, teacher. Organist and master of the choristers at Christ Church Cathedral, 1938-1976. Conductor of the Royal Christchurch Musical Society, 1941-1949 Music critic for The Press. Died 1983.
Concert by violinist Jascha Heifetz.
Birth of John Ritchie, music educator, composer and conductor; Professor of Music at University of Canterbury, 1962 - 1985.
Christchurch Radio Society begins regular radio transmission with station 3AC.
The Faculty of Music was created at Canterbury College, Christchurch.
The [Art Centre’s] Great Hall was the centre of the Department’s music-making until the move to Ilam in 1974. The Department was housed for many years (until 1957) above Room 15 situated beyond the rear of the [Great] Hall. John M. Jennings, A centennial history of the School of Music University of Canterbury 1891 - 1991.
Concert by violinist Fritz Kreisler.
Radio Broadcasting Company of N.Z. incorporated in Christchurch - the country’s first public radio company. The company became the major force in early radio, eventually owning and operating a chain of YA stations throughout the country. See 1932
Birth of Robert Field-Dodgson, conductor, music educator. Conductor of the Royal Christchurch Musical Society, 1949-1990. Director of music at Christ’s College, 1952-1986. Died 1999.
Birth of Maurice Till, concert pianist, accompanist and teacher.
28 and 30 April
First concerts of the Christchurch Harmonic Society founded by Victor C. Peters, who was conductor until 1959. On January 1, 1991 it combined with the Royal Christchurch Musical Society to form the Christchurch City Choir.
Music Teachers Registration Act was passed by parliament and led to the formation of the Music Teachers Registration Board.
Regarding early submissions on the Music Teachers Registration Bill/Act/Board
- Draft bill did not find favour with legislators.
- Much revised bill was introduced in late 1927
- Bill passed in 1928
- Bill came into effect on 1 Jan 1929
- The first Board met in May
Opening of Edmonds band rotunda.
Radio station 3YA begins transmission. At first, the station was operated by the old Radio Society for the Radio Broadcasting Company of N.Z.
Opening recital on the New Grand Organ in the Municipal Concert Hall. The previous organ which was given to the city at the close of the 1906-07 International exhibition had been destroyed in a fire in 1917.
Concert by violinist Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) (already famous at only 17).
Christchurch Operatic Society formed.
George Martin, a teacher at St Alban’s School, approached the Canterbury Education Board and the North Canterbury Headmasters’ Association in late 1938 and received support for a Christchurch Schools’ Music Festival. George was appointed Musical Director and over 10-12th August, 1939, the first Festival was staged in the Civic Theatre. (information from Music Festival)
Centennial music festival presents 10 days of music to large audiences. This was the New Zealand Centennial. For Christchurch Centennial see 1950.
Civic reception for playwright/composer Noel Coward.
Max Merritt born in Christchurch.
Birth of David Childs, organist, conductor, teacher. Organist and master of the choristers at Christ Church Cathedral, 1977-1999. Conductor of the Christchurch Harmonic Society, 1978-1990. Died 1999.
Birth of John Cousins, composer, music educator. teacher and creative artist at Canterbury University 1967 - 2004.
First women’s pipe band in New Zealand formed in City.
Local headmaster George Couch founds the South Brighton Choral Society.
Composer Chris Cree Brown born.
Composer Eric Biddington born.
Birth of Philip Norman, composer, conductor, author.
Robert Perks M.B.E. founded the Christchurch School of Instrumental Music. Classes were held in the Normal School, Kilmore St (Now Cranmer Courts).
Max Merritt formed his first group, the Meteors. The group was made up of friends Ross Clancy on saxophone, Ian Glass on bass, Peter Patene on piano and Pete Sowden on drums.
His mother Ilene with the help of Kerridge-Odeon theatre manager Trevor King set up The Christchurch Teenagers Club (held in the Railway Hall in Sydenham).
14 to 19 April
Christchurch Music Festival was held as a Town Hall Promotion with musical events featuring international artists in venues that included King Edwards Barracks (Ida Haendel with National Orchestra).
John Ritchie String Orchestra founded. First full concert in March 1959. The Orchestra gave regular concerts, sometimes augmented by woodwind. This orchestra formed the core of the Christchurch Civic Orchestra in 1962, which in 1974 changed its name to the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.
9 - 12 January
Johnny Devlin played four gigs at the St James’ theatre from Friday 9 January to Monday 12 January. Minister of Social Welfare Mabel Howard attended and quipped at half time:
There’s not much wrong with rock’n’roll.
