This is my face, as photographed by John Hayes in 2017. It was on the wall at
Creative Bay of Plenty for a couple of weeks as part of an exhibition of Tauranga
writers. We gathered there one evening for the exhibition launch. It was a bit odd.
We normally discuss our writing. That night we discussed our faces.
My writing doesn’t stand or fall on the strength of my face. But hey, if it
did, maybe this photo would help. I feel very serious and writerly now.
When you’re interested in creating art of any sort, there’s this
weird black hole you can fall into called self
promotion. It’s a necessary evil that takes way
too much time, especially on social media. You can get sucked into spending more
energy trying to remind everyone that you’re arty than you spend creating the
I’m a very part time writer. I work a full week and more. I have a busy family
life with all sorts of extra curricular activities going on. I squeeze writing into
the nooks and crannies of my day.
This Ministry of Ideas website has slowed to the point where it needs to go to bed
now. I’m still writing, but trying to spend less energy online. Ministry of
Ideas will sit here as a record of eight years of stuff I’m proud of.
You can use the tags and the category lists to find poems, essays, music and other
general mayhem. Check out my two books, they’re
Run, mad bastards.
Run because you can.
Run because it matters even if it doesn’t.
Run because someone put the finish line over there.
Run after the ghosts of your previous runs.
Run to the unforgiving rhythm of your calculated pace.
Run with atoms exploding in your chest.
Run to the end of your rope and then keep running.
Run through the echo chamber of your solitude.
Run through the soup of your despair.
Run like you’re the sole-surviving runner.
Run with kilometres collapsing behind you like houses of cards.
Run to the finish line that is running away from you.
Run through hot bullets of exhaustion.
Run like the end of an action movie.
Run like the only thing that exists is to run.
Run because soon it will be done and you’ll never have to do this again
ever, for the entire rest of the day.
Run hard, hating it, and call it fun.
Run, mad bastards, run!
Some friends and I went to a piano and string quartet the other night. I found myself
giving hints and tips like “don’t clap between movements” and
“watch and listen to see which instrument is carrying the melody”.
Ongoing conversations have led to this, a classical playlist with notes on each
piece. I’ve compiled some old notes and added new ones to create a magnum opus
of classical geekery. Here you go, Brooke! Read, listen and enjoy.
Mozart / Piano Concerto 23 in A, 3rd movement
Mozart practically invented the piano concerto and I’m a sucker for them so
there are a few piano concertos in this playlist. A concerto can be best described
as a conversation between the lead instrument and the rest of the orchestra (as
opposed to a symphony which uses the whole orchestra without any particular soloist
The trick is to follow the main melody, which jumps around between instruments.
Listen out for strings, flutes and clarinets with some horns hiding the background.
The piano will play the tune for a few seconds but suddenly throw it over to a
different group of instruments, then back to the piano.
Vivaldi / The Four Seasons, Concerto No 2 in G
Minor (Summer, 3rd Movement –
This’ll give you a jolt when it starts but stick with it. I love Nigel
Kennedy’s recording of The Four Seasons. The violin sounds so aggressive and
tactile. It’s hard to choose which part of The Four Seasons to include on this
playlist, it’s such exciting music. The Four Seasons is well known, but if
you’ve only ever heard cheap, bland versions of it, you’ve never heard
it at all. Nigel Kennedy makes it soar. (This is a more recent performance, by the
way, not his famous ‘breakout’ recording where he looks like a clean cut
young boy on a white album cover.)
A bit about The Four Seasons. It’s a concerto for a string orchestra (including
a harpsichord which you can probably pick out in the background) and a solo violin.
The whole work is made up of twelve short movements, three each to represent Spring,
Summer, Autumn and Winter. (You probably recognise this from the National Bank ads.)
So listen for the solo violin playing against the orchestra. The solo starts 44
seconds in. Then the orchestra joins in, then at 1:28 the soloist returns.
That’s what you need to follow. And don’t forget to turn it up loud!
Vivaldi / Concerto For Two Violins in A Minor, 3rd Movement
Another one to keep you awake. Still with Vivaldi, performed by Nigel Kennedy and
another violinist. There are two tricks to listening to this piece.
