Dunedin Symphony Orchestra: Songs of Moana

I have a profound fear of children. While from a distance they seem like adorable little balls of cuteness, their snotty noses, sticky fingers, and saliva covered chins do not match well with my aversion to germs, and their soft, tiny bodies and tendency to cry almost as much as professional footballers makes me worry that the slightest knock to them will cause them to shatter. Needless to say, the prospect of being surrounded by these tiny people at DSO’s Songs of Moana concert concerned me.

I found myself seated next to a six year old named Natalie. She’s actually pretty cool. When the orchestra walked on she pointed at them and made a variety of animal sounds. I don’t know what that was about but I might try it at the next concert.

Te Vaka was welcomed to the stage with an enthusiastic applause and greeted the packed-out audience with a song to honour the ancestors, followed by a much louder than expected Pacific percussion piece, which caused some of the more tender-eared members of the audience to cry. Despite this, the majority of the audience thoroughly enjoyed the opening few numbers, which displayed a variety of Te Vaka’s music from outside of Moana.


Photo courtesy of Dunedin Symphony Orchestra

Opetaia Foa’i, the founder of Te Vaka, led the ensemble, moving between guitar, vocals, and percussion. Olivia Foa’I, an outstanding vocalist, demonstrated tremendous musicality and passion throughout the concert, providing keyboard backing, performing terrific dances, and just as impressively, executing countless costume changes, each completed in a matter of seconds.

Meanwhile, I noticed at least four children seated in the area around me dressed as cats. Is there a cat in Moana? I’m confused.

When it came time for How Far I’ll Go, Natalie gasped and started to squirm with joy. Opetaia Foa’I invited the audience to sing along with her and they didn’t disappoint. It was a clear favourite.

The fantastic musicality and group dynamic displayed by Te Vaka leave it as no surprise that the group has been nominated for a Grammy, has performed in forty countries, released many internationally-acclaimed albums, and represented New Zealand at the America’s Cup events, Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Rugby World Cup in Paris, and Beijing Olympics in China. Douglas Bernard and Sulata Foai-Amiatu provided superb vocals, while Etueni Pita and Dave Kuresa, alongside Olivia Foa’I, performed several dynamic and powerful dances. Every single item was stirring, effective, and excellently executed, holding the attention of and entertaining all in the audience, young and old.


Photo courtesy of Dunedin Symphony Orchestra

The mosh-pit of small humans was raging. There were sloshing fizzy-drinks, cartwheels, and more passionate singing than you’d find down at Vivace Karaoke Bar. The blue lycra-wearing cat-child the row in front of me was dancing away, potentially blinded by the hood of his oversized cat-suit, which seemed to have been covering his eyes for the entire evening.

Matatia Foa’I’s cheeky performance of Slinky demonstrated his excellent vocal ability, slick dance moves, and superb stage presence. This was a highlight of the concert for both me and Natalie, but probably for different reasons…

The Dunedin Symphony Orchestra provided excellent support for Te Vaka, and, assisted by compare Dave Armstrong, introduced the audience to each section of the orchestra. I asked Natalie what her favourite instrument of the orchestra was, to which she replied, “My favourite instrument aye? ……I think the violin.” Maybe we’ll be seeing Natalie at future DSO concerts.

It’s fair to say that Songs of Moana was a huge success, with a full house of dancing and singing parents and children. Well done to the DSO team for a fantastic evening of music!


Review by Ihlara McIndoe

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