Jenny McLeod: A Life in Music
NZ Listener Best Books of 2023
Jenny McLeod was the sensation of New Zealand music.
Born in 1941, at age five she discovered she could read music fluently. After a childhood in Timaru and Levin, she went on to study music with Douglas Lilburn and Frederick Page at Victoria University College, and in Europe with two imposing figures of mid-twentieth century modernism: Olivier Messiaen and Karlheinz Stockhausen. In 1967 she joined Victoria University’s music department and was soon appointed New Zealand’s youngest full professor. Two large public works for orchestra and children’s choirs – Earth and Sky (1968) and Under the Sun (1971) – were seen by thousands and made her famous.
In 1976 her devotion to Maharaj Ji’s Divine Light Mission led to her early retirement from the university. However, her retirement from musical life was short-lived, and she was a prolific composer until her death in 2022. As well as many compositions based on Tone Clock Theory, her major works include music for the film The Silent One, song cycles based on poems by Janet Frame, and the opera Hōhepa, which premiered at the New Zealand International Arts Festival in 2012.
Drawing on his many conversations with Jenny McLeod, as well as her writings, letters and works, Norman Meehan brings the story of this remarkable composer to life.
'A beautifully constructed account of the life of one of the country's foremost composers . . . Meehan covers McLeod's action-packed early life brilliantly, drawing an engaging picture of her character. Her trust for her biographer is clear throughout the book.' —Elizabeth Kerr, NZ Listener
‘Norman Meehan has adroitly drawn out Jenny McLeod’s deepest influences and inspirations, her mercurial, searching nature, her ebullient and dogged personality, and her unique visionary status – I was completely hooked.’ —Eve de Castro-Robinson
Norman Meehan is a New Zealand musician. An active composer, Norman has performed original music throughout the country and in Europe. Since 2008 his primary musical focus has been setting poetic text as song. He has collaborated with vocalist Hannah Griffin to set texts by New Zealand poets on Rattle Records releases. He is the author of Time Will Tell: Conversations with Paul Bley (2003); Serious Fun: The Life and Music of Mike Nock (2010); and New Zealand Jazz Life (2016). He and his partner have recently returned to Wellington after several years in New York.
Cover photo: Jenny McLeod by Barry Woods
Cover design: Todd Atticus