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Winners announced for National Songwriting Competition

Simon Eastwood
Fergus Byett
Denzel Panama
Simon Eastwood, Denzel Panama and Fergus Byett are the three category winners of Compose Aotearoa!, our national choral-song-writing competition, now in its second year.


Simon Eastwood, Denzel Panama and Fergus Byett are the three category winners of Compose Aotearoa!, our national choral-song-writing competition, now in its second year. Composers from all over New Zealand were invited by Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand to create a new work for a mixed four-part choir (up to 60 people), in a capella or accompanied by up to three instruments.

Simon Eastwood, a Wellington composer and bass player, won the Open Category with Confiteor tibi. The piece was originally written for a workshop with the BBC Singers while Simon was studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London. It was the first time he had written for a vocal ensemble. Simon says he responded to a Latin text from St. Augustine (where the philosopher meditates on the nature of time) by layering a wandering melodic line against different versions of itself at different speeds to evoke the multifaceted and “altogether confusing” nature of time. “I’m overjoyed to have won,” he says, “The piece sat quietly on my hard-drive doing nothing for a while, so hopefully now it can have a new life out ‘in the wild”.

Auckland’s Denzel Panama won the 25 and Under Category with Ave Maria.  He feels his approach to writing may have previously been a bit haphazard but that the extended-lockdown gave him the time to think through ideas before putting anything down. “I wanted to write a setting of Ave Maria that felt like I was telling the story and painting the text in an adventurous way …”. A composer, conductor and singer, Denzel has a First-Class Honours Degree in Music from University of Auckland. He teaches singing, directs two choirs at St Cuthbert’s College and is a vocal coach at King’s College. 

21 year old Fergus Byett won the Waiata Tira Category with Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. Fergus is from Taupo and is studying Classical Piano at Waikato University, going into Honours in 2022. He also sings in and has composed for Hamilton’s  St Peter’s Cathedral Choir. Fergus entered Compose Aotearoa in 2020 and says he valued the feedback he received then, “It’s very flattering to have won this year, it’s an affirmation—a nice signal that I’m on the right track”. The Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis form the musical heart of the Christian Evensong service and the Māori translation Fergus used comes from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer NZ. “I love working with Māori text … and I wanted to bring out some different characters of the language in this work. I've previously worked with the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in English so it's interesting how different musical ideas come through from different translations”.

The Compose Aotearoa adjudicators were: Choirs Aotearoa NZ Artistic Director, Dr Karen Grylls; NZ Youth Choir Music Director, David Squire; and renowned New Zealand composer, David Hamilton who says of the 37 entries, “It was pleasing to see a diverse and imaginative range of texts being set this year, with scores covering a wide range of styles. All the scores had merit, and we appreciated the different ways composers responded to their chosen text”.

Winners take home $2000 each and become SOUNZ Composers, receiving profile on Highly commended entries were: Jesse Leov with nunc dimittis; Keith Moss with Wynken, Blynken and Nod; Katherine Lopez with I’ll be here; and Chris Artley with Te papa a Hine-Rēhia.

Further information: 

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Written by

Choirs Aotearoa NZ Trust

3 Dec 2021