Richard Nunns, born in Napier in 1945, is an authority on ngā taonga pūoro (Māori traditional musical instruments) spending more than 30 years meticulously researching these unique indigenous instruments and bringing them back to life.
Working with the late composer Hirini Melbourne and Nelson carver Brian Flintoff, Nunns helped rediscover many traditional instruments. Of the relationship, Nunns has said “The serendipitous makeup of us three meant that everything was covered: traditional knowledge, Te Reo, carving, composing and playing … Hirini and I are out the front with performances, but Brian has always been the engine room.”
Nunns first became aware of taonga pūoro in the late 1950s through an article in the ‘Auckland Weekly News’ of an object at Auckland Museum thought to be a traditional Māori instrument, but nobody knew anything about its function or how to play it.
He grew up in a musical family and started playing trumpet while still at primary school. He joined the jazz club while studying at Canterbury University. He went on to teach of English and literature at Nelson College for Girls until, in his fifties, he gave up teaching to pursue music full time.
Nunns has contributed to more than 55 local and international albums, performed with numerous Māori artists, free jazz improvisers, and worked with contemporary classical composers, as well as the NZSO and NZSQ. More recently he has worked with electronic musician Paddy Free, and performed on Dudley Benson’s album ‘Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne’.
In 1998 he co-led musicians at the dawn ceremony for the opening of Te Papa. In 2008 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Victoria University of Wellington. In 2009 he was awarded a Queens Service Medal, was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame alongside with Hirini Melbourne, and was awards an Arts Foundation Laureate Award.