Sun, Oct 16, 2022 6:00 AM

Finding her singing voice


Tessa Jaine

Carolynn Tipene has made a name for herself in venues across Marlborough because of her beautiful voice, but it was the journey to music that is what she values the most.

Words: Megan Smith

What does music mean to you? Are you one who can rhythmically move to the beat, sing along to a song, and hit all the right notes, or can you play a musical instrument? If you are like me, then admiring somebody's remarkable ability to get onto the stage and draw a crowd will have to do. However, the view looks a tad different for those who are musically gifted and have stories to tell with their music, as well-known local songstress Carolynn Tipene expresses.

Carolynn was born and bred in Blenheim into a large Māori family of 14, nine of those making up her immediate family; the others were often troublesome teens who needed guidance and a solid support structure. In those days, her sense of success looked different. "I wanted the white picket fence, a beautiful home, and kids running around in the front yard. My dad always insisted on shaping that part of my life. When it was time to leave the house, I headed down to Christchurch to study cheffing, though I was encouraged to be a nurse instead. In those days, Māori were not supported and encouraged, and there were many things I would have liked to be a part of but could not."

Since then, Carolynn's idea of success has miraculously transformed into what she feels on the inside and how that translates to others on the outside world, including her two daughters, and her work as a mentor for Te Kotahi o TeTauhu Charitable Trust, who are there to guide and place people into work.

In 2000, Carolynn, then in Australia, resettled in Blenheim to help care for her mother who was diagnosed with dementia. Because of this, her progression into music began to mould itself into something that Carolynn is now incredibly popular for. She grew up in a musical family. There were always musical instruments strewn around the house, and her uncles and brother were in a band but she was too shy then to give it a go. The journey with her mum was what cultivated that curiosity. “She loved to sing, so when she was moved into care, I continued to sing to her, especially when she was confused. When she passed, the home asked me to stay on and sing for their residents. After that, I did a cancer fundraiser when two separate individuals approached me and said: “‘Can I hire you?’ I thought they were joking at first.”

From then on, Carolynn sung at local spots like Bamboo Tiger and Clubs of Marlborough, to other areas such as Westport, Greymouth, and Christchurch. She would stick to what she knew, and before every gig would read the room to establish what the mood and age bracket were. “The beauty of music is that it can transport you to another place. I saw this first hand when I sang at a rest home and saw an elderly couple crying while holding hands. Somebody had mentioned that the gentleman had forgotten who his wife was, and in the middle of the song I was singing, he turned to her and recognized who she was. It is moments like that cultivate and inspire me to sing, with no formal training either.”

Carolynn is a busy woman but recognizes that a holistic approach is most beneficial in maintaining equilibrium in her demanding role in helping individuals, her singing career, and carving out time for herself and her family. "I love aqua jogging at the stadium, connecting with women my age (I am 60 now), enjoying my morning breakfast in silence, and running around after my grandkids. All these things motivate me and provide the energy I need to give and share with others."

"Lastly, it is recognizing and applying the Māori health concept of 'te whare tapa whā', the four pillars or points that emphasize health and well-being, shaping the wharenui/meeting house and its four walls. Each wall is symbolic and represents taha whānau/family, tinana/physical well-being, taha wairua/spiritual well-being, and taha hinengaro/mental and emotional well-being, and the connection with the whenua/land, forms the foundation of the meeting house. The concept is that if either one of these cornerstones is unbalanced, it can lead to turmoil. If they are all balanced, then we prosper!"

The very fabric of Carolynn is to uplift those around her through her mahi, with her music, and to nurture Māori culture and its essential role in holistic happiness. "Get familiar with your four pillars, do not sweat the small stuff, and do not be shy to laugh, dance, or sing!"

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