The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra will record songs with a 50-person Pasifika Choir

A free concert will be held at the Michael Fowler Center later this year for the Wellington Pasifika community to enjoy. Photo/Latitude Creative

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) teams up with a 50-member Pasifika Choir to record songs from multiple island nations, bringing their melodies to the world.

The project is called Mana Moana and is a new partnership for the NZSO in its quest to be an “orchestra for all New Zealanders”.

Ten songs were chosen by communities living in Wellington, from Tonga, Samoa, Tokelau, Fiji, Niue and the Cook Islands.

NZSO’s director of artistic programming, innovation and audience engagement, Kirsten Mason, said Mana Moana was special.

She said that while the orchestra had partnered with Pacific artists before, this time was different because the music came from the islands and was chosen by people from those communities.

“We are the platform to tell these beautiful Pasifika stories in their languages ​​and melodies.”

It is hoped that the recordings will help ensure that cultural identity and language are preserved, celebrated and passed on through these stories in song.

The songs will be recorded by RNZ and hosted on digital platforms and performed at a free concert in December at the Michael Fowler Center. The concert is primarily aimed at the Pasifika community.

The NZSO and Signature Choir rehearsed together for the first time at the Michael Fowler Center in Wellington this month.  Photo/Latitude Creative
The NZSO and Signature Choir rehearsed together for the first time at the Michael Fowler Center in Wellington this month. Photo/Latitude Creative

Mason said cost could be a major barrier to attending concerts.

“We really wanted to make it as accessible as possible for the people who own these songs.”

The Wellington Signature Choir worked with orchestrator Thomas Goss to ensure the essence of the songs are maintained and capture the emotion of the originals.

Choir director Helen Tupai said she already knew people who had booked flights to the concert even though they did not yet have tickets.

“I can guarantee you that almost 98% of our community have never heard the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

“They’re going to hear their stories and their songs interpreted in a different way and that’s what music does. It’s such a universal language…if it makes your heart ache and it makes you want to dance, you did the job.”

Tupai said recording the songs meant people could “tap” into Pacific music around the world.

Carmel Sepuloni, Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage.  Photo/Latitude Creative
Carmel Sepuloni, Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage. Photo/Latitude Creative

During a rehearsal earlier this month, Tupai said the choir felt like they were listening to their songs being performed in a movie theater.

“It’s because the orchestra just elevated our music and gave it a different color palette. It was beautiful and very emotional – people cried.”

Part of the Signature Choir’s mission is to share Pacific music not only with its own communities, but also in places where Pacific voices are rarely heard.

Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Carmel Sepuloni said she has enjoyed the journey she has had with the NZSO over the past five years, despite the challenges of Covid-19.

She said it was an honor to attend the Mana Moana collaboration rehearsal.

“Wellington Pasifika’s beautiful signature choir alongside the NZSO was quite moving for those of us who got a taste of it.

“We should not underestimate the role the arts can play in uniting communities and creating mutual understanding and respect.”

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