You need to know that there is a string orchestra in the background, and there
are two solo violins playing all the fun stuff. Try to distinguish which is
Follow the rhythm. It has a basic pulse which you can hear played by the string
orchestra. If you find yourself counting to either three
or six each time you hear the main pulse, you’ve nailed
Even if you can’t follow the rhythm, just try to listen for the difference
between the backing string orchestra and the soloists. The soloists kick in at 33
seconds. That’s when you’ll hear one violin doing some fast sawing, and
the other doing the fast melody.
Max Richter / Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi The Four
Seasons Spring 1
Max Richter is a British composer (born 1966). He “rewrote”
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It’s kind of a tribute, kind of a remix.
He’s taking this famous music and playing around with it, but still preserving
its essence. I recommend the whole album.
Anonymous / Cancionero Musical De Palacio (Royal Music of the
Just to mix things up here’s a little piece of rock music from sixteenth
century Spain, complete with percussion instruments. Listen to this and tell me you
can’t imagine it going off on a stage, with mad string solos starting around
the one minute mark. (“Rock music”, because I’m picking medieval
folk bands were the rock stars of their day.)
If you feel yourself wanting to groove but find the rhythm a bit awkward it’s
probably because it doesn’t conform to dance music’s usual four beats in
the bar. Here’s how four beats in the bar works: if you hum ‘Mary Had A
Little Lamb’ to yourself, you’ll find the accent happens every fourth
beat; “Mary had a Little lamb,
Little lamb, Little lamb…”
In contrast, this early music track mostly has five beats in the bar. That means the
main pulse happens every five times. Five beats is tricky, it means there’s a
kind of secondary pulse, so it goes:
1– 2 –
3 – 4 –
5,1 – 2 – 3
– 4 –
Don’t worry too much if I’ve already lost you, just try to find and enjoy
the rhythm as much as you can. The point is that you are trying to actively listen
Mozart / Requiem in D Minor K 626, 3: Sequentia:
This is from Mozart’s Requiem, one of my favourites. He didn’t actually
get to finish it before his death, but that’s another story.
The film Amadeus has a wonderful scene in which Mozart is on his death bed dictating
this exact piece (Confutatis) to his rival Salieri. The scene is fictional but it is
worth watching because it breaks the Confutatis down to its musical components.
The words sung by the male choir with dramatic bluster translate as follows:
When the accursed are confounded and consigned to the fierce flames…
Then the female voices come in, beautifully, with:
…call me to be with the blessed.
Listen to how the music aligns with the words, the female voices providing the
graceful contrast against the ‘fierce flames’ of the male voices.
When the voices join together in a rather ominous melody, they are singing:
My heart contrite as if it were ashes: protect me in my final hour.
Actually it doesn’t matter if you don’t follow the words (and besides,
they’re sung in Latin.) It’s just bloody good music.
Bach / Unaccompained Cello Suite No 3 in C Major, Gigue
Leaping backward a hundred or so years from Mozart, to Bach and his cello suites. He
wrote six suites, each with six movements. This is the Gigue – or dance
The important thing to remember is that this is played by one guy with a cello. There
are moments when it sounds like another cello is playing in the background.
Performed by Yo Yo Ma.
Mozart / Piano Concerto No 14 in E flat, 2nd
There’s a single note in this piece that made me cry when I first heard it.
It’s a high note at 4:53. It works because at this point in the piece we think
we know where the melody is going but then that high E flat comes out of nowhere.
Mozart was really good at establishing a melody then tweaking it ever so slightly to
create something brand new. That delicate surprise still catches me. Such a simple
Rachmaninov / Piano Concerto 3 in D minor, 1st movement
Okay, this is the big one. It’s 18 minutes long and not for the faint hearted
but it rewards attentive listening. If I had to take one classical piece to my grave
it would probably be this one. It is apparently one of the more difficult pieces to
play as a pianist and was also featured in the film Shine. (This is NOT the David
Helfgott version, which, although inspired, is technically very muddled.) In case
you’re interested, it was written in 1909.
The first thing to note is the beautiful, simple piano melody. We will hear this
theme throughout the piece.
1:00 At one minute we get a first taste of Rachmaninov’s busy piano style which
melds into the background as the orchestra takes over the melody.
1:49 Notice the 1-2 beat of the rhythm that the piano is playing. If you find
yourself nodding or tapping in time then you’ve probably noticed it already.
