Now Is the Hour

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"Now Is the Hour" is a popular song, though often described as a traditional Māori song. It is usually credited to Clement Scott, Maewa Kaihau & Dorothy Stewart.

Maori words:

Po atarau
E moea iho nei.......

English words:

Now is the hour,
when we must say goodbye......

It first became known in 1913 when it was published by W.H.Paling and Co as a piano-variations piece in Australia, called Swiss Cradle Song and credited to an Australian, Clement Scott.[1] The piece consisted of eight variations to the main 16-bar theme. Palings sold 130,000 copies of Swiss Cradle Song.[2][3]

Māori words were added around 1915 and the tune was slightly changed. It became known as Po Atarau and was used a farewell to Māori soldiers going to the First World War. This has led some people to believe it was a traditional Māori folk-song. One claim attributes the first words to two Māori groups of sheep shearers, the Grace and Awatere families, of Tuparoa.[3]

In 1920 Maewa Kaihau wrote an opening verse in English as "This is the hour.." for her daughter who had become attached to a member of a visiting royal party, who was shortly to leave. She also modified the Po Atarau tune and added another Māori translation. When it became popular, Maewa Kaihau claimed the words and tune as her own work, but then Palings asserted their copyright for the tune. Nevertheless Maewa Kaihau's words were copyrighted in 1928. However Dick Grace has since claimed the words as the work of his family. In 1935 Kaihau modified the Po Atarau version again to become the Haere Ra Waltz Song, which was performed as the last waltz at dances and farewells.[3]

The song was first recorded by Ana Hato in 1927 with minor variations in the lyrics. English singer, Gracie Fields, learnt Haere Ra on a visit to New Zealand in 1945 in Rotorua. While travelling in her car, her driver taught her a version of it and it became a world-wide hit in 1948. Fields' manager, Dorothy Stewart, is credited with amending to the opening line to Now is the Hour, and with adding another verse.[3] Other recordings of the song were made by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Eddy Howard, Kate Smith, and Gale Storm. Hayley Westenra, a soprano from New Zealand, sang the song at the closing of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

The identity of Clement Scott has also been subject to debate. In 1948, a widow claimed that her husband, Albert Saunders, an employee of Palings, used the pseudonym, 'Clement Scott', and had written the Swiss Cradle Song in 1906. She said he had sold the tune to Palings. The manager, however, of Palings was still living and denied this, saying that Clement Scott was still alive.[3] The matter is one of some confusion and contention; see the article on English drama critic Clement Scott.

The tune, commonly named MAORI in hymnals, is also used with the lyrics "Search Me, O God" by J. Edwin Orr.[4]