The Christchurch Junior Choral Society (conducted by George Martin) comprising about 80 children-adult singers performed the first half of a concert in the Christchurch Civic Theatre. The mainly unaccompanied choral music was recorded for a subsequent LP and a group photo was taken. This author was in the back row among the young sopranos, and bought a copy of the group photo. The second half of the concert was performed by the Christchurch School of Instrumental Music. (information from Kass Finlay McAuliffe)
First concert by Christchurch Civic Orchestra with 44 players.
Concerts by jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong.
Large crowds for visit of Beatles pop group.
Christchurch School of Instrumental Music registered as an Incorporated Society.
Opening of first Pan-Pacific Arts Festival. Artists include singer Inia Te Wiata (in Porgy and Bess) and conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent.
Phil Garland opens Christchurch Folk Centre, later to become Christchurch Folk Club.
Dobbs Franks appointed conductor of Christchurch Civic Orchestra, to replace John Ritchie.
Second Pan-Pacific Arts Festival opens.
Under Robert Perks as lead conductor, all performers in Orchestras 1-8 of the Christchurch School of Instrumental Music (approximately 1100 performers of all abilities, with Orchestra 1 being concert standard) gave a massed performance at Cowles Stadium. The orchestras were mainly seated where the spectators usually sat, and the audience seated where the games were held, the performance had up to another 5 conductors. To incorporate all players, a special dais was built for Orchestras 1- 3, this author being on the outside of the desk among Violin 1s in Orchestra 2. It was a logistical marvel, and required the music to be arranged with varying degrees of difficulty so that the youngest could join in on the easiest bits. One piece performed that night by the massed orchestras was the Overture to the New World Symphony by Dvorak.(information from Kass Finlay McAuliffe)
Read more on Papers Past: 1200 Learning Musical Instruments, The Press, 3 October 1968, page 8.
Juan Matteucci appointed Principal Guest Conductor of Christchurch Civic Orchestra.
Christchurch production of Jenny Mcleod’s Earth and Sky in Civic Theatre.
Town Hall opened by His Excellency The Governor General, Sir Denis Blundell, GCMG, KBE.
Vanco Cavdarski appointed conductor of Christchurch Civic Orchestra, and gives first concert.
Change of name to Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.
Christchurch School of Instrumental Music moved to Heaton Intermediate School and to the Arts Centre.
Split leads to formation of rival Canterbury Orchestra, with 10 full-time players. Christchurch Symphony continues through donations from the public.
Briolette Kahbic (Bic) Runga born in Christchurch.
25,000 attend concert by pop singer Neil Diamond at Q.E.II Park.
Opera singer Dame Joan Sutherland gives concert.
The Dux de Lux opens at the Christchurch Arts Centre; soon to become Christchurch’s (and possibily New Zealand’s) most consistent live venue due to its long-standing free-show policy and relaxed restaurant vibe.
Canterbury Orchestra disbanded. The demise of this professional orchestra ended 6 years of acrimonious dispute which profoundly disrupted the musical scene in Christchurch.
Canterbury Orchestra folds because of the inability of the Arts Council to increase its funding. Christchurch Symphony Orchestra carries on.
Concert by jazzman ‘Count’ Basie and his orchestra.
15 to 21 July
D’Oyly Carte Opera Company gives performances.
Roger Shepherd founds Flying Nun Records label in Christchurch.
The Bats play their first show. The Christchurch-based group featured Paul Kean (ex-Toy Love), the now Dunedin-Based Robert Scott (ex-The Clean), Kaye Woodward (ex-Lyndon and the Liars) and Malcolm Grant (ex-The Bilders) and still does.
Blue Ladder Theatre opens its doors at 87 Cashel St. The key production was Bride of the Wheel (Theatre of Cruelty) directed by Bill Direen, with a cast including Diane and Linzy Forbes as Beatrice Cenci and her father, with acrobats including David Clarkson (Stalker) plus many local musicians (incl. John Chrisstoffels of The Terminals). Seasons of performances occurred in an open-plan space with concurrent exhibitions in an adjoining room overlooking Cashel Street.
Independent label Failsafe Records forms and releases Accident Compilation — a definitive collection documenting the Gladstone Hotel, Hillsborough Tavern and Star & Garter post punk original music scenes.
Canterbury Opera formed.
