Book Review: A Passionate Affair – Llewellyn Owen & Music, by Margaret Bean

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_passionate_affairIn 1986, Llewellyn Owen’s daughter Gwyneth Owen gifted to the Ashburton Museum assorted material relating to Llewellyn, a school teacher, private music teacher, composer, conductor, accompanist and solo performer. He lived in Ashburton from 1890 – 1917. Margaret Bean, a voluntary archivist at the museum from 1993 – 1917 began compiling some details about his life to accompany that material. That project grew to become this book.

Llewellyn Owen was the youngest son of a family who emigrated from England to New Zealand in 1879 – he was eight years old. There were four boys in the family. At a young age, Llewellyn showed considerable musical talent. He obtained music qualifications after some years of study with no clear path of instruction. He was well-liked and in many reports of concerts and social events, his talents were in high demand.

Later on, Llewellyn trained as a primary school teacher taking up a position as an Assistant Master at Ashburton School. He resigned after 18 months to persue a career in music. He then returned to teach in Lyttleton. During his career he also worked as a composer, accompanist and a conductor.

The Gates family dominated the local music scene in Ashburton and were firmly established by the time Llewellyn arrived. They remained so during his time in the town.
Richard Wood, violinist of Timaru also had an impact on the Ashburton music circles in the early 1890’s both as a performer and teacher of stringed instruments.

The Woods and Gates families both figured prominently in early orchestral performances, along with Llewellyn Owen.

Llewellyn Owen’s time in Ashburton may be divided into four periods:

1890 – 95 Appointment to staff of Ashburton District School ending as
Choir leader of the Methodist Wesleyan Choir Society
1896 – 1902 6 years of intense musical society activity marred by eye
problems – sought treatment in Europe.
1903 – 1908 Returned from Europe; marriage, birth of first child.
1909 – 1917 Visiting music teacher at local high school until his departure
from Ashburton and return to primary teaching.

Llewellyn Owen also had a number of his original compositions published. In this book seven of his musical works have been included, one of which was discovered during Margaret Bean’s research, as well as a CD of his music. The CD is included with this book.

As a non-musician I found this book intriguing. New Zealand was a very different world to today. Music was a very important part of life in small towns and cities throughout New Zealand as entertainment and as a suitable accomplishment for women, along with painting and embroidery. This book is a glimpse into the social history of Ashburton and its surrounds, and an important record of that time in New Zealand.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

A Passionate Affair – Llewellyn Owen & Music
by Margaret Bean
Published by Steele Roberts
ISBN 9781927242865

Tākitimu sells well in Wairoa but be careful with tractor books in Ashburton, says Lincoln Gould

To be woken by a mobile phone call while climbing into bed at a roadside motel in a small South Island country town was perhaps my first encounter of the wonderful, if a little eccentric, world of New Zealand booksellers.

“I heard you are in town and want to talk to you about bookselling,” said Russell Antiss. How did he know I was in Ashburton? I had not told anyone I was even going through the town. However, I had met Philip King of Canterbury University Bookshop earlier in the day and Philip had spread the world down the line that the new guy from Booksellers NZ was doing a tour. I don’t know whether Philip actually said this, but I suspect he might have told Russell, “He knows absolutely nothing about bookselling, so you might want to put him straight.”

Russell insisted that he would come around to the motel, pick me up and take me to his home for a cognac and a chat; most hospitable and an interesting discussion on the industry, particularly the founding of the Paper Plus Group, ensued.

Actually I had an even stranger, but far less hospitable encounter with the industry when John and Ruth McIntyre of the Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie threw a “welcome to the book trade” function at the trade’s traditional Wellington watering hole, the Southern Cross. This particular bookseller, who shall remain nameless, decided he would introduce himself by way of head-butting me and telling me what a shocking fraud I was rorting the trade by way of the structure of book tokens as administered by Booksellers NZ.
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So a good industry to join? “Yeah, nah,” might have been an answer then, but as it has turned out, the last six and half years have been very enjoyable, for many reasons, particularly thanks to my encounters with the wide variety of booksellers throughout New Zealand.

On another tour of bookshops a few years into my time at Booksellers NZ, I pulled into Take Note Wairoa, now independent bookshop The Book Parade, owned by Ange McKay. Okay, it’s small and sells a lot of stuff other than books, but the shop is an important community hub. Asked what book she sells most of, the answer was Tākitimu, written by Tiaka Hikawera Mitira (J. H. Mitchell) and first published by A.H. and A.W Reed in 1972, but still published by and available through Oratia Media. It is a history of the Ngati Kahungunu iwi that recognise Tākitimu as their foundation canoe, and it traces the history of the peoples of the Te Urewera.

Sales from many community bookshops represent special interests of their localities. Paper Plus in Ashburton told me of selling lots of books about tractors. Mind, local specialities are not fully understood sometimes: Paper Plus Support Office noted the higher than usual sales of tractor books in Ashburton so delivered a larger than usual pack of a new title they thought would sell well down there – A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.
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I certainly have not met all the booksellers in the country, but all that I have met, while individualist and sometimes eccentric, have one thing in common – a passion for books and bookselling. To be called a “good bookseller”, especially by a cranky publisher, is a badge of honour.

Bookselling has been tough over the past few years and the industry has lost a number of its characters, such as Jeff Grigor from Chapters and Verses in Timaru, Tim Skinner from Capital Books in Wellington, John Ahradsen from Paper Plus. But it appears the tide has turned for sales and while not up there with at pre-2007 levels, the graph is heading in the right direction.

This coming weekend’s NZ Bookshop Day will be a celebration of bookshops in communities right across the country and a celebration too of the many booksellers who are sticking with the trade primarily for one reason – they love books.

– By Lincoln Gould, CEO of Booksellers NZ

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