|Text from the book: History of the Accordion in New Zealand, published 1993.
ASAATC NZAATC BA Dip Ed MA AIRMTNZ
(1936 to18 October 2020)
A heavily laden four wheel drive slithered and clawed its way up the river bank and into the tropical forest. If we follow it, after several kilometres of twisting track come to an end, we see a number of brown and black and one white individual emerge from the vehicle, load some gear on their backs and set off down the muddy trail further into the jungle. This could have been any of many expeditions that Wallace Liggett took students on from the boarding schools he taught at in New Guinea. They might be installing running water into a village, assisting with a funeral or as on this occasion going to talk and perform musical items for a village.
As the darkening clouds started to release drops of rain, a boy who had a large black case on his shoulder looked around for shelter. He quickly removed his shirt and covered his load, then as the rain increased to a tropical downpour he ran to some banana palms, fortunately nearby, and pulling several leaves off covered what you have now guessed was Wallace's accordion case. Just one of many unusual situations this concert model Titano Emperor (present replacement value about $15,000) found itself in during its New Guinea tour.
Wallace commenced learning piano as a child when his aunt gave him a terms tuition fees as a birthday present. After some success in competition festivals his motivation toward music eventually slowed, and it wasn't until a friend persuaded him to buy an accordion and join the orchestra of the Auckland Society of Accordionists, that music came into his focus again. He took a term of lessons from Bruce Sommerville, who ran the orchestra, but when Bruce's studio lease ran out these were discontinued.
Some time later Wallace wandered into Sydney Eady's shop to try out a larger accordion, where George Hyde, then working as repairer and accordion teacher, offered to introduce him to Allan Jones, (Allan had asked George only a short time before to look out for a young person to whom he could pass on his accordion knowledge). Responding to the offer, Wallace commenced a number of years of intensive study and practice.
After some 5 years, Wallace attained National Broadcasting status and commenced to play professionally. During this time he became the first New Zealander to play a free bass accordion (circa 1958) and transcribed a number of the works of the great masters for it. At that time, there were no free bass transcriptions in NZ and among the list of works he transcribed to include in his performances were: Toccata and Fugue in D minor (J.S. Bach), Harmonious Blacksmith and variations (G.F. Handel), and Poet and Peasant overture (Von Suppe).
Wallace made a historical first for the accordion when (circa 1958) he became the first person in NZ to perform on National Radio programmes using a free bass accordion. His performances of such major works as listed above, astounded other musicians who had no idea that an accordion was able to be used as the vehicle of musical expression for these major works. While living in Australia, Wallace performed similar works in concerts and studio recitals for the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
For some years he enjoyed a dominance in the concert accordion field in NZ, such that when an early winner of the NZ Solo Accordion Championship was asked in a radio interview about his further accordion ambitions, he replied, "To become as good as Wallace Liggett". Wallace also formed and led the Concert Trio, with Murray Ingles and Brian Wallis, who played bass accordion. This was possibly the first accordion ensemble in NZ to play formal classical and baroque music.
During the late 1960's Wallace went to Australia where he furthered his education. While there he recorded several series of studio recitals for the Australian Broadcasting Commission and also toured with a university choir as accordion soloist. During these tours he received very favourable comment in the press reviews of the concerts.
After spending a number of years in Australia Wallace responded to a request to teach at a school in New Guinea. Few people could afford any instruments in that country and although he did some solo entertaining and accompanying on the accordion, his main musical activity was training choirs, one for broadcasting and another which performed at the Independence Celebrations in Goroka. On returning to NZ Wallace was soon involved with the accordion, both teaching and playing. A member of the Accordion Examination Board of NZ, he was appointed an examiner in 1992. He is also a regular adjudicator at the NZ Accordion Championships.
His M.A. thesis (completed at Auckland in 1989) was a specially designed music program and contained a number of pieces composed for students. Transcriptions of these have joined his accordion compositions as competition test pieces at the NZ Accordion Championships.
Wallace has written and arranged extensively for accordion and other instruments both solo and ensemble as well as for orchestras. His recordings include both solo accordion and multi track orchestral arrangements using electronic instruments with accordion (see appendix for list of compositions and recordings). All types of music from pops to Bach organ works are included, and he is possibly the only person to single handedly multi track a complete symphony.
Wallace currently develops and manages property, as well as teaching instrumental music at Tamaki College. He enjoys playing with the North Shore Musicale Accordion Orchestra, gives recitals and seminars for various keyboard clubs, and lends a helping hand to accordion groups.