The Fine Arts Department at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) invited the public to join them for their fourth annual Ethnomusicology Forum held on Friday, November 3rd. Held in conjunction with the 2017 Samoana Jazz & Arts Festival, the Ethnomusicology Forum focused on Samoan Choral Music, with an emphasis on the contributions to the art form by two highly renowned figures in the field, HC Pulefaasisina Palauni ‘Brownie’ Tuiasosopo and Ueta Pene Matautia Solomona.
“Ueta Solomona’s song arrangements and ‘Uncle Brownie’ Tuiasosopo’s vocal training techniques shaped and redefined the sound of the American Samoa Arts Council Choir in the early 80s,” reflected ASCC Music instructor Poe Mageo, “and you can still hear echoes of their work in many choirs today.” Mageo served as moderator for the forum, which featured guest speakers Rosaivitilesaualofaoleola Solomona, Faculty of Music at the National University of Samoa; Sinasinaletotooiesu Solomona Tilo of the Department of Homeland Security who is also Music Director of the CCCAS Leone Choir; Julia Levi Foifua, Social Worker at the Army Reserve and Music Director at CCJS Fagatogo Choir; and Dr. Richard Moyle, Retired Senior Lecturer from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. ASCC Samoan Studies Institute Director Okenaisa Fauolo-Manila gave the keynote address.
Pulefaasisina often traced the beginning of his interest in western choral music to the time he spent attending high school at Punahou School in Hawaii, where he graduated in the class of 1956. He began working for the American Samoa Government in 1962 as an assistant to Governor Rex Lee, a position he maintained through eight administrations. In 1985, supported by Governor Lutali, Pulefaasisina accepted an offer to become Secretary General of the South Pacific Commission, whereupon he and his family relocated to the location of the Commission’s headquarters in Noumea, New Caledonia. Returning home in 1989, he joined ASCC as an institutional planner, with an additional mandate of developing an academic program focused on Samoa and the Pacific. That mandate became reality in 1992, with Pulefaasisina appointed as the first director of the ASCC Samoan and Pacific Studies (SAMPAC) program. His last project before leaving ASCC in 2005 was to plan the transition of SAMPAC into its current form as the Samoan Studies Institute. That same year, his county of Alataua selected Pulefaasisina as their senator for an incumbency that lasted until his full retirement in 2008.
Along with this government and education careers, Pulefaasisina established the American Samoa Arts Council Choir in 1972. Thanks to his previous training at the University of Oregon with Edwardo Zambara for voice and Max Risinger for choral music, Pulefaasisina changed the sound of choral music in all of Samoa. Under his baton, the Arts Council Choir traveled extensively throughout the Pacific, representing the Territory in the South Pacific Festivals, Hawaii and the mainland west coast, and the choir remains to this day the only choral group from American Samoa to ever sing with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra.
Ueta Mata’utia Pene Solomona, who also enjoyed a long career as a music educator, composer, conductor, arranger and performer, received music tutelage at a very young age on the piano. His early musical experiences included working with brass bands and conducting choir rehearsals in the company of his father, the late Mata’utia Pene Solomona. In his youth, Ueta witnessed the formation of the EFIS church and the creation of its Hymnbook. Ueta is the first Samoan ever awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study music at the Fredonia Campus, New York State University. Upon completing his studies, he returned to Samoa and worked extensively to establish a choral culture of great uniqueness. As the music educator based at the Samoa Teachers Training College, he also worked with schools such as Avele College, Lei’ifi’ifi College and Samoa College. During this period, he sometimes collaborated with Tuiasosopo and the American Samoa Arts Choir. Choirs in both Samoas sung and recorded Ueta’s arrangements of Samoan traditional songs, and still perform them the same way today.
As the senior lecturer of Music and Expressive Arts at the University of the South Pacific (USP) for thirty years, Ueta served the region through countless university and community programs. Based in Fiji, his job gave him the opportunity to travel the Pacific. Retiring from USP in 2005, he returned to Samoa to fulfill a life-long dream of establishing the National Orchestra of Samoa, which he subsequently led for a few years. He then worked for the National University of Samoa before his full retirement. Ueta is the first recipient of the Officer of the Order of Samoa for achievements in music.
“Both my Dad and Ueta are now in their early 80s,” said Kuki Tuiasosopo of ASCC. “My Dad lives in Oregon, and Ueta currently lives in Samoa. They both enjoy life and time with their spouses, children, and grand-children. They could not join us themselves for this tribute, but we thank the public for coming to learn about the huge influence these men had on Samoan choral music as we know it today.”