Jerome Kavanagh teaches taonga puoro Māori flute to help connect with tradition

Jerome Kavanagh plays a Taonga Puoro - a traditional Maori musical instrument carved from Rimu - at a workshop on ...
ROBERT STEVEN/STUFF

Jerome Kavanagh plays a Taonga Puoro - a traditional Maori musical instrument carved from Rimu - at a workshop on Wednesday evening held at REAP Central Plataeu. Kavanagh says learning to carve and play the instruments helped him calm down, turn away from drugs and connect with the land.

  Learning a traditional instrument is as much about the future, as it is about the past, Jerome Kavanagh says.

The Bali-based Kiwi runs workshops and online courses teaching people to play taonga puoro [traditional Māori musical instruments].

The instruments include spinning discs, percussion instruments and flutes carved from totara wood, whale tooth, albatross bones, shells, and greenstone.

A collection of Taonga Puoro instruments.
Carly Thomas

A collection of Taonga Puoro instruments.

The musical instrument recreate sounds from the natural environment, such as the howling of the wind, Kavanagh said.

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"Taonga puoro hold the vibration of the natural world and when played, this vibration resonates within us and helps to reconnect to the intelligence and power of nature," he said.

Nichola Genn Harris teaches James Hargest College students Ashanti Tawera, 15, and Jayda Edwards, 14, to play ...
Rebecca Moore/STUFF

Nichola Genn Harris teaches James Hargest College students Ashanti Tawera, 15, and Jayda Edwards, 14, to play traditional Maori instruments.

Kavanagh runs workshops for keen learners and school teachers and recently held a workshop at REAP Central Plateau.

His main business is delivering online courses for customers in Europe, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

"I realised a lot of schools don't have the human resources available to teach the taongo puoro themselves, so I focused on creating online video tutorials," he said.

An intricately carved Taonga Puoro
Murray Wilson/ Fairfax NZ

An intricately carved Taonga Puoro

"It's about empowering our people – especially our teachers – so they can share that with their kids," he said.

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Kavanagh grew up in a small town south of Ohakune called Rangiwaea. He first picked up the taonga puoro in his early years as a teacher at in 2003.

An intricately carved taonga puoro owned by Brian Flintoff, which came from a short section of rimu framing, studded ...
SUPPLIED

An intricately carved taonga puoro owned by Brian Flintoff, which came from a short section of rimu framing, studded with nails, from a home.

"I was young, 21 years, and I couldn't keep up with the paperwork at all

"I was good with the kids though and then realised this resource could be used to engage them and teach them about Māori tradition."

Kavanagh spent four months carving and learning to play the flutes. He then started travelling to schools and teaching pupils to play the flutes in workshops.

The workshops are for all kids – not just children with Māori heritage, he said.

"The kids are really hungry for their culture," he said.

"With the puoro, they're learning about our original New Zealand music tradition and how that's closely tied to nature.

"The workshops are about making it fun for everyone."

Remembering past traditions and looking into ancestors' stories could encourage self-belief in the present, Kavanagh said.

"It's a Māori approach and tool that can empower everybody."

Kavanagh's mother is of Māori descent and his father is of Irish descent.

"Our great great great grandfather came to Taranaki on the Ladybird. They were on their way to America but they stopped here and never got back onto the boat," he said.

"Learning about that was awesome for me because I feel like I really know my identity."

Back in the 1800s, his ancestors wouldn't have had modern conveniences, such as supermarkets they could visit in the evening or freezers to keep meat frozen, but they made do, he said.

"You draw inspiration from your ancestors' stories," he said.

"My whole family and my wife are really staunch on being independent, and that's how we look at the stories of our ancestors.

"They practiced their sovereignty through the practice of their business and their life."

Modern technology offered today's youth great opportunities to learn about their ancestor's lives and traditions, as well as craft a successful career, he said.

"Technology can be bad, but I'm looking at the positive side of it, really," he said.

"Now's a really good time for people to charge forward and step up."

Playing taonga puoro could create an "orchestra of nature" that gave people space to chill out, he said.

"It's a crazy world, we're running around and doing our jobs. There's not just time for self," he said,

"But the sound of the Taonga Puoro can help to centre people and grounds people."

* To learn more, visit Jerome Kavanagh's website at https://jeromekav.wixsite.com/jerome-

 - Stuff

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