Niu and Ivoga on Music the divine language
Music is the language created for man to hear and see the invisible.
That’s one interpretation of Ludwig von Beethoven’s definition, “Music is the mediator between the spiritual and sensual life.”
In other words, it is a language that allows man to talk with his Creator and He with his creation.
Scriptures describes the link: Man was created in His image, to be an instrument of praise.
He gave humans the ability to sing and to make music with musical instruments to complement the voice.
And through the voice, words uttered make the invisible visible and turn the intangible spirit, tangible.
That being the case, it is only natural to find all the raw materials to make music everywhere.
Things like melody, harmony, chords, bass, rhythm and repetition.
The symmetries of invariances under pitch translation, time translation, amplitude scaling, pitch reflection and so forth. These must abound in nature and in the furthest reach of space and time but invisible to many of us.
That is true according to award winning Gospel composer Ms Niu Ta’ala.
“The music has always been there,” says Niu, who was also the Music Director for the 2007 Joseph Smith Musical.
The West Auckland protégé, taking a break during a music creation period for an album with co-writer, Ms Ivoga Green tells the writer, “There are times we wake up early in the morning and I’ll have a melody in my head or a whole choral arrangement. I just write it all down.
“That’s the truth, when you’re writing music, you don’t know where it comes from, but when it comes you just go with it and create something out of it.”
English composer, the late Sir Edward Elgar said something similar.
“My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require,” he was quoted.
It is therefore a rarity that in a world full of musicians, this writer came across two musicians who admit to making music on earth constructed from raw materials gathered from Heaven.
Literally, Niu and Ivoga revealed that one of their songs was with materials gathered at a time when Angels were preparing for the Saviour’s birth.
The story of that song started in 2007 when Niu and Ivoga started work on their first album called Quiet Intensity.
Quiet Intensity debuted in 2009 and it was no great surprise when it won the ‘Best Pacific Gospel Album of the Year’ award in 2010.
But that is not the achievement, great though the award meant.
The true achievement surrounds the creation of Song No.3 titled ‘It is He’.
‘It is He’ tells the story of the Saviour’s birth.
During the creation process, Niu reveals, “The arrangement of this song was done amongst the angels as they were preparing to appear to the Shepherds.”
To describe the creation of ‘It is He’, Niu re-tells the story from the beginning.
“‘It is He’ is the very first music piece Ivoga and I worked on together specifically for ourselves. It’s our blood, sweat and tears. It was also during the creation of this song that we established the dynamics of our relationship.”
In their partnership, Ivoga constructs the melody and lyrics. Niu takes those and arranges them so the initial rhyming patterns, poetry and prose, “with its whole plethora of emotions I sort of squeeze into a line, or key words in that line, so that the natural rhythm of Ivoga’s melody is distilled and captured.”
Niu refines Ivoga’s melodies to a level where the spiritual essence of the Saviour’s birth, the event itself, can then be made visible to the audience through the fusion of music.
Like Beethoven’s definition at the beginning of this article.
The task was to smith the raw music material.
The process is a long one.
The captured feeling they want the audience to see, “is one of, ‘reverent awe’,” says Niu.
“What I want the music to do is to take our audience and place them in the field where the shepherds were tending their flocks because they were the first ones the angels appeared to with the good news.”
Things were going well until Niu started on the arrangements for the chorus.
It was then that she had an epiphany.
In her own words, she said she was transported to different sphere of existence.
“I certainly won’t call it a vision or anything but you do know when you’re in another sphere of existence. For me, at that moment in time, I was physically amongst the angels just before the birth of our Saviour,” she paused in the telling.
“They [the angels] were getting themselves ready to appear to the shepherds. I looked around. Some of them were sitting, others standing, some were just walking around, while still others were chatting away softly amongst themselves.
“They were waiting for the clarion call so the announcement to the Shepherds could be made.”
Continues Niu, “I totally felt I was there.”
While amongst the angels, she became fascinated with the movements and rustling sounds their robes made.
“They were silken white and the most beautiful diaphanous material I have ever seen in my life,” recalls Niu.
“It was the gentle rustling of their robes as they moved that fascinated me.”
It is the rustling sounds she tried to capture and incorporate into the chorus.
“Yea, in the chorus I used layering of a six part harmony to depict that rustling of angelic robes.”
Niu used the piano to weave the harmonies, “to make them quite echoey,” to try and convey through music the sounds of those rustling robes.
The end of her epiphany came when the clarion call was made.
“That’s when all the angels gathered and appeared to the shepherds.”
So in ‘It is He’, “if you listen to the verse, the goal is that the people are there together with the shepherds looking up as the host of angels appeared.
