More than 6 weeks have gone by and we are still buzzing from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra tour. Four sold out shows in Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington with their respective Orchestras of more than 60 instrumentalists in each. Performing the songs of Moana, from the heart, with an Orchestra bringing out so much emotion has really had an impact on all of us, in the best possible way.

It all started at the beginning of 2017 when we received the invitation from Kirsten Mason of Orchestra Wellington. Kirsten had taken on the task of co-ordinating the Te Vaka/Moana/Symphony Orchestra tour. At that stage we thought Auckland was going to be included, but someone in their wisdom decided against this, which was a shame as it would have been so great to have been able to do this show in the band’s hometown – but it wasn’t to be.

Once the contract was signed there was a bit of nervous hysteria coming from the band. They all know that Opetaia’s middle name is “change” and no-one was quite sure how we were going to lock him down to play a prearranged, arrangement of the songs so that the band and the Orchestra were on the same page. It took some figuring out but finally the Orchestration man, Thomas Goss was sent something to base his Orchestra arrangements on. Of course, this did change, constantly, right up until the end. But when we arrived in Christchurch for the first and only rehearsal with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra we managed to change the last couple of things so that everyone would be playing the same things at the same time on the night.

Christchurch was the first orchestra we played with and during rehearsal when I heard it all come together for the first time. I wasn’t quite prepared for the added emotion that the orchestra brings. When Sulata, as Grandma Tala, started singing “I know a girl from an Island”, she sung it with such depth and feeling and with the Orchestra behind her duplicating the soundtrack of the movie, the tears were rolling. Then Olivia came in “who am I”, I’m a girl who loves my Island” at first gentle with the orchestra playing quietly behind, then as Moana gained confidence, the song climaxing with “I am Moana” and the Orchestra at full passion and volume and I became a blubbering mess. It just caught me by surprise and even now I tear up a little when I think of that moment. The performance with Christchurch Symphony Orchestra went off. We were relieved and happy.

The biggest challenge, logistics wise, was Dunedin. We were up at 4.00am the next morning to fly to Dunedin. Air NZ had refused to carry all the band gear as the planes were too small so that had all been driven ahead of us. Arriving in  Dunedin it was straight off the plane to setup and soundcheck and one quick run through with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra and conductor and then showtime. The amazing thing was that the Christchurch Orchestra had made incredibly detailed and helpful notes and even sent the music sheets including all the changes that had, had to be made to the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra which really helped considering there was no time to work anything out and everything came together for a second great show. There was some indescribable magic performing with an Orchestra and we were all loving it.

There was one day off in Dunedin, before heading to Wellington and the Tokelauan community had invited us to a shared meal. We were all pretty tired and would have said no to any other invitation but the Tokelauan people were there right at the beginning of this Te Vaka journey, so we decided to accept their kind invitation. On arrival we could see this was going to be special. A beautiful meal prepared by the community, fateles (Tokelau dances) by the children and the adults and other heartfelt entertainment. We have been all over the world and treated to many wonderful things but nothing compared to this. It felt like we had done the full circle and come back to the initial inspiration for Te Vaka. The pure joy of music, dance and of course family is very much alive and well in the Dunedin Tokelau community.

Next day was the flight to Wellington to prepare for the show the band members were most nervous about and with good reason - all their families had flown in from Auckland for this. One rehearsal with Orchestra Wellington and we were ready to go. With all the notes from the Christchurch and Dunedin Orchestras, and the very talented conductor, Marc Taddei, Orchestra Wellington did an amazing job and so did the band. Two spectacular back to back shows. I have to admit I just sat down, watched and thoroughly enjoyed the show. So proud and so happy that the enormous amount of work this tour had been was soooo worth it.