10 Questions: Christine Argyle

25 February 2015 / 10 Questions

Our new manager, Christine Argyle, steps up in this edition to talk about her background as a presenter with Radio New Zealand Concert, her musical experience as a singer with Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir and what she enjoys most about her current role with the New Zealand String Quartet.

1. Your voice is very familiar to many of us as a former presenter on Radio New Zealand Concert – how did you get into broadcasting?

A friend heard an announcement on Concert FM (as the station was called then) saying that they were looking for a programme scheduler and she thought it sounded like me. I’d been a secondary school music teacher before that and, while I’d loved being in the classroom, it was time for a change and classical radio sounded like an exciting option.

2. So you started out as a music scheduler rather than a presenter?

Yes, my first job was to make sure all the programme material was in the right boxes for the evenings and weekends, and they let me loose on choosing the music for two weekend afternoon slots. These days they have a computer programme to help with that, but back then (in 1996) it was a case of opening one of the hundreds of drawers of CDs looking for inspiration, one piece at a time! It was a bit overwhelming at first, but certainly expanded my knowledge of repertoire.

3. And your first manager at Radio NZ eventually went on to manage the NZ String Quartet…

Yes, Elizabeth Kerr was my first manager and a great inspiration to me. Unfortunately we only overlapped for about 18 months at Radio New Zealand. After a couple of high-powered jobs in between, Elizabeth eventually moved on to managing Creative New Zealand and then, in 2006, to the New Zealand String Quartet.

4. When did you start as a presenter and what was it like being on air for the first time?

After I’d been at Radio New Zealand for a few months I started voicing the weekly trailers, and then I trained as a ‘casual’ presenter, filling in on the occasional evenings and weekends. Not long after, a full-time presenter’s position came up and I took that up. I still remember my very first time ‘solo’ on air: we were playing the Brahms Requiem – one of my favourite works – when suddenly everything went silent. I thought I must have kicked a power switch under the desk by mistake and felt sick at the thought, but it turned out to be a power cut in the Wellington area. These days, Radio NZ has an uninterruptible power supply… but not then. I had to think fast about what to do once the power came back on and did my best to sound unfazed…

5. What are some of the highlights of your time with Radio New Zealand?

I enjoyed presenting the daily music news programme Upbeat in its inaugural year as I met so many interesting musicians working on amazing projects here and abroad. Making feature programmes on topics as diverse as the Wanganui Opera House, the life and music of Astor Piazzolla, the 20th anniversary of the National Youth Choir and, more recently, the life and contribution of piano teacher Judith Clark, was a very satisfying part of my job too. And getting the opportunity to interview legends such as Kiri Te Kanawa, Bryn Terfel and Jacques Loussier – those are special memories for me.

6. You’re a performer as well – a singer and choral conductor – how long have you been involved with choirs?

I’d had singing lessons from the age of 11 and sang in my school choir but when I went to Canterbury University I was too shy at first to audition for the University Singers. I finally plucked up the courage in my second year and then joined the National Youth Choir the following year. That was a seminal musical experience for me, as it has been for so many singers in New Zealand over the past 30 years or so. When I went to live in London I sang with the London Symphony Chorus, which gave me the opportunity to work under many of the world’s leading orchestral conductors and introduced me to so much wonderful choral/orchestral repertoire. In 1991 I came back to New Zealand and sang with the Auckland Opera Chorus for five years and then became a foundation member of Voices New Zealand… that was 17 years ago and I’m still singing with the ensemble!

 7. As a singer with Voices New Zealand, you’ve performed on more than one occasion with the New Zealand String Quartet, haven’t you?

Yes, the first time Voices New Zealand collaborated with NZSQ was on a song cycle by Jenny McLeod called The Poet, which we performed in the New Zealand Festival in 2008. Then last year we came together again to perform in Ross Harris’s Requiem for the Fallen – also in the NZ Festival. We had a repeat performance of Requiem in Dunedin in October last year, just one week before I joined the Quartet as their manager and I think that was great for us to meet as performers first, before assuming our new relationship.

 8. What made you want to work with the String Quartet as their manager?

I’d been keen to move into a management role for a while and this job seemed like the perfect opportunity to work in a small organisation with people who share my passion for music. I have admired the Quartet’s performances for many years and have always been impressed by the breadth of their repertoire, so when the chance came up to work with them, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss! That they are still so passionate about their work and so open to new ideas after more than 20 years together is something I find truly inspiring.

 9. What are the best parts of your job?

An important part of my job is planning and coordinating the Quartet’s annual national tour – a bit like putting a large jigsaw puzzle together – and it’s satisfying seeing this year’s tour schedule coming together.  I’m also really enjoying meeting and working with colleagues at the various other arts organisations we collaborate with. When I worked in radio, my communication with our ‘stakeholders’ was pretty much one-way, so it’s nice to be out in the ‘real’ world meeting with people face to face. But most of all, it’s my new colleagues within the organisation – Suzanne, our brilliant Office Manager/Administrator, our dedicated board members and the four wonderful NZSQ players – who inspire me in my work!

 10. What plans do you have for the NZSQ in the future?

One of the things that excites me most (and I know the Quartet members feel the same) is collaborations with other performers across a wide range of genres. You can expect to see more of that in the coming years and further exploration into different ways of engaging our audiences through innovative concert presentation. There are some exciting commissions in the pipeline and we’re delighted that Gareth Farr, Joy Cowley and Jacqui Coats will be collaborating with us on a new children’s piece which we hope to have ready for our younger audiences by later in the year. Overseas performances in 2015 will take the Quartet to festivals in Australia, England (including the City of London and Cheltenham festivals), Canada and the US, and possibly even to China, Mexico and Curaçao! It’s all go, but we wouldn’t have it any other way!

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