Philip Hayward. Bounty Chords: Music, Dance and Cultural Heritage on Norfolk and Pitcairn Islands. Eastleigh, UK: John Libbey & Co, 2006. Pp 256. £15.00.
In Philip Hayward’s Bounty Chords seemingly every aspect of music on Pitcairn Island and Norfolk Island is examined to the finest detail, leaving no proverbial stone unturned. From the settlement of these South Pacific colonies to the present day, Bounty Chords gives the reader an interesting, though somewhat burdened history of expressive arts on the islands.
Pitcairn Island, and later Norfolk Island, were established by mutineers of the ubiquitous H.M.S. Bounty in 1789 by a crew of mostly British sailors and Tahitian women, with a society that developed largely in complete isolation from much of the world. Over the next two centuries, the islands progressed from fundamentalist Christian enclaves to pan-Melanesian tourist stops to a quasi-Australian country society existing on two tiny islands North and West of the mainland. These developments, as well as others, are chronicled in Hayward’s book to extreme detail; and it seems at times that Hayward’s work belabors certain points unnecessarily. Is this a history of the music of these islands or a dry, heavily documented analysis of specific forms of song and dance? Hayward aspires towards the former, but occasionally falls subject to the latter in an effort to retain scholarly value.
Bounty Chords moves chronologically, though in later chapters the organization becomes styled topically as the setting moves into the modern. Hayward himself clearly performed extensive firsthand research and spent countless hours among islanders on Pitcairn and Norfolk, as well as in Hayward’s native Sydney. In addition to this, various (possibly all available) historical documents are consulted and cited heavily, providing the reader with materials such as the lyrics to 19th-century hymns composed and sung in the settlements. Here is Hayward’s most impressive achievement in the entire work: seemingly every piece of literature on the Pitcairn and Norfolk society is compiled into one comprehensive volume in Bounty Chords. This is not discernibly Hayward’s goal, but it does seem important to both Hayward and his informants, who have a vested interest in crystallizing their collective history and culture.
The daunting scope and detail of the book is in some ways also its downfall. The breadth of Hayward’s discussion and examination leaves the work without any clear stance; through careful and thorough documentation the book sacrifices a thesis or stance on issues Hayward looks to investigate. This once again gives Bounty Chords an interesting duality. Here is a book which, proves to be a comprehensive and often compelling chronicle of the music of these islands. This, in turn, is something that garners even more interest in the subject matter of a little-known colony established by mutineers of a ship present in the public consciousness primarily as a result of books and films based on the event of the mutiny itself. The book’s dual nature then reveals itself in the overly pedantic tread of the chapters, especially as Hayward is able to write increasingly from personal experience and interviews. The academic objectivity Hayward strives for removes his writing far enough that any opinion in his voice seems to vanish behind the wall of italicized song lyrics and islander biographies.
Hayward’s back-story and unified narrative throughout do make this an authoritative volume, one the likes of which will not likely be surpassed, barring some radical development in the musical culture of the island. Hayward is also worthy of praise in his journalistic or investigative veracity, and every aspect of the musical life of the islands is given due documentation and description. The reader cannot accuse Hayward of any bias or devotion to any one subject, as evident by mention of the corpus of an eight-year-old Norfolk girl and the unreleased demo-tapes of a Norfolk metal aficionado. Hayward even makes distinction between popular songwriters on the islands and historically or quintessentially Norfolk or Pitcairn songwriting styles and lyrical vernacular (though the book is somewhat lacking in a clear and comprehensive glossary of terms in the local dialect).
Although a work this thorough and detailed could easily become a difficult or tedious read, the writing generally flows well and quotes or historical citations are largely woven well into the text. It is clear that Hayward has not written the book solely for posterity and codification, and the accessibility of the book makes it viable as a read. In lieu of footnotes or full endnotes, Hayward structured his book with notes following each chapter, as might be seen in an academic journal or anthology. This sole design decision affects the entire book by compartmentalizing each chapter, and casting the book almost as a collection of essays that happen to be arranged in an oddly free-flowing and consummately chronological order. Though this is puzzling, it is, luckily for Hayward, not enough to distract too much from the storyline, which the author does an admirable job of leaving intact and connected to the body of the work.
Bounty Chords could easily be labeled as a labor of love, as Hayward exhaustively has detailed much of the expressive culture to be found within the society on the two islands. This is an aspect of the writing that simultaneously adds to the book’s significance while detracting a bit from its effectiveness. As previously stated, there will likely never be another work as comprehensive as this on the Norfolk and Pitcairn islands, and for the people of those places the value of compiling their history, identity, and various songs and pieces is, and will continue to be, immeasurable. Consequently, this is not a book to be taken lightly, or really to be read casually. For a reader who has an interest in the society, or is in a position to critically examine music, this can be a fantastic book and a brilliant source. For others though, Bounty Chords simply delivers too bountiful a description to be undertaken without consequence.