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Our Environment: Issue 15 Winter 1998

Our Environment: Christchurch City Council's Environmental Newsletter

Roger Lusby - Creating Music With A Message

Roger Lusby sits on a desk in front of 25 Wharenui primary school pupils and picks up his guitar.

His opening song Counting on You is a perfect choice. Written by Roger, it captures his love of the environment and music, and his faith in the new generation.

It also defines the reason for his visit - to work with the children to create and record another song in his Sing Out Kiwi programme.


Roger Lusby in tune with Wharenui School pupils

After leading his enthusiastic audience through several environmental songs Roger raises the fun factor a notch or two by introducing them to new songs about ice cream, the alphabet and the classic Kiwi welcome Gidday.

Between verses a tuneful magpie chimes in with its own chorus just outside the window, delighting the pupils.

They hear songs created by other Canterbury children before discussing the theme for the song they will produce with Roger. After sifting through various options they decide on "New Zealand is a special place with lots of special people" as a starting point.

Every Thursday morning for the next seven weeks they will develop that theme until they have completed the song which they will perform in public. It will also be professionally recorded and each child will receive a tape.

Roger - songwriter, environmentalist and mechanic - conceived and developed the Sing Out Kiwi programme to encourage Canterbury children to take their messages to the world through music. "If you witness what happens to the children, it's just fantastic," he says. "It puts them in a different space altogether. It creates an awareness."

Audiences so far have included Queen Elizabeth, an International Environment Conference in England and an International Lions Convention in Christchurch. Now Roger is planning to put out a CD of Sing Out Kiwi songs and tap into the biggest medium of all, the Internet.

He is an environmentalist from way back. A former chairman of the Christchurch Estuary Association, he formed the educational offshoot Friends of the Estuary about seven years ago.

Roger wrote his first composition - The Skylark Song - after his wife Penny developed cancer. He went on to write

Anna's Gold, recording swimmer Anna Simcic's golden performance in the 1990 Commonwealth Games.

Roger earned his own "first" when his composition Canterbury Pride won a competition to find a song reflecting Canterbury's special character and spirit. It remains popular with school children, including those at Wharenui.

A visit to his daughter Charlotte working for the Department' of Conservation's Black Stilt Breeding and Rehabilitation Centre produced Counting on You. It reminds us of the natural treasures we have and those we risk losing.

I have just arrived I'm a new generation
I would like to listen and see them too
Hey big person think about the by and by
Please leave a little I am counting on you.

His songwriting took a new turn when Roger was asked to write a song about the amazing experience of Jessie, a little disabled girl who swam in the sea off Kaikoura with a bottlenose dolphin called Maui. The apparent rapport between the two was almost like a religious experience for a lot of people on that trip says Roger.

St Martins School was keen to be involved. After retracing the story of Jessie, Roger and Form I students created the song Maui.

Jessie is nervous
How can she swim?
Her legs will not work
But they lower her in to the ocean
Then just as graceful as mist in the breeze
Maui swims over to Jessie with ease and affection
Softly, slowly Jessie takes hold
The beauty of Maui begins to unfold
They are swimming

Maui became a local hit. The students performed their song live to appreciative audiences and a recording was made.

Next stop for Roger was Leithfield School in North Canterbury. There Katie Hansen's words "Echo our hope for all people to hear" provided the inspiration for their song Sing Out Kiwi. The message was that people must listen to children and care for the environment for future generations.

Listen to silence replace the bird's song
Animals die the rain forests have gone
No longer harmony no longer strong
Listen to our generation.

This song captured the imagination of everyone at Leithfield School - 95 children from five to 14 years, says Roger. He considers Sing Out Kiwi the programme's most successful song so far.

Everything is Special celebrating our world was written with the music class of Westburn School. The children also wrote the harmony parts for voice and instruments, and played the instruments.

During Roger's frequent talks to service and other community groups, members of the audience buy tapes. They distribute them to their children and grandchildren who teach the songs around the world.

The Kiwanis service group has also given the programme a big boost by sponsoring the production and recording of new songs at Bamford and St Anne Schools.

Down By the River, written with the children of Rooms 5 and 6 at Bamford, tells of the unique environment New Zealand children can enjoy. St Anne's children, greatly affected by a racist attack at Sumner, responded with Children for Changes and how the younger generation can change the world.

One of Roger's future projects will be to produce a song with children involved in a programme to address anger. He also works with students at the New Zealand College of Early Childhood Education two days a week to produce songs to use as teaching resources.

With music becoming an increasingly important part of his life, Roger intends to spend less time at his motor tune-up business in Christchurch. One of his main objectives is to complete an album and CD of Sing Out Kiwi songs. He has just upgraded his home recording studio and has spent thousands of dollars and just as many hours developing the programme.

There are no regrets, says Roger, reflecting on the wide range of skills children learn while creating their songs, and their increased awareness of their social and physical environment. "It's an extraordinary part of my life that's become very important."

Sing Out Kiwi helped fill the void in Roger's life when his wife Penny died four years ago. It also addresses his passion for our natural environment and the need to protect it for future generations.

Roger, who attributes his musical talent to an Irish grandfather, was brought up with music all around him. "I don't believe I'm special at all. I just seem to have the ability to relate to youngsters, and to music and to words." Sometimes the simplest words evoke the most powerful messages.

Now a group of Wharenui School pupils have the opportunity to mould their thoughts about the environment into words and to music. The planning, crafting and singing of their song will also expand their world.

Jennie Hamilton

Songs from the Sing out Kiwi programme are available from Roger at a cost of $10. Just write to Roger Lusby, 13 The Spur, Sumner, Christchurch.

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