Richard Nunns

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Richard Nunns
Nunns in 2011
Background information
Birth nameRichard Anthony Nunns
Born(1945-12-07)7 December 1945
Napier, New Zealand
OriginNew Zealand
Died7 June 2021(2021-06-07) (aged 75)
Nelson, New Zealand
WebsiteOfficial website

Richard Anthony Nunns QSM (7 December 1945 – 7 June 2021) was a Māori traditional instrumentalist of Pākehā heritage. He was particularly known for playing taonga pūoro and his collaboration with fellow Māori instrumentalist Hirini Melbourne. After Melbourne's death, he was regarded as the world's foremost authority on Māori instruments.

Early life and family[edit]

Nunns was born on 7 December 1945 in Napier.[1][2] He was a Pākehā of Scandinavian descent[3][4] and was born into a musical family. After studying at Matamata College, he did teacher training at Canterbury University.[5] As a teacher in his late 20s living in the Waikato, he helped build a marae, which fuelled his interest in Māori culture. At the time, he was a jazz musician.[4][6] Nunns was married to writer Rachel Bush and had two daughters and five grandchildren.[7]

Professional life[edit]

Richard Nunns playing a flute

For many years, Nunns performed with Hirini Melbourne (1949–2003), playing traditional Māori instruments. Together, they researched these instruments, which had not been played for over a century, as their use went out of tradition in the 1900s. For many of the instruments, which were still on display in museums, it wasn't even known what technique was used to play them. They are credited with reviving this part of Māori culture.[8] After Melbourne's death, Nunns was regarded as the world's foremost authority on Māori instruments.[4][8]

Nunns co-led the musicians at a dawn ceremony on opening day of Te Papa in 1998.[1] He made recordings with musicians covering a wide variety of styles, including Moana and the Moahunters,[8] the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra,[8] the New Zealand String Quartet,[9] King Kapisi,[4] and Salmonella Dub.[4] In addition, he toured with Māori musician Whirimako Black, jazz musician Evan Parker, pianists Marilyn Crispell, Paul Grabowsky and Mike Nock, and flautist Alexa Still.[1] Nunns worked with composers Gareth Farr, Gillian Whitehead, and John Purser, and contributed to the soundtracks for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and Whale Rider.[4]

In 2001, Nunns achieved the position of research associate in the music department of the University of Waikato.[9]

Later life and death[edit]

Nunns was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2005, after which he rarely appeared in public.[10][4] In 2009, Nunns was given the Arts Laureate award by the Arts Foundation of New Zealand.[2] Nunns was the subject of a tribute concert in his honour held at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in 2013.[2] Nunns amassed over 70 traditional wind and percussion instruments within his collection throughout his long career.[2] Nunns died in Nelson on 7 June 2021, aged 75.[11][12][13]

Honours and awards[edit]

Nunns held an honorary life membership of the New Zealand Flute Association.[1] In 2001, Nunns received a citation for services to music from the Composers Association of New Zealand.[9] He was a category winner twice in the New Zealand Music Awards (in 2006 and 2007).[1] He was bestowed an honorary doctorate by Victoria University of Wellington in 2008 for his contributions to Tāonga Puoro.[1] In the 2009 Queen's Birthday Honours, Nunns was awarded the Queen's Service Medal, for services to taonga pūoro.[14] Later that year he and Melbourne were jointly inducted in the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame.[8][15][16] Later in the same year, he received a Laureate Award from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand.[1]


Aotearoa Music Awards[edit]

The Aotearoa Music Awards (previously known as New Zealand Music Awards (NZMA)) are an annual awards night celebrating excellence in New Zealand music and have been presented annually since 1965.

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
2009 Richard Nunns New Zealand Music Hall of Fame inductee [17]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Biography". The Arts Foundation. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d Maniapoto, Moana (19 June 2021). "Remembering Richard Nunns". E-Tangata. Retrieved 10 September 2021.
  3. ^ Newton, Katherine; Gadd, David (18 November 2009). "Ihimaera a laureate amid controversy". The Dominion Post. Fairfax New Zealand. Archived from the original on 21 November 2009. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Anderson, Vicki (23 September 2011). "Our Musical Guardian". GO (a weekly supplement to The Press). Christchurch. p. 10.
  5. ^ "Richard Nunns". Matamata College. Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  6. ^ "Richard Nunns". Christchurch Arts Festival. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  7. ^ Wrightson, Louise (April 2016). "Louise Wrightson farewells Rachel Bush". NZ Poetry Shelf. Retrieved 31 January 2022.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Maori traditions earn kudos for musicians". The New Zealand Herald. APN News & Media. 17 September 2009. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  9. ^ a b c "Richard Nunns". University of Waikato. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  10. ^ "Richard Nunns releases a new album". Wellington Music. Wellington City Libraries. 22 July 2015. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  11. ^ "Richard Nunns - AudioCulture". AudioCulture. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  12. ^ Jones, Katy (8 June 2021). "Man who helped breathe life back into Māori music instruments has died". Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  13. ^ "Richard Nunns death notice". Dominion Post. 12 June 2021. Retrieved 15 June 2021.
  14. ^ "Four Nelson honours in list". The Nelson Mail. Fairfax New Zealand. 1 June 2009. Archived from the original on 8 June 2009. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  15. ^ New Zealand Press Association (18 September 2009). "Lawrence Arabia wins silver scroll". Fairfax New Zealand. Archived from the original on 14 June 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2010.
  16. ^ "Hirini Melbourne & Richard Nunns". APRA | AMCOS New Zealand. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  17. ^ "HOME INDUCTEES". Retrieved 16 August 2021.

External links[edit]