“And I think for me it works because I arranged the music from the raw material I collected when I was up there with the angels. It was easier because I didn’t have to imagine what it would have been like. I was there and saw with my own eyes what it was like from where the angels were standing, looking down from Heaven to the Shepherds looking up.”
‘It is He’ is not a conventional gospel piece. Niu calls it, “a fusion of music.”
“When we play ‘It is He’ those chords are not conventional and definitely not conventional gospel,” she smiles.
“The arrangement is steeped in jazz and RnB.”
Music fills Niu and Ivoga’s world.
Their eyes see invisible chords, melodies, harmonies floating, wafting or blasting through Auckland’s skyscape.
So it is no surprise that both were brought up in families dominated by music.
Niu Taala is a classically trained and qualified pianist.
She was also trained by world renowned opera teacher Sister Mary Leo [who trained Dame Kiri Te Kanawa]. But it’s her father, Asi Percy Syddall she credits for her musical prowess.
“He pretty much plays anything he picks up although his forte is clarinet and saxophone. He taught himself to read music,” says Niu.
Her musical path started when, “Dad noticed me singing in tune when I was 20-months old. He saw me humming to the music they played. So he had it in mind to make sure I will do something musical.”
At eight years of age she started piano lessons. At ten, she began singing lessons.
It means she has both sides of the music discipline. The formal training combined with the natural talent of a good ear for music.
“The cool thing about having the degree and going through piano theories is that I can write down what I hear. Whereas a lot of our Polynesian brothers and sisters who don’t have the formal training but have all the music talent, are not able to reproduce the notes so that other people can play their material – that’s what I can do.”
Pretty much that means Niu sees music as clearly as others see the Auckland Blues play rugby.
Ivoga Green grew up in Polynesian-free North Shore.
Her father, Faifua Tala was very musical and the major influence although mother, Mafa, taught the piano.
“My dad taught the choir in our area. And you know what, my sisters and I wished we could play sports but music was everything to my dad so we just got our brains fried with music,” she laughs.
She started her family early but through church activities, both Niu and Ivoga are Mormons, she knew she would make music with Niu somehow.
In the 1990s while living in Australia, Ivoga had an epiphany of sorts.
It was when the Mormon Church in Utah released an album called Tina Purcell’s Ambassadors.
Recalls Ivoga, “When it came out there was a lot of talk about that album because there were a lot of Kiwis involved. It was a big achievement because it was like the first Polynesian album that was of really good quality.”
Tears welled, and Ivoga took an emotional pause.
She continues, “When I was a teenager I had this burning desire in me to write music. And that one day I will…and so when that album came out we were just so proud. It was then that I made up my mind to write.”
In 1996, while carrying her fifth child, Ezra, she wrote her first song, ‘Take his Hand’. It is sung by Ardijah’s Betty-Ann Monga and No.11 on the album.
The rest is now history which also includes the 2007 Joseph Smith Musical production.
Niu and Ivoga spearheaded the 18-month long dream that included a cast of more than 60, a choir of 140, and stage crew of 60 people.
It opened at the Logan Campbell Centre in Auckland on 15 February 2007. The four-show extravaganza performed to more than 10,000 people.
While in 2012 at Avondale, the choral music sung at Niu’s church on Sundays remains as colourful, vibrant and fresh as when she started to make music all those years ago.
“In my choirs I gauge the elderly and Primary school children. And if the whole gambit likes what they hear then I’ve done alright. I feel that it works because I’m fusing my music with that of my dad, whose given me a love of Glen Miller, Perry Como and Bing Crosby.
“By merging the elements of that kind of music with my choral arrangements, they can be sung in church – it’s all about layering music,” says Niu.
In the Heavenly realm, a parallel response to achievement can be made, although the scale and magnitude could never be compared.
When the world was created, “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy” the Creator told Job from within the whirlwind.
From the book of Genesis the harp and the flute are introduced and throughout Scripture reveals music fills the courts of heaven and heavenly beings praise the Creator.
And in the future, Scripture tells of a new, but yet ‘unlearnable’ song.
John on the Isle of Patmos revealed, “The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.”
Could it be that Niu and Ivoga will have a vision soon? Could they be the ones to learn that song?
For the two young composers, Niu summed up the honesty with which they live their lives.
“If you really want to know me then you need to listen to my music because it contains a very private and deep love that I have for our Heavenly father…who I truly believe in.
“And everything that I do is to enhance that message because we live and exist in a world that has put Him on the backburner.”
But one thing is certain, music is but a tool, a language where those with the talent are “mediators” as Beethoven noted all those years ago.
The key to heaven remains unchanged both for the spirit and physical worlds.
Revealed by the Scripture verse: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
It re-confirmed the one true divine instrument to have been created, is one made in His own image.