Beautiful churches with “great acoustics, cool pulpits and loads of leadlight”

Church used for acoustic concerts

2004. New Zealand recording artist Bic Runga is on her one-month Acoustic Church Tour playing at 10 churches on a 16 date tour.

Bic Runga is a 26-year-old singer songwriter, signed to Columbia Records in New Zealand, and with two albums to her credit, Drive and Beautiful Collision.

Drive spawned six top 20 singles and spent a month in the #1 position on the New Zealand album sales chart. It has gone on to become the biggest selling album by a New Zealander, in New Zealand.

Since leaving New Zealand midway through last year and relocating to Paris she has been busy touring and promoting the release of Beautiful Collision in Europe and Japan.

While playing an acoustic gig at London’s Union Chapel in Islington, an 18th century church, Runga was so impressed and inspired she immediately wanted to take the concept to a national tour of New Zealand and spent the remainder of 2003 scouring the nation to find beautiful churches with “great acoustics, cool pulpits and loads of leadlight,” her website press release informs.

One of the churches chosen is Wellington’s inner-city Presbyterian church, St Johns in the City, who hosted Runga in late April with two concerts.

Senior Minister Rev Dr Graham Redding was approached by Ringa’s agent and had no qualms making the church available. The agent thought St John’s had good atmosphere and acoustics, Mr Redding says.

“Oh, and a few complimentary tickets helped. They were quickly snapped up by some of our young people. And probably the hireage fee is more affordable than some of the secular concert venues around town.”

Mr Redding agrees that the acoustics are good. “Our biggest problem was the fact that the only part of the church that is visible from every vantage point is the large elevated central pulpit, so a special platform will be constructed around that area.”

Intimacy is part of Runga’s concept. Mr Redding explains that the layout of St John’s, and particularly the gallery, means everyone will be quite close to the performer. He adds the honey-coloured wooden interior conveys a sense of warmth.

When St Johns was asked to hire out their facilities, they treated the request just like they would treat requests to hire out their conference center. Mr Redding explains similar policies are adopted for their church building and conference center, which was built as a community facility.

St John’s does not stipulate criteria in advance for booking of the conference center. In cases where the parish secretary feels that a potential booking might be controversial on religious or political grounds, she consults with a minister before accepting the booking. With requests for hiring the church building the secretary will not make a church building without first checking with one of the ministers.

“We have had other musical events in the church such as organ recitals and an evening concert series of classical music. One of our main concerns in considering a request is that the church will be respected as a place of worship.

“Because it is a church building we would not want it used for an activity or performance that would undermine or be entirely incongruous with the Christian faith that is represented in the building, but we do not regard the building as something that may be used only for worship.

“At the same time, there are some styles of music and types of performance that would be more compatible with the venue than others.”

Mr Redding’s family are fans for Runga’s music. “All the family enjoy her music,” he says, “and my 10-year old daughter has her CD.” What about Runga’s new concept? “I’ll check out the concept on the night,” he says.

Bic Runga will perform with guitarist Ben Maitland from Auckland band Boxcar Guitars at venues which include Christchurch Cathedral, Holy Trinity in Auckland, and Napier’s St John’s Cathedral.

By Peter Veugelaers.

Published 2004, Challenge Weekly.



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