Radio UFM (located at University of Canterbury) becomes first station in Canterbury to be granted an FM warrant on a long term basis.
Galaxy Records, Christchurch’s key independent music store, opens in Gloucester Arcade. It later moves to its present location in High Street in 1990.
Hayley Dee Westenra was born in Christchurch.
Community access radio station Plains FM goes to air for the first time.
Post-punk three-piece Dolphin play their first gig and release two jagged-edged guitar rock eps. The band is Kevin Stokes, Steve Birss and Rob Mayes.
William Southgate appointed Principal Guest Conductor to Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.
Record crowd of 60,000 at Lancaster Park to see Irish Rock Band U2.
Holy Toledos folk-rock group formed from group of school friends from St Thomas of Canterbury College. Popular live band around town and produced two albums. Active until 1994.
Welcome to our world, recorded by John Grenell, reaches number one in the New Zealand charts.
Christchurch Symphony Orchestra: Tony Kunowski appointed as Manager (interim at first). He began a policy that became more populist, to encourage larger and wider audiences.
Christchurch City Choir formed with the merger of two long-standing choirs, the Royal Christchurch Musical Society and the Christchurch Harmonic Society.
CPIT Jazz School opens. Originally situated on St Asaph Street with Neil Pickard as Head of School. The school was later accommodated in a new building on the corner of Madras and High Streets.
Christchurch Symphony Orchestra: Jan van den Berg appointed as Concertmaster.
Music Centre opened Christchurch School of Music moved in as a foundation tenant, dropped the word “Instrumental” from its name (14 Dec) and included choirs into its ensembles.
Failsafe Records release classic Christchurch compilation Avalanche. Featuring Loves Ugly Children, 147 Swordfish, Supertanker, Lurch and Pumpkinhead. The compilation showcases the strength of the local underground scene as it bubbled up and boiled over into the mainstream. Gigs at this point (mainly at Warners in Cathedral Square on a Thursday night, although the Dux de Lux was also a mainstay as well) often saw large crowds, with Warners sometimes attracting 800 people. The release party for this compilation was held at the now demolished Performing Arts Theatre (now better known as 'Little Bosnia'!)
Local hip hop act Dark Tower formed.
Christchurch Music Centre opens in the former Sacred Heart Convent.
Christchurch Symphony Orchestra: A policy is developed to have tenured players. The first four tenured players were appointed in November. They were from the Ukraine.
Installation of Rieger Pipe Organ in Christchurch Town Hall completed.
The Riegler Pipe Organ in the Christchurch Town Hall was first played to the public to test its sound with a full auditorium. Organ curator Martin Setchell played the international students’ hymn, Gaudeamus Igitur to close the afternoon university graduation ceremony.
Christopher Herrick officially inaugurated the Christchurch Town Hall organ.
The Montana Christchurch International Jazz Festival established as a biennial event. The festival features national and international jazz and blues artists performing at a variety of venues around Christchurch.
Formation of She’ll Be Right Records by Dark Tower’s Jody Lloyd. Initially the label was licensed to Universal Music, but in 2002 became independent. The label had a strong Kiwi accent focus and the music released ranged from folk to hip hop. More than 30 local albums were released between 2002 and 2009, from artists such as Trillion, Dark Tower, John White (mestar), Andy Gibson, Ragamuffin Children, Lindon Puffin, Billy Wilson, Bazuki Joe, Jeremy Taylor, Delaney Davidson, Tono, Jim Christy and Le Mot Cafe.
Jody Lloyd (Trillion) was the first NZ signing to Universal Music and released the collaborative album Shadows on a Flat Land, which featured a number of Christchurch musicians.
Tim Baird founds local label Pinacolada Records after countless nights clubbing.
Dark Tower released Canterbury Drafts (LP) through Universal Music. The rap duo consisted of Eli Foley and Jody Lloyd. After this release Lloyd started a solo project under the name Trillion and has released an album a year since 2001.
Christchurch Symphony Orchestra: Marc Taddei appointed as Musical Director from 2001. He inaugurated a more adventurous musical programme.
Christchurch based label Pinacolada Records releases its first 12", Rockwood’s 'Chee'/'Kung Fu Philosophy' (PINA1201)
Anika Moa’s Thinking Room album debuts at number 1 in New Zealand.
Rockwood’s debut album Trippers Guide To House released on Pinacolada Records. A twisted mash up of house, drum and bass, funk and dub, it blows open the doors for many of the more experimental electronic acts on the scene. Producer Peter Wood (aka Rockwood) continues to play in Salmonella Dub.
