Singing historian tells all

20 June 2012

A light-hearted memoir penned by historian and former professional singer Edmund Bohan gives a lively account of a lifetime of literary and musical achievement in the latest book published by Canterbury University Press.

Singing Historian: A MemoirSinging Historian: A Memoir is a richly anecdotal chronicle of Mr Bohan’s 47-year career as a professional singer both in New Zealand and in the United Kingdom, and of his second career as a novelist and leading authority on 19th century New Zealand political history.

Mr Bohan’s memoirs are enlivened with pen-portraits of memorable personalities he encountered in the musical, literary and academic worlds.

“I have had a long and incident-packed and complicated career – as historian, international singer, novelist, lecturer and teacher - and a considerable number of people have been interested in it and have suggested I write about it,” he said.

“My book is comparatively light-hearted. I don’t aim to pay off old scores like a great many memoirs do or strive for literary effect. Rather, I hope to entertain and inform.”

Not only does Singing Historian contain information about the musical and academic scenes of 1950s and early 1960s New Zealand and Australia, it also offers insights into the British musical world illustrated with colourful anecdotes of the Irish opera seasons and Benjamin Britten’s English Opera Group.

During his long singing career, much of it based in the United Kingdom, Mr Bohan sang more than 170 different major choral, operatic and orchestral works, and broadcast regularly.

He grew up in Christchurch, enjoying school days at Christchurch Boys’ High School followed by defining studies at the University of Canterbury under such teachers as Neville Phillips and John Garrett. After teaching for a short period he moved to Sydney then on to London where he established a career as a versatile “general practitioner” of singing, performing mainly in concerts but enjoying memorable forays into opera. During these years he also published two historical novels for young adults.

After returning to New Zealand in 1987 Mr Bohan resumed his studies of 19th century politics and concentrated on a writing career. To date he has written 18 books, including biographies of early New Zealand politicians Edward Stafford and Sir George Grey, both of which were shortlisted for Montana New Zealand Book Awards; a series of historical detective novels featuring Inspector Patrick O’Rorke; the illustrated general history New Zealand: The story so far; and Climates of War: New Zealand in conflict 1859-1869.

Singing Historian: A Memoir will be launched at the University Bookshop at the University of Canterbury on 19 July.

  • Singing Historian: A Memoir by Edmund Bohan, published by Canterbury University Press, June 2012, RRP NZ$30, paperback, ISBN 978-1-927145-31-9

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