1:55 The same rhythm but busier now. The piano really gets busy for the next minute.
Hidden in here are echoes of the musical ideas that occur throughout the piece.
3:00 Right, everything slows down. Silence is just as important as noise. Then we
launch into the next majestic theme.
3:50 A pomp and ceremonious sort of moment. This same tune gets turned into something
beautiful by the piano at 4:30.
5:33 Without realising it we are listening to nothing but the piano here. Then the
strings join in a few seconds later. This is totally different to Mozart’s
style of having the instruments chat with each other; here the piano is the main
event, the orchestra provides the lush backing.
6:45 A variation on one of the themes we have already heard.
7:18 …and now we return to our main theme. This time the strings are playing
something slightly busier.
7:53 A surprising, ominous build up – listen to what the bass notes of the
piano are doing. They repeat this a short moment later. Then the piano gets quite
busy. The melody is in the higher notes, it consists of a series of short step ups
and step downs getting faster and faster toward the 9 minute mark, building to a
crescendo at 9:30 which is maintained for another couple of minutes.
11:30 The beginning of a majestic piece of solo piano. Listening to this you
don’t even notice that the orchestra isn’t playing. From here until the
end of the piece it’s all about the piano.
12:40 Return of one of the main themes, still just the piano. We are now not even
half way through the cadenza. (The cadenza is the pianist’s chance to
officially show off. Rachmaninov wrote two versions of the cadenza for this
concerto, one big and bold and another lighter and more playful. This is the bold
14:10 End of the cadenza. The orchestra tiptoes in with a flute then an oboe then a
clarinet then a french horn.
17:00 And gently back to the original theme again. The end of this movement is
surprisingly low key. Even after 18 minutes it still leaves me wanting more.
Strauss / Vier letze lieder (Four Last Songs) IV: Im
Im Abendrot is the 4th of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs. It’s only
eight minutes long, but what a sublime eight minutes. It opens with a minute and a
half of swooping orchestra before the soprano glides in across the top.
You might freak out a bit when the singing starts. “Ew, what is this old
stuff?” But give it a chance. Forget that you’re listening to something
that sounds a bit like opera. Forget that there’s no music video to help you
through it. Just follow the golden melody through its ups and downs and see where it
(If this did have a music video to go with it, I can imagine something as
simple as a bird flying over ocean currents; the bird would rise and fall with the
Brahms/ Sonata for Cello and Piano No 1, first movement
Ah, Brahms, you slightly miserable, beautiful thing. A late edition to this playlist,
and it’s another long one, but I think you’re ready for it. Again, the
trick is to listen for which instrument is carrying the melody.
And now, since you’re getting good at this, if you notice that the cello has
the melody, try also noticing what the piano is doing to support the cello, and vice
versa. That’s where the beauty lies in music, and it’s what rewards
Also, check out the grunty bass notes coming from the cello.
Lauridsen/ Lux Aeterna (part 1)
Dim the lights and let this one carry you away. Morten Lauridsen is an American
composer, born 1947. This is the first of his four part choral work, Lux Aeterna.
‘Choral’ means that the primary instruments are voices. Yes, this is a
choir. As with any other piece of music, you can still follow who’s holding
the melody. Listen to how the female and male voices share the melody to create a
wash of ethereal beauty.
I first heard this live in 2015 and it totally transported me. The completed work has
been my go-to ever since. I once wrote that if I could only ever have one piece of
music it would be Im Abendrot from Four Last Songs, (that was after I said
I’d take the Rachmaninov piano concerto, so I’m always changing my mind
about music…) but Lux Aeterna is probably the winner now.
Why have I been so quiet lately? Here’s a post to make up for all the
silence. Featuring poetry goals, te reo, piano and running. Oh, and saving the
I set myself some goals at the start of last year. Not New Year’s resolutions,
but goals to give me something to work towards, even if I didn’t achieve them.
Get a poetry collection published
Continue learning te reo
Learn Chopin’s ballade No 1
Train to run 102km
Save the world
That all seems simple enough. Let’s break those down.
I started fine-tuning new and existing poems for a collection. It’s a lot of
work. I’m very picky about my poetry and I’m a very slow poet. It was a
demanding year in all sorts of other ways beyond what’s listed in this post,
so realistically this has been bumped to a 2018 goal. Or 2019. I’d rather get
it right first time.