Falter band from Mairehau High win 2003 Smokefree Rockquest plus Coke original song award for Falling To Pieces, Best vocals (Simon), Contempo Musicianship award + scholarship (Simon) and The Edge Airplay Award in association with NZ on Air.
Pinacolada Records release another 12" vinyl, this time by Mark de Clive and Thisinformation (containing Solaa buddies Chris Cox and Isaac Aesili along with guest Kurt 'Partido' Dyer and David Wright). The b-side of the record is picked up, remixed and licensed to Italian record label Ohm Records. This is the first time a local club tune has gained international recognition on dancefloors throughout Europe.
Stand up / Not many, a double-sided single recorded by Christchurch rapper Scribe, reaches number one in the New Zealand charts.
Headspace (aka Andre Hermer) and Fanatica (aka Ryuichio Louis Ijjmar) release their split 12" single 'Fly Away'/'Scent of Love' (feat M.C. Lia) on 12" to complete the trilogy of Pinacolada Records vinyl releases. The tunes receive international support from Tony Coleman (Hospital Records UK) and DJ Bailey (Radio 1 Xtra UK). Hermer soon departs to England to study and Iijmar moves to Tokyo and then back to Hong Kong.
Hayley Westenra’s Pure wins Top New Zealand album at the New Zealand Music awards.
Scribe wins top NZ single for Stand Up / Not Many.
Pinacolada Records release The Shocking Pinks debut album Dance The Dance Electric (PINACD02). The album goes on to widespread national and international acclaim, with it receiving a review of 8.2 out of 10 on US website Pitchforkmedia.com.
Dreaming by Scribe reaches number one in the New Zealand charts.
Christchurch Symphony: Murray Shaw appointed Chief Executive.
Stop the music by P-Money and Scribe reaches number one in the New Zealand charts.
Live in concert by Hayley Westenra becomes the number one DVD — it is the first New Zealand DVD to top our charts.
((CHART)) launches christchurchmusic.org.nz a portal for Christchurch Music featuring news, events, gigs, key dates, funding and directory of artists, studios, venues, live sound, education, media and much more.
Christchurch Symphony: Last concert by Marc Taddei as Musical Director.
Canterbury Opera went into voluntary liquidation.
Pig Out are invited to play support for Danish group 2 Many DJs / Radio Soulwax on their 'Nite Versions' tour. A real coup for a local band just one year after their inception, and only a couple of months after their debut Pinacolada Records release Club Poems.
Southern Opera launched.
Christchurch School of Music expanded its rooms in the Music Centre and began an innovative distance learning programme.
Pinacolada Records put out their seventh release which is the debut album by acclaimed local group Tiger Tones.
APRA Silver Scroll Awards held in Christchurch for the first time.
RDU98.5FM celebrates its 40th birthday. Alternative Radio: RDU98.5FM since 1976 charted the history of the South Island’s longest-running independent radio station, starting with its birth on 23 February 1976 for a few short weeks during student orientation at the University of Canterbury. Exhibition at Canterbury Museum opened 18 March 2016.
8K is an independent internet radio station broadcasting a full-spectrum sound selection from post-earthquake Christchurch, New Zealand. Formed in July 2016 by a pack of battle-hardened radio veterans, musicians, DJs, and young upstarts, our non-commercial and democratically driven station features “music picked by people”, and not a tasteless algorithm. Expect a sonic array of locally-sourced organic content, brand new tunes and old-school classics merged into an eclectic mix of everything from surf guitar to glitch-hop.
South Brighton Choral Society marks its 70th anniversary by changing its name to South Brighton Voices.
The Lion Christchurch Schools' Music Festival moved back to the repaired and renovated Christchurch Town Hall and celebrated 80 years of its existence. The festival was performed over four consecutive nights.
Got something to add? Let us know.
A lot of this timeline was sourced from various newspapers and contributions but the following books have also been used.
- Philip Jane, An Historical Survey of the Establishment of an Orchestral Tradition in Christchurch to 1939
- John M. Jennings, A centennial history of the School of Music University of Canterbury 1891 - 1991.
- John M. Jennings, For the Advancement of Music and Musicians: A short centennial history of societies in Christchurch devoted to the well-being of professional teachers of music
- Helen Watson, Music in Christchurch, unpublished thesis.