Ross Harris recalls the life and work of fellow-composer Jack Body (1944-2015)
Jack Body was born in the small North Island farming town of Te Aroha to parents with little interest in music. Even so, he was playing piano and composing by the time he was 11. He studied composition with Ronald Tremain at Auckland University and soon exhibited his flair for organising multi-dimensional music festivals with his “Young Aucklanders in the Arts” (1968).
In 1969, his OE took him to Europe to study with Mauricio Kagel and Gottfried Michael Koenig where he immersed himself in the modernism of the time. However, it was his wide-ranging return trip through Asia that changed his life: “My experiences there have profoundly affected the way I think and feel about life and music.” In 1976, he returned to Indonesia as a guest lecturer at the Music Academy in Jogjakarta where he began to collect field recordings that helped transform his work. His award-winning electronic piece Musik dari Jalan is one of many of Jack’s works that evoke the harmonious sensuality of Indonesia. From his love of Asian music came his later ethnomusicological research and a unique relationship with Asian music through the many highly sensitive transcriptions he made.
From his position at Victoria University (1980-2009), he was able to develop his entrepreneurial talents with a host of extraordinary achievements including Sonic Circuses, Asia/Pacific Festivals, residences for international artists and New Zealand composers, gamelan tours and the Wai-te-ata Music Press. At the same time, Jack continued to write highly original works and inspire generations of students through his generous and passionate teaching.
Jack was widely acknowledged as a major contributor to contemporary New Zealand music. In 2001 he was awarded the OMNZ, and was made an Icon of the Arts Foundation just days before his death in May 2015.
Jack Body’s life and work is commemorated in Jack! Celebrating Jack Body, Composer (Jennifer Shennan, Gillian Whitehead & Scilla Askew (eds), Steele Roberts, $40.00, ISBN 9781927242735).