Piano research hits right notes

Piano Research Hits Right Notes

“In a socially sustainable society…our cultural and biological heritage is preserved, strengthening our sense of connectedness to our history and environment...”

Social sustainability in Govt3, Ministry for the Environment, NZ, www.mfe.govt.nz.


The image of a grand piano on a West Coast beach from the 1993 Jane Campion film The Piano kept pulling back University of Waikato lecturer Dr Kirstine Moffat.

Dr Moffat first wrote about The Piano in 2000 and has since kept returning to the image in the film – a moving testimony to the personal and cultural value of the instrument that accompanied its owner to the other side of the world.

Dr Moffat’s research discovered the piano was a popular presence in colonial New Zealand culture and society. It crossed gender, racial and class divides, it held a central position in homes and public settings, and performers and audience were united by a love for the instrument and the music it produced.

By examining the colonial piano’s many uses, by considering the cultural assumptions that underpinned its popularity and by offering readings of the piano in literature and visual arts, this cultural history offers a new approach to habits of thought in colonial New Zealand.

Dr Moffat has written about “the soundscape of the colonial New Zealand parlour” in Hearing Places: Sound, Place, Time and Culture and her wider research findings will be published in her Piano: A New Zealand Cultural History 1827-1930.

External funding gratefully acknowledged: Marsden Fund Fast-start.


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