Music to Stewart Maunder’s ears

Stewart Maunder is at home with a saxophone in his hands, and music in his ears. Taranaki Community News caught up with him to find out about his musical adventures, and his latest gig – playing in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Hi Stewart. You are a bit of a legend in the local music scene. Can you tell us what you have done over the years? 
Legend is such an overrated word! All I have done over the years is to have started my musical journey in a small town by joining the local Brass Band as a cornet learner.

This led to stepping slightly to one side and playing in a dance band. This small group had a really fine sound for the times (60s) and this led to the group sailing to Sydney in 1970 with the thought of going musically further.

Sydney was really good to us as musicians. We went on TV and played in an early version of Australia’s Got Talent and although we only came fourth it taught us a lot about striving for the best.

Stewart has been involved in shows with New Plymouth Operatic since the late 1970s.
Photo credit: Sharron Betts

We worked as a show band and club resident band for about five years, and did several stints with the Sydney Les Girls review also.

In 1976 my wife and I returned to Taranaki and started a family. Over the next few years I played in pub covers bands, and a big band The Don Boyd Big Band. This led into a smaller jazz combo Juss Jass  that played through the late 80s and early 90s.

At about this time, I started teaching saxophone both privately and in the school system. This led to taking a number of school jazz and concert bands (with some great successes) which I have just stepped aside from after 25 years.

In 2003 Robyn and I put  The Great Taranaki Steam Band on the tracks as a learning band environment for adult beginners and this has flourished into a wonderful concert band. It is now under the direction of Christopher Luke. Robyn and I both play in The Ritz big band.

Stewart’s love of music has taken him abroad, and seen him appear on television.
Photo credit: Sharron Betts

I have recently done some music projects with the likes of singer/songwriter Juliet McLean and local Irish Band Shasken Reel. I must say that the years have been very good to me musically and it is now nice to put something back in to the community.

I have watched some of my students go on to be world class musicians which this has been a real buzz. Where did the years all go?

This year you and your sax are part of the live band for Priscilla. How’s that going?
The “sax ” part is quite busy. It comprises three different saxophones, clarinet, and flute. The highlight so far has been the fun bunch of people I am playing with.

More than 200 people are involved in Priscilla Queen of the Desert

The Priscilla soundtrack is pretty fun. Do you have a favourite song?
They’re all good. Disco songs keep you on your toes.

You’ve been involved with NPOS for a number of years now. When did you first start? 
While all this music was going on I played in a number of New Plymouth Operatic shows, starting with Jesus Christ Superstar in 1979. Since then I’ve done 30-something shows.

Have the style of shows or even the style of music changed over that time?
The shows have moved with the times and embraced the technology that is available for sound reinforcement and lighting etc. Music has been cut back in some shows to pre-recorded tracks. This show is using live musicians.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert opens on Thursday June 20 at the TSB Showplace

When did you first start playing the sax, and why did you pick this instrument? 
I started the sax in 1970 in Sydney. Although I enjoyed the trumpet I have always had a love for this family of instruments.

You’re not the only musical person in your family are you?
No indeed. Over the years our two sons learn’t the flute and saxophone and both are competent players. My wife Robyn started learning when we started the Steam Band. And as mentioned above we both play in The Ritz Big Band, as well as a sax quartet Sharp 4.

If you could have dinner with any three people from history, who would you pick and what would you talk about? 
Stanley Turrentine (tenor sax player) to tell him he is my favorite player. Jim Wallace (brass band conductor) to thank him for getting me interested in playing an instrument. My grandfather Joseph for giving me a music gene.

Why should people come along to Priscilla?
It’s a fun night out!!