sun moon stars rain CD

In 2007 Norman started composing music for poems by E.E. Cummings that he felt drawn to. This album is the result.

Working with three of his favorite musicians - trumpet player Nick van Dijk, vocalist Hannah Griffin, and reed player Colin Hemmingsen - Norman has written a series of compositions that reflect the quiet, playful and transcendent aspects of Cummings' work.

Six of the pieces are songs; the other six are instrumental variations inspired by Cummings' words. Because there is no rhythm section, the music is very open and spacious, leaving room for the individual voices to stretch out and explore - and for the listener to enter into the performances.

12 tracks. 45 minutes. 12 page booklet. Art casing. $NZ20

"I really like the way you have given the poet's words room to breathe. And you have spaced out the musical phrasing in a way that is really sensitive to the phrasing and rhythms of the poem. A lovely balance of poem and music. The singer is terrific, and so are all the players. The interludes (Sun, Stars, Moon, etc) make a great overall structure with the poems. And the album is beautifully packaged. Warmest congratulations! It deserves to be widely heard." - Roger Horrocks

Hear samples of music:

who are you, little i?
tumbling hair
the sky was candy
pretty how town
in time of daffodils

Watch other videos



What attracted you to the poetry of E.E. cummings?
It’s very ‘musical’, and to me quite evocative. I don’t really understand a lot of his poems (although the ones I’ve set make some sense to me) and that abstruseness is definitely part of the attraction.

Why this instrumentation and sparseness of approach, ie. no rhythm section?
I guess because I like that sound. The concept was a very ‘European jazz’ one – think of (German record label) ECM. Also, the poems themselves are very spare, elegant things, with everything superfluous stripped away. I’ve tried to go for that with the music and performances. I think the sound that Neil Maddever (who recorded the group) and Steve Garden (who produced the disc) have achieved goes a long way to really making that sonic austerity work so beautifully.

Why these other musicians?
Well, the original concept was for trio of piano, voice and trumpet, and in fact for Hannah and Nick and I. Hannah is my favourite singer in New Zealand, and Nick is one of my favourite musicians anywhere, so when they agreed to do the project I was really thrilled. Colin was added closer to the first performance when I realised I wanted a slightly different sound in the mix – and the woodiness of his clarinet is a perfect foil to Nick’s trumpet.

Who are the musicians who inspire you the most?
Miles Davis is the one for me. Lots of reasons for that, but a lot of it is to do with the way his music kept moving and evolving and developing and reflecting the times he lived in. I don’t love everything he did, but I love the spirit of most of his music. Other people I really admire are Paul Bley, Nick van Dijk and Ornette Coleman (between about 1957 and 1970) because they make a wonderful sound and play things that I find surprising and funny. I like Messiaen's music a lot, and Bach – especially the sacred music – and some Ligeti too. Norma Winston is a singer I listen to regularly, and I really dig Bjork and Radiohead and, some days anyway, Jethro Tull and Gentle Giant.

Where do you see this music sitting in terms of jazz?
I don’t know about jazz. There are certainly jazz musicians mining these ideas. Steve Swallow, Frank Carlberg, Steve Lacy, Suzanne Abbuehl (who has also set some Cummings), Luciana Souza, lots of others. And there’s no question in my mind that Colin and Nick are jazz musicians, so maybe it’s jazz by association? There are some feels on the album that are jazz – on ‘Tumbling Hair’ for example, which is a kind of blues. There is improvisation on pretty well every track, and lots of interaction between the musicians. So all of that is kind of ‘jazz’. But the vibe of the music is in some ways closer to chamber music or art song.

Why this musical direction for you?
It's probably because it’s something I haven’t done much of, and because the idea of it intrigues me. The music I like best is often spare and restrained, and this context provided a great opportunity to try and play that way. Also, I really like songs and listen to music with words a lot at home. My own lyrics are really crap, so by setting poems I could find some really great words and try to fit them with music. It has been fun, and as well as the Cummings poetry, I have been working on poems by Bill Manhire. So far Hannah, Colin and I have performed a couple of concerts of that music too. It’s a little earthier than the Cummings music, which is mainly about the meanings of the poems themselves I think.

How has the project ended up sounding to you?
I think the music is lovely and Hannah, Colin and Nick perform wonderfully. Making the record was a pleasure – Neil is a terrific engineer and knows how to get good results out of musicians, and we had fun in St Andrew’s on the Terrace where we recorded the music. It was quite humbling to hear how wonderful they were able to make my music sound – thank you, guys.


The production of this album has been supported by the New Zealand School of Music.
The School provides learning opportunities for music composition and performance.
Lecturers and tutors include the cream of New Zealand's jazz and classical musicians.
To learn more about the School's programmes visit