This major work contains a mixture of musical and literary sources, and is eclectic in style. The choir has plenty to do, but none of it is too demanding technically. It is a work which transcends its regional origins.
From the Southern Marches was the brain-child of George Griffiths, historian and owner of Otago Heritage Books in Dunedin. He writes:
For many years I'd pondered the nature of the southern region and the people who live in it - particularly the contraditcory characteristics passed on from our Scots forebears, with their unrelenting capacity for hard work and their uncertain trust in the rewards to be gained from it. In a broader view, it seemed the development of a southern character was story so rich in human spirit and diversity that it demanded some kind of expression.
The kind of expression depended very much on George's choice of texts which come from a wide variety of sources, ranging from old Maori chants to more recent poetry. The work progresses more or less in a chronological manner, but avoids becoming a potted history of the south. Each text from each particular era focusses on a special characteristic of the time - whether it is the reckless optimism of the gold miners in the 1860s, or the grim reality of the needle-workers in the 1880s who were virtual slaves. George has drawn on a rich variety of ideas and texts, so that more serious items are contrasted with humour, as in Thatcher's 'The Old Identity' or 'King' Dick Seddon's political speech. Some items involve text with existent tunes, and the music becomes an arrangement (as is the case with 'The Old Identity'). Sometimes these tunes are just a starting point for lengthy elaboration, as in 'Bright Fine Gold', based on the tune for 'Hot Cross Buns'.
From the Southern Marches has a format that is similar to oratorio, with alternations between solo vocal items and choruses, with the addition of two purely orchestral sections. There is even references to the 'recitative' style in 'The Jubilee', 'Southern Education' and elsewhere. It runs to almost two hours in length, and is divided into two halves. Here are the individual sections:
This work was composed in 1997, and first performed in March, 1998, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of settlement in Otago and Southland. The performers on this occasion were The Dunedin Sinfonia under Nicholas Braithwaite, with the City of Dunedin Choir, Southern Consort of Voices, Southern Youth Choir, plus four soloists: Ana James(soprano), Deborah Wai Kapohe(soprano), Iain Fraser(tenor), and Jonathan Lemalu(bass). Such was the success of this premiere, From the Southern Marches was repeated in December of the same year, this time with Dobbs Franks conducting.
A commercial CD was released in 1998 using the live recording of the premiere. Copies of this are still available from the composer, or from Otago Heritage Books (500 Great King Street, Dunedin).
In 1998, Otago Heritage Books won a Special Merit Award in the National Business Review's Business Sponsorship of the Arts Awards.