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Choir Students Learn Maori Proverb Through Music

Exploring Tama Tu

Terri Olson Walsh, Choral/General Music Teacher


My Choir Ensemble (4th & 5th Grade) first encountered Tama Tu, a song from New Zealand by the Maori People, on YouTube presented by a South Korean Choir. This arrangement beautifully conveys the joy of movement through a healthy lifestyle of staying active; the choir showcases quality vocal production and demonstrates ‘singer stance’ – tall and still, but relaxed.

We looked at our classroom World Map and located New Zealand – right by Australia. We discussed how the Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people of mainland New Zealand (Aotearoa) and more about various indigenous people who live in different places. One of the songs they had previously learned was  ‘Yonder Come Day’ – created by the Georgia Sea Island People who were slaves and developed their own language called ‘Gullah’ that still exists today on the coast of Georgia in the USA. We sang that song to compare.

Yonder come day, day is a breakin’
Yonder come day, oh my – soul.
Yonder come day, day is a breakin’
Sun is a risin’ in by soul

We explored the first section of Tama Tu and read the words and rhythm. The students identified that two groups (Sopranos and Altos) go back and forth in chant/call response form. We then talked about the meaning of the words. Tama tū tama ora; tama noho tama mateki. The Maori Proverb that this song is based on is “An active person will remain healthy, while a lazy one will become sick.” This song encourages activity through body movement, dancing, singing, and being together. This song integrates the Maori language with English in a beautiful, fun way.

With our new understanding of the Maori People and culture, the class reviewed the YouTube recording again and followed along with the sheet music.

In further lessons, we took the song apart and practiced the parts moving back and forth. We also practiced the syncopated rhythms separately – pulling them out of the song and looking at the rhythms that fit nicely with the words.

Please enjoy my students below as they perform Tama Tu at the 13th Annual Music Unites the World Festival:





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