Dorothy Buchanan ONZM

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Dorothy Quita Buchanan is a classical composer, pianist, violinist, and teacher. She was born in Christchurch in September 1945, and grew up in a musical family.


She was educated at University of Canterbury from 1964 to 1967, and graduated with a MusB (Hons) in composition.

In 1975 she attended Christchurch Teachers College and the following year she was appointed New Zealand’s first Composer in Schools, a post she held from 1976 to 1984.

She later spent many years working as a Music Adviser for School Support Services.

In 1979 she was appointed President of Composers Association of New Zealand and founded the Christchurch Music workshops. In 1980, she co-founded the music publishing co-operative Nota Bene. She was also the artistic director of Smokefree Women’s Composing Festival for seven years.


Buchanan is a prolific writer, often influenced by the landscape. Many of her compositions are for voice, set to the words of New Zealand poets. Her best known works include: Prayer, Magnificat, The Tempest, Oedipus Rex, Five Songs of Love and Land, Sinfonetta, Duo Concertante, and Mary Magdalene and the Birds. She has also written operas including Clio, Legacy, Woman at the Store and The Mansfield Stories. Fragments and Letters won the Philip Neill Memorial Prize from the University of Otago in 1995.


Dorothy was honoured with the CANZ Outstanding Achievement Award in 1987, and the Vernon Griffiths Memorial Award for Outstanding Musical Achievement. In 2001 she was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to music.