I’m trying to not care so much about exposure as a writer – probably to
my detriment when I have a book
to sell – but you can spend more energy trying to be seen to
be a writer than actually doing the writing.
Related to this, here’s a little poem I wrote about craving social media
Tell me you like it
Notify me, baby.
Validate me with your stamps of approval.
You like it? You like that?
I check, check again for your cute thumbs up
your sweet popping smile.
Acknowledge me, baby.
I pivot on the tip of your fleeting touch.
It’s never enough.
Learning Māori has become a vital part of my life. I’m loving my te reo
journey at Te Wānanga o Aoteoroa. To help consolidate my second year’s
learning I captioned my old Star Wars book. This year
I’ll be tip-toeing into full immersion. Karawhiua mai – bring it on!
I’ve been working through Chopin’s Ballade No. 1. It’s about 9
minutes long, a swirl of beautiful melodies and soaring virtuoso sections. I can
play it through with some proficiency but only at Marcel-speed, not Chopin-speed. My
current challenge is to make it all hang together musically.
I didn’t much like piano practice as a kid. Now, it’s one of my favourite
things. I love crunching my way through a difficult section and seeing it come
together, bit by bit, discovering the nuances and musical treasures that the
composer placed there. The piano is a private escape for me. There’s nothing
quite like it – very different to negotiating the assault of nerves that comes
with performing in public.
My wife and I decided to mark our 20th year of marriage by both training for the
Tarawera Ultra Marathon 102km run. I had to do three months of solid strength work
at the gym, then we began our running training in July, about when our 20th
The race is upon in a few weeks, 10 February 2018. It will be my first ultra and Debbie’s third. It seems like an
appropriately nutty thing to do together, a symbolic representation of married life,
an analogy pushed to its limits.
As a willing sacrifice, most of my early morning writing has been given over to early
morning running. That’s why it’s been so quiet here on Ministry of
Ideas. I’ve managed to channel some writing into guest posts on the Foundation
Run blog. If you want to read all about my training journey, start at the 10
October 2017 entry and work upwards. Or go straight to Why am I training for an ultra marathon?
Save the world
Climate change is the one thing above all else that terrifies me about the future,
mostly on behalf of my children. I’m out of patience being polite about it.
The world seems stuck in a fog where we’re all acting reasonable about
something that is not a reasonable situation. We’re faffing about making
conservative plans when we should be all hands on deck with drastic action.
So, I’m trying to be a better citizen of the earth. Where to start? It’s
such a big topic that is constantly on my mind. The future requires less meat and
fewer cars. Everyone is an environmentalist until they want a car park, it seems.
I’ve been trying to save the world one bike ride at a time. I’ve been
adding vegan recipes to my diet. I’m determined that our next family car will
be 100% electric. Nothing is simple. Everything is hard. There’s always a
compromise. When you’re trying to make meaningful changes, at every turn you
find yourself committing little hypocrisies. Small steps, though. Small steps.
I took this photo during a recent king tide. We published it on the city
council’s Facebook page. A picture paints a thousand words and also
garners tens of thousands of Facebook views.
A poem about my brain. My wife often says she can hear me thinking, so I got to
wondering what my brain sounds like. Is it a mystery of meat or a steampunk
Mystery of meat
Early hours and the strain.
My brain leaning hard against the walls.
A glossy squash of hills and gullies
hunched in the dark.
A thick hidden knuckle of sponge
simmering in secret sloop.
What is my brain? A kilo of gunk and goop.
A mystery of meat.
Blind slug. Damp slog of a doorstop.
How does this thing make thoughts?
Does it chew them with soft molars?
Release them like pheromones?
Where is the whirring engine?
It must be there. I hear its relentless cogs
the tick-tocking brass teeth.
Grinding plates and golden gears.
Factory of invention.
Zings of pulleys and springs.
What is my brain? A steampunk marvel.
Metal spinning like tortured vinyl.
Rickety valves sneezing through balustrades of light
and a tiny wild scientist with ecstatic hair
and a flying white coat
who never takes a break except to play the pipe organ
loudly, and always at midnight.
Published in Show & Tell – Writing Pictures Drawing Words, a
collaboration between Tauranga Writers and Tauranga Society of Artists 2017