TUPOU MUSIC SCHOOL BEGAN OPERATION IN 2013 at the Tupou High School campus in Vaololoa just south of downtown Nuku'alofa, the capitol of the Kingdom of Tonga. The school is the longtime dream of both Alifeleti Atiola and James Noxon. Feleti brought James back to Tonga to begin the music school and let him do the heavy lifting on his own. This worked out well and classes were offered in 2013 including piano classes, sound systems engineering, and a digilab computer music class. To get to this point, there were a number of important hurdles that were overcome. It was the tireless effort of James and Feleti that led to this success. First it was necessary to locate a place to begin the classes. A series of meetings led to locating at Tupou High School. The principal of Tupou H.S., Tui'Pulotu Finau, is a well respected administrator in the Free Wesleyan church schools and had first met James in 2002 when he visited First United Methodist church in Hilo, Hawaii. James was the music director at FUMC while teaching at Hawaii Community College, one of 11 schools in the University of Hawaii system. The picture at the right is the exterior of the finished classrooms. The classroom to the right is the piano lab, and on the left is the music studio.

To get the classrooms built, we began with one general classroom that was a part of the recent renovations to the Assembly Hall at T.H.S. I remember the Assembly Hall from when I was here building the 'Home Economics' classrooms in 2004, and it was very run down at that time. The renovations made the hall into a very nice space, although the RT60 (a measure of acoustics) is quite excessive for contemporary music. In the picture at left you can see the preexisting classroom in the upper left corner. This room was divided into the two music classrooms by making a new wall inside. In the lower half of the photo you can see this room from the outside, before the security grating was installed and the new sidewalks were put in. Further to the left from the music classrooms you can see the old canteen addition that has been used for the past few years as the head tutor's office. On the other side of the hall there is a brand new two story building which will house the tutor's office once it has been completed, and there is a plan to make the old canteen into a music school office. This will be a good use of the space as it can be used as a ticket office for future performances in the Assembly Hall. Recently a new digital sound engine was brought from the USA to enable professional sound engineering in the hall.

Here at the left are two photos of the piano classroom showing the new wall construction and the installation of the keyboard tables. These tables are made to place the keyboards at the precise height for proper hand position when the students are taking piano classes. A large number of power outlets were installed for both the 10 keyboards and also for future use of the classroom in teaching a digilab class with power for laptop computers. The outlets for the keyboards have a power switch in the front, making it easy for the piano teacher to switch off all the keyboards when it is time to provide some lecture instruction. On the right you can see a piano class underway and also along the left side is another photo of professor Sione Palavi with the drop-down laptop tables showing digilab capability in use.

Here is a photo of how one uses the piano keyboard with your right hand while using the laptop with your left hand when the drop-down tables are down in digilab position. This covers one of the keyboards and cuts down the capacity of the classroom but provides an ideal position for when you are entering music from the keyboard into the music notation software. Making music on a computer is more efficient that using pencil and paper, but it is still an arduous task that takes hours of careful work. With this orientation of the keyboard and laptop it greatly speeds up the work of note entry. It is fortunate that the price of laptop computers has dropped to such a low price that many Tongan students now have someone's old laptop. It is interesting that sometimes this means a laptop where the display screen is broken, but we provide an extra power point for an external display that some students carry with their laptop. In order to provide students with digilab education we use only free software including Muse Score for music printing, Audacity for audio recording, and MixPad for DAW (digital audio workstation). These software packages are quite sufficient for teaching and also for making professional sounding music productions.

Here is a photo of the studio during the blessing of the new construction. The T.H.S. alumni funded the purchase of new equipment for both the hall and the studio. We were able to get a new dual processor laptop with the studio quality RME recording interface. To go with that we got Australian Rode pencil condenser microphones, a couple of EV RE20 mics, and a pair of Audix choral microphones with very long carbon fiber booms. There was a glitch in bringing these long booms back from the USA, as FedEx told us there was a Tongan government limit on shipping items into the country longer than 64". A Tongan family was able to bring them in through New Zealand as part of their luggage. For teaching the arts of modern studio recording technique we got an Audient Mico microphone preamp with fiber optic digital interface and a sE 4400 large diaphragm condenser vocal microphone with Reflexion filter and pop screen. I think these programs are really essential for Tongan music education, as the quality of the recording arts in the Kingdom have not been able to match the interest and enthusiasm for music within Tongan culture at large. One finds a typical Tongan choral enthusiast to be involved in singing nearly every day for several hours, especially as any one of the numerous special performance events approaches. The choral music in favor is largely well suited to the highly reverberant spaces available like the Tupou High School Assembly hall and the Centenary church, but the students have a growing interest in contemporary music practices too. It will be necessary to provide new performance spaces to meet the needs of future generations of Tongan music students. Failing this challenge could mean the Tongans traditionally cherished enthusiasm for music involvement could be lost. This is one reason that a long term plan for Tupou Music School will have to include a new school campus with better facilities.

To better understand this current music interest, it is necessary to know a bit about Tongan choral music history. This was the subject of my dissertation, but I won't bore you with a lengthy discussion (you can read it by following the link on the 'about the author' page of this website). Descriptions of Tongan choral music practice from the 17th century reveal the depth of their involvement and the precision of their performance. After the Protestant conversion in the 19th century there were several impediments to continuation of their music traditions, but they did adopt a deep enthusiasm for Western classical sacred music. This enthusiasm still holds a hegemony within the Wesleyan church, which has led in some degree to the growth of pentacostal denominations and their contemporary praise music practice. In the video at the left you can see a student performance group I am involved with. What I have seen in recent years is that student performance groups who are involved in classical sacred music have lost their edge. Now the student and adult performances of traditional Tongan dances are not at all like the precision performances described in the journals of Captain Cook and others. Sadly they most often have degenerated into slapstick comedy characterizations of their ancient traditions. Since when has Tongan tradition become a comedy? I believe that Tongan traditional enthusiasm and involvement in music performance has not been served by the exclusive focus upon brass bands and classical sacred music. You can see a renewed enthusiasm and precision present in this video that is missing in the everyday music and dance performances around the Kingdom now, and so this is the direction we need to take for students here.