Sunday, August 20, 2006
Fiji Choirs and tonic solfa
Tonic Solfa - doh ray me
Sere ni lotu–hymns and anthems in the Methodist Church in Fiji are learnt in a painstaking manner by using tonic solfa – d, r, m, f, s, l, t, d with a few variations such as se, ta, to show a semitone down or up. It’s a method started in England in the 19th century and rarely used today – although it persists in the South Pacific and apparently also in Africa. It has its limits because Western notation allows for more subtlety and intricacy in music. However it certainly is amazing how beautiful the choirs can sing using tonic solfa.
So when choirs learn a new piece for the conference they first go through the four voice parts using tonic solfa – soprano, alto, tenor, bass. Many of the hymns of this nature come from the late 19th century – Alexanders, Sankeys, kind of music. Previously Fijians used three voice parts in chant – laga, tagica, druku – or melodic line, a second voice often one tone apart, and the drone.
In the annual choir competition most of the items are unaccompanied but one very good item prepared by a Melbourne choir a few years ago had the small lali drum to give a syncopated beat. Choir conductors sometimes write new songs or adapt tunes they have heard. Even the South Africa anthem has been translated as an anthem into Fijian and it’s a lovely one.
The top photo is of two choirs at the 2004 Choir competition held at Furnivall Park which was really muddy so how the singers kept their costumes clean I don't know! I only went one day, because of the mud!
The other photo is of the Labasa choir when they visited Australia, mainly Geelong, as our guests and them camped in the church halls adjacent to our house and presented concerts at schools and toured.