Part of the excitement for me of being a composer over the years has been the challenge of taking a traditionally not-for-profit hobby and turning it into a not-for-profit career.
From organs to orchestras, car horns to choirs, ballads to ballet, Philip Norman’s work as a composer spans the breadth of the performing arts.
Philip was born in Christchurch 1953 and educated at Rathkeale College Masterton 1967–71 and University of Canterbury where he graduated with a BA (Music and English), MAHons (Musicology) 1977 and PhD (Musicology) 1984. He also trained at Christchurch Teachers College in 1977, graduating A+ in teaching practice, and holds an LMusTCL.
Since 1978 he has worked freelance as a professional composer and writer with additional work including musical direction, conducting and broadcasting. He was principal music reviewer for the Christchurch Press for much of the 1980s, co-founder and director of Nota Bene Publishing Co-operative from 1979 and was active through the 1980s as a committee member, secretary and president of Composers' Association of New Zealand. From 1991– 95 he was musical director of the Christchurch School of Instrumental Music and in 1992 was composer in residence with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, the only composer to have held a residency with that orchestra.
He has composed and arranged well over 200 pieces including Footrot Flats and Love Off The Shelf (stage musicals with book by Roger Hall and lyrics by A.K. Grant), Peter Pan (ballet with choreography by Russell Kerr), Plumsong (choir), The Juggler (orchestra) and A Christmas Carol (opera), all numbering amongst the most performed works by a New Zealand composer in their fields. As a writer, he compiled three editions of the Bibliography of New Zealand Compositions which in 1992 formed the beginnings of the SOUNZ computer database of New Zealand composers and compositions.
His biography of New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn won the biography category in the 2007 Montana Book Awards. The biography has been described as "a ground-breaking achievement for New Zealand Music" [William Dart NZ Herald], "a book to get ecstatic over" [Anne Kennedy, Landfall], and as "signalling a new level of maturity in New Zealand musicological studies". [Martin Lodge Bulletin of New Zealand Studies, London].
Philip was the 2007 Ursula Bethell Creative Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury English Department the recipient of a 2008 CLL Writer's Award, and the inaugural research fellow, 2013, at the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, assisting him to work on a general history of New Zealand composition.
He lives in Christchurch with his wife Alison, is the father of four children Oliver, Marcus, Isla and Caroline, and the co-custodian of an array of pets – three cats (including the neighbour's cat), a rabbit, and two whistling tree frogs.
Photo credit: Gareth Watkins