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Christchurch, September 2022

Reflection 4/10 - The Olympics of Music


I now realize that my last blog never mentioned why I decided to go on a three city tour. With 2021 being the year of opportunity and risk, 2022 was the year of sacrifice and respite. Like many postgrads I considered myself married to my thesis and portfolio - effectively cutting out socializing and doing what people normally do in their early 20s. It wasn’t a difficult lifestyle-choice to maintain given the circumstances. A “normal” student experience wasn’t really possible with the pandemic anyway. Nevertheless, once the submission date passed, and Nelson (the light at the end of the tunnel) was in the rearview mirror, a feeling of emptiness began to set in. A respite was in dire need.


I deliberately avoid planning too far ahead. Although I crave certainty and rigidity, it is spontaneity and risk that I find most enriching. Not long after finishing my studies a joint ISCM and ACL (don’t worry I didn’t know what these acronyms stood for either) Festival was set to be held in Auckland and Christchurch - self-described as the Olympic Games of Music it seemed like a great opportunity to make international connections. With nothing else happening on those dates and a desire to experience more of the music world, the decision was made to attend. And with it, the idea of the three city tour was born.


The tour had three primary objectives. The first was to continue practicing to be a backpacker and thus preparing myself for an international adventure. The second was to build further connections within the music world, particularly with those overseas (also preparation for an international adventure). And the final was to provide some clarity for what I actually wanted to do next (perhaps it would be an international adventure). This is how I rationalised the trip. However, to be honest I could've probably just gone with the intention of having fun. The latter half of the year of opportunity and risk wasn't particularly fun filled, nor was the first half of the year of sacrifice and respite (hence the sacrifice). I deserved the respite that the tour and festival offered.


Christchurch was a great opportunity to achieve my first objective. Besides a layover returning home from Nelson last year, I had never been before. The ever generous Mark Menzies had offered his place to stay, and so I set out as tourist in an unfamiliar city for the first time. At this stage, it was already halfway through the festival and it was becoming unclear where the comparison to the Olympics came from. The vibe certainly didn’t fit my perception of the Olympic Spirit. Adding to this, only a small number of delegates from the other nations actually attended - and the ones there seemed content talking amongst themselves. This made it difficult to achieve any ground with objective number 2. On reflection, I have come to think that the Olympic reference was perhaps alluding to the trend of hosts frequently facing financial ruin after the event.


Upon landing in the garden city, the Johnny Chang and Fergus Fry Comedy Duo which had formed in Nelson, gracefully reunited at the whisky bar the Last Word - a fine recommendation from Corporal Hannah Darroch. It would dawn on us that we were actually quite hungry, and Johnny through his wisdom suggested we get food before indulging. Burgers were the chosen cuisine. And so in true young person fashion, I start googling for potential venues. Johnny had a slightly less orthodox approach and began asking the locals for suggestions and directions. This would result in us mindlessly following the tramlines in search of a burger joint based on the recommendation of a Cantabrian who saw it fit to be having a big night out on a Monday evening. We made it back to the Last Word but the adventure was cut short, ending with Johnny forced to scull a $40+ glass of whisky, (which was apparently quite “peaty”), as we rushed to make it to an evening concert.


Technically I was in Christchurch to be a volunteer for the festival, or as my name tag said “Fergus Festival Helper”, which officially means I can count it as a work trip. Despite this, there was still plenty of time to explore. The earthquake memorial was sobering. The art gallery, inspiring. The botanic gardens, uplifting. Catching up with an old family friend after 15 years was another highlight, as was seeing a friend from my Pak n Save days. My time in Christchurch came and went quite quickly. Unlike Auckland, nothing was in a rush. I had no prior obligations or things that I really wanted to do. I was quite happy sitting in the sun somewhere along the Avon or in the gardens and just listening to music for most of the day.


To be totally honest at this point I was pretty checked out of the festival, which was now entering its second week. The volunteer information email had never arrived, leaving many of the responsibilities vague. On the first night I was asked to be the stage manager/festival representative for quite a notable NZ ensemble. Unfortunately, the time I was instructed to meet them, and the time they arrived were 90 minutes apart. Apparently they were always getting in at that time, so I don't why I was told a different one. Also small chamber ensembles don't need a lot of stage managing. Unlike orchestral musicians, they are perfectly capable of setting up a few chairs and music stands. On the bright side, I got a great look into their rehearsal but it did leave volunteering feeling a bit sour.


Ironically, at a meeting after the festival, there was a comment on volunteers not collecting receipts and the difficulty this caused when balancing the budget. I do wonder how much of an effect providing the volunteers with even minimal training would have had on this problem. Probably minimal in the grand scheme of things. My preference for administrating and convening is to provide almost too much information. If you take the time to write the instructions down: 1) you will spot any mistakes first, and 2) you will save yourself from answering the same question 10 or even 20 times.


Anyway, returning to the festival. On the final night, after a spectacular concert, Mark Menzies and I were in search of a place for dinner and a drink. So it was much to our surprise that the entire festival entourage arrived in the same location moments later. Given Mark’s monumental contribution to the event, I would say it was well deserved that the party came to him rather than the other way round. The closing function of the festival was a great time and perhaps even rivalled the spirit of Nelson. It’s worth noting however, this was more like the All Blacks and Wallabies Bledisloe Cup rivalry, with even the most casual rugby fan knowing that the odds and results were clearly one sided.


I had a great time in Christchurch, discovering many favourite places, ones I would be sure to visit again but I certainly now know my capacity for volunteering.


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