Orchestra looking to connect with Tonga’s love of brass music

Photo: Tonga Govt

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra says a trip to play and work with local musicians in Tonga is a “special project” to be part of.

The Orchestra is on its first tour of the Pacific.

During the week-long tour of Tonga, 14 musicians, led by principal trombonist David Bremner, will perform alongside the Kingdom’s Royal Corps of Musicians and the Royal Tongan Police Band.

The tour is being funded by New Zealand’s Cultural Diplomacy International Programme, administered by Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

Bremner said he wants his orchestra to immerse itself in Tonga’s brass culture.

“Tonga has had a long tradition with brass music, so we want to connect with that – I’ve been to Tonga several times teaching and performing over there,” Bremner said.

“It’s a really special project for us to be involved in.

“It’s an opportunity to go over and collaborate with the brass and percussion musicians in Tonga, work alongside them and play with them, and in any way we can help with sharing information and motivation.”

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Photo: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Brass music is entrenched in Tongan culture and social life, with the sounds of trumpets and tubas heard at the end of every day as local village, church and school bands practice.

The orchestra will visit schools where they will play side-by-side with young bands, conduct workshops and donate instruments.

We’re going to be going into 12 schools across the main island,” Bremner said.

“We’re going to be doing workshops where we talk about aspects of brass brand and playing, so we’ll be doing that as well as our concert performances.

“We’ll play with a bunch of different music from classical right through to sort of upbeat New Orleans jazz, and just talk about some of the experiences.”

Tonga High School Brass Band

Photo: Tonga Govt

The tour coincides with the beginning of Tonga’s annual Heilala week which features block parties, parades and the Miss Heilala beauty contest.

Brass culture was in full display during the Heilala Festival, with school and village bands in public, jamming throughout the Kingdom.

“I’ve heard brass music in a lot of places I’ve travelled to around the world, and I often find that there’s this over-focus on the music it self…it loses that fun aspect because it’s more about the refinement of what they’re doing,” Bremner said.

“Whereas in places like Tonga, there’s just this love for music and for brass playing – whether it’s at a school or church, there’s just such an incredible joy of being able to perform music.

“And I think that’s something we’re gonna learn from while we’re there that we will hopefully bring back to New Zealand….that sense of joy and a privilege to just be able to play music.

“It’s very infectious and I just love it.”

Earlier this year, Damon Fepulea’i’s feature film debut Red, White and Brass was released.

Set during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the comedy follows a group of Tongan fans who form a brass band as the pre-game entertainment in a desperate attempt to get tickets.

David Bremner

David Bremner Photo: Supplied

Source: RNZ