Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Malo. Malo he hiva.

These words are spoken in virtually every church service in Tonga.  “Thank you.  Thank you for the music.”
Music is one of the constants in Tongan culture, right up there with food, napping, rugby and joking.  When I first arrived at home-stay training, I would sit out in front of the house and watch the youth go strolling by, loudly singing with repetition.  I soon realized they were practicing their hymns.  Everyone takes their hymnal to church and they are dutifully opened when it’s time to sing praise, but Tongans usually don’t have to look at the words – they’ve sung these hymns since childhood and know them by heart.  They also know their own part of the song, since men usually sing different phrasing than the female voices.  How they know alto from bass and soprano from tenor is the subject of this post and should only be read by the brave.  It concerns sheet music which I can not read in any language, and thus, I can not at all begin to explain Tongan sheet music.  It's quite different and I will rely on our friend, Wikipedia, to help explain.  So, here goes:

"The Tu’ungafasi or Tongan music notation is a subset of the standard music notation, originally developed by the missionary James Egan Moulton in the 19th century for singing church hymns in Tonga.
Tongan music from the pre-European times was not really music in the current sense but rather a non tonic recital (like the 'pater noster'), a style still known nowadays as the tau fakaniua. Therefore when the missionaries started to teach singing, they had also to start with music from scratch. They found the doh-ray-mi-fah-sol-la-si-doh scale sufficient for their needs, avoiding the very complex and difficult to learn international music notation. But due to the limited number of consonants in the Tongan language, the note names were localised into to-le-mi… Unfortunately the word 'tole' is a vulgar expression for the vagina, and as such not to be used.
Moulton then developed a system where the main notes were indicated with the numbers 3 to 9, while a strike to the digits was used to sharpen them, for example: 7, being 7# or 8b. At the end the full 12 notes of the octave became: 3-3-4-4-5-6-6-7-7-8-8-9, which are pronounced as: to-lu-fa-ma-ni-o-no-tu-fi-va-a-hi, (variants of the Tongan numerals 3 to 9 being tolu, fā, nima, ono, fitu, valu, hiva). To extend the single octave (midi octave number 4) into the next higher, a dot can be put above the number. To reach the next lower, a dot or a little tail can be put under them.  If needed 2 tails can be taken to arrive at even lower pitches, but that is rare.  After all the notation is made for human singing, it does not need to have the extended range of musical instruments.
The Moulton notation, or Tongan notation was extremely popular and is still cherished by the Tongans. It is extremely common to see bandmasters writing out the music on the blackboards in the church halls during choir practices."  
I saw the following at Siasi o Tonga in Ha'apai in April.  It definitely is still being used.

"Tongan singers recognise up to 4 voices, which results in the typical 4 lines of numbers in the notation.  The leading voice is called 'fasi', a male voice.  The next one is kānokano or alto, a female voice.  The third is the tēnoa or tenor, and the last one the laulalo or bass.  Occasionally the bass sings a different lyrics than the rest.  The middle octave (of the 3 octave range mentioned above), varies with the voice, the kānokano is usually one above the tēnoa, while the laulalo is one below.  In addition the exact position of the middle doh or C depends on the key signature as in this schedule: When 3 notes are shown, the fasi and alto are together on top, the tenor is in the middle, and the bass is on bottom.  When 2 notes are shown, the tenor and bass are taken together, as otherwise the basses would come too low.  Some musicians, however, take the bass octave always equal the tenor, causing for some signatures the bass coming too high.  Then they need 2 tails under a number to reach a really low note.
The duration of a note is not indicated by a different symbols, as in the international music notation but by the number of notes in a beat.  The more notes in a beat, the shorter each has to be.  For example in the fasi ʻo e tuʻi ʻo e ʻotu Tonga (national anthem), we find as first measure: |3:-3/5:5|6:4/5:-5|
Every vertical bar (|) is a measure separator (often double at the begin and end of a stanza).  As this music has a 4/4 time signature
|3:-|-:-| is an example for a 2/4 time signature; 2 beats in a measure, every beat a quarter note long.  This results in a whole C. Note that the tie dashes can extend into following measures, unlike the international music notation where the note is to be repeated and then tie arcs are needed.  Some Tonga musicians following that example would also write a 3 in the second measure instead of a dash and also would then need tie arcs.
More time signatures
In 2/4 (like |3:4|) and 3/4 (like |3:4:5|) and 4/4 (like |3:4/5:6|) time signature every beat is a quarter note. Two digits (…:34:…) makes each an eighth note; have four digits (…:3456:…) and each is a sixteenth.  Three digits (…:345:…) are possible, the first one being a quarter and both others each an eighth, but might be confusing.  Some musicians put a comma or dot inside the beat (…:3,45:…) to remind the singers of the unequal duration.  But the real use is with a tie (…:3-4:…), to have a 3/8 note followed by a 1/8.
2/2 and 3/2 signatures are rarer, but work the same as the …/4 signatures except that all beats are twice as long.  One digit in a beat being a half note and so forth.
Occasionally one finds 6/8 (like |3:4|) and 12/8 (like |3:4:5:6|) time signatures. Then every single digit is a 3/8 note, while the most common occurrence is 3 digits in one beat, (…:345:…) each of them of course one eighth. Also here two digits are possible, the first one being a quarter and the second an eight, but again with all the pitfalls as the 3 digits in the …/4 notation. It is mainly used for (…:3:-4:…) meaning a 5/8 note followed by a 1/8."
If you've gotten to this point, thank you for your patience.  Maybe you are a musician like Dick or Zac and (hopefully) find this instructional and/or informative.  I just find it fascinating - choirs sing these pages like reading their favorite love story.

Note: My counterpart at work is (the best) fai hiva (choir director) at our church and was good enough to share some of his choir's music.  Thanks Tatafu.
Malo.  Malo he hiva.

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