Rona Wiggins: bright, bubbly and immensely talented

Rona Wiggins was an accomplished pianist with strong links to Nelson who died recently in Australia.
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Rona Wiggins was an accomplished pianist with strong links to Nelson who died recently in Australia.

Born in Blenheim as, Rona Haile, Rona was a true musician. She loved to perform and her motivation was to to learn and explore the compositions of similar souls.

She just loved music from contemporary to classical and enjoyed performing the works of New Zealand composers.

In 1993 when William Southgate came to conduct a programme of living New Zealand composers with the Nelson Symphony Orchestra, – David Hamilton, David Farqhuar, Antony Ritchie and Edwin Carr – Rona was the chosen soloist for Edwin Carr's "Poems for Piano and Orchestra", which she performed with passion and rapport with conductor and orchestra.

She embraced the opportunity to understand New Zealand music.

She had an insatiable desire and talent to play the piano and inspire her students and children.

The grand piano was the centre of her home she shared with husband Warren in Locking Street.

While they were living in Nelson, many renowned pianists visited to perform at the Nelson School of Music with Rona – Richard Mapp, Mark Secker.

Michael Houston used to drop in to their home after his concerts.

There were frequent soirees there, when everyone was invited to play. Rona had boundless energy for sharing music.

Her artistic temperament – engaging, beautiful – she expressed by always dressing in bright colours when performing. Red was her favourite colour.

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Warren, an architect, had a breadth of talent too. Theirs was a musical marriage. In his formative years, he had played in the National Youth Orchestra on viola.

In the heady days of overseas trips for the youth orchestra, he had travelled to Hong Kong.

He always wanted to conduct, and when Miranda Adams left Nelson for a position as concert-master with the Auckland Philharmonia, Warren stepped up to the podium.

He loved shows and first conducted Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel at the Majestic Theatre, and My Fair Lady. He took the orchestra to play in Richmond and Motueka, choosing a programme of lighter music of Strauss waltzes and Gershwin, including an original composition by Gabor Tolnay, entitled "Eelco's Piece".

But most memorable of all concerts under Warren's baton was the concert to celebrate Rona's 50th birthday in October 1999.

It was a musical gift with the New Zealand String Quartet on stage too, first performing Debussy and Gershwin, then joining the strings of the Nelson Symphony Orchestra to accompany Rona's performance of Benjamin Britten's "Young Apollo", which had never been performed in Nelson.

Rona performed with tenacious energy and clever interpretation of Britten's characterisation of the mythical masculine beauty of Apollo.

The concert was truly a celebration of her talent and her birthday. Her daughter ,Chloe, was an example of Rona's love and teaching ability. She is living in Qatar and has inherited many of Rona's students there.

Rona and Chloe visited from Melbourne to perform piano duets at the Nelson School of Music before they moved to Qatar. They played with joyful, playful enthusiasm.

Rona encouraged many of her students to perform in the New Zealand Chamber Music Competitions. Notably, her student, Amanda White, won a scholarship to the UK and with her fellow students David Murray and Mandy Chung, reached the National Finals of the Chamber Music Contest in Wellington.

Rona taught at Nelson College and Nelson College for Girls, and at the Nelson School of Music.

She enjoyed doing gigs with the Gilbert and Sullivan Trio, consisting of herself, Bruce Martin and Chris Lukeis. She was an accomplished accompanist for examination students.

Sadly, for the last seven years of her life, Rona suffered from dementia.

She was a star.

In the words of her teacher Kathleen Barnett – "bright, bubbly, intelligent, and immensely talented – a true friend and wonderful teacher."

All the Nelson musicians, who have played alongside her, remember her with love and admiration.

Rona Wiggins born Blenheim 1949. 

Died Saturday April 15th 2017 in Clunes, Victoria, Australia.

Survived by her husband Warren Wiggins, and her children Jason and Annisa McCormick, Chloe and Candice Wiggins and her five grandchildren.

 - Stuff

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