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Musical Treasures in Disc Collection

Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero archivist John Kelcher working with the musical discs.


Musical Treasures in Disc Collection

As part of a two-year digitisation project targeting valuable audio heritage, Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero is currently preserving a unique series of around 300 discs of music by New Zealand composers and early broadcasts by the National Orchestra (now The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra). The lacquer disc recordings date from 1946 to 1953.

The National Orchestra was established primarily as a radio orchestra under the control of the New Zealand Broadcasting Service (NZBS). Due to its close association with the state broadcaster, the recordings were transferred to the Sound Archives from Archives New Zealand.

According to Roger Smith, Manager of Radio New Zealand Concert, the recordings are unique and include many first and premier recordings by composers who have since passed away.

“This is an important collection,” says Smith, “as it comprises many early recordings of New Zealand performers and compositions, as well as a fascinating cross-section of visiting international artists in the immediate post-war years."

Disc information shows that this series includes recordings of The National Orchestra’s very first concert in 1947, early interpretations of New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn’s work, and recordings of The International (Italian) Grand Opera Company’s 1949 tour of New Zealand, among other gems.

Despite the age of the collection, the audio is still retrievable from the great majority of discs. The processes will see each recording played back in real time on a legacy playback device and captured as a digital audio file. This work will be conducted at the Sound Archives’ Christchurch branch over the next six months, by Sound Archives disc specialist John Kelcher. Further research and description work on the series will be conducted once the material has been transferred.

It is hoped that the majority of the Sound Archives’ wider collection of 10,000 disc recordings will eventually be migrated to a digital format so that the delicate recordings need not be touched again, allowing access to the Sound Archives’ unique collections in perpetuity. The Sound Archives’ disc collections include many wartime radio newsreels, election addresses and current events programmes. A small percentage of material also relates to Māori subjects, ranging from recordings of traditional waiata, oratory and tributes to famous people.

A database of basic disc details is available for searching via the Sound Archives’ online catalogue (at This will be added to as the work progresses.

In October 2012, the Sound Archives were transferred from Radio New Zealand to The New Zealand Film Archive, and the Archives are currently undergoing a Review to establish an integrated national audiovisual archive by July 2014.


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