Waypeople is a beginning. I started delving into the Tao Te Ching (a collection of ancient Chinese poems probably written over 2500 years ago in the time of Confucius by a sage named Lao Tzu) back in 2020: I was sick with anxiety, first from overwork and then from a sudden lack of purpose brought on by the COVID 19 lockdowns. My partner gave me a rendition in English by a favourite author of mine, Ursula Le Guin, best known for her “Earthsea Quartet”, a groundbreaking work in the Fantasy genre.

This funny, insightful, mystifying and musical book has provided me constant comfort and inspiration since I first picked it up. Le Guin wrote of the original text “as we define poetry now, not by rhyme or meter but by a patterned intensity of language, the whole thing is poetry. I wanted to catch that poetry, its terse, strange beauty.” I would like to catch the music in the poetry: surprising, hard to grasp, sometimes leaping like a fish! Glistening, beautiful, and at home in the world.

Waypeople was originally commissioned for the 2023 Wellington Jazz Festival, and is my first attempt to write jazz music with lyrics. I’ve enjoyed playing with the sounds of the American songbook and juxtaposing them with this ancient wisdom: to anchor the project to its roots I utilised the guzheng, a Chinese zither whose origins hark back to a similar time as the Tao Te Ching.

Listen to some excerpts from the debut performance.

Festivals or venues interested in hosting Waypeople should consult this document for the full performance description and staging requirements.