I’ve been thinking a lot about the church music ministry and how I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve God through my participation in the choir as well as my community. I’ve been in this role for 26 years now ( I started really young lol) and I’ve seen many moments of joy (weddings) and grief (funerals) from behind the keys. I’ve also had some up/down experiences such as the time I was playing for the choir in one of our big songs (like epic) and the Yamaha-Electone I was playing on decided to go all funny and malfunctioned during the song…or the time I got a growling in front of the whole church by the faifeau because all year he saw me reading my romance novels from behind the piano during loku and just couldn’t hold his silence any longer lmao….and then there was the wedding where the bride insisted I play a particular song for her walk-in and when I told her it was a funeral song (a well-known one too) she demanded that I still play it but a ‘happy’ version.
When I moved to Australia 13 years ago, I didn’t know that I would (or even could!) continue my ministry in the EFKS church as I had come to a place where I knew no one and did not have any family nearby who could help me with my young babies during church time like my mother did for me in NZ. When I was little, dad was free to focus on his role as faipese (choir director/teacher) because mum was always there for us. But when I think of my own experience, today I am the faipese as well as the ‘mum’ so most times it is hard to juggle my ministry as well as my young family. I guess it’s fair to say that girls would start off as kapiago (pianist) but as we get older, settle down and have babies, it’s too hard to maintain the aufaipese (choir) timetable so the role of faipese (choir director) is normally fulfilled by males. Female faipeses make a tiny number compared to males.
I look back and think of a special woman who came to my aid – the late Apitale Lua (RIP) who religiously babysat my newborn Malia Lucy every week at peses and lotu in 2003-2004 while I conducted the church choir – teaching her young daughters Nafanua and Puna how to help look after her also, and then giving them the evils whenever Malia cried during service lol. When my youngest Osty was a newborn in 2008, the entire row of altos (teenage girls) had turns looking after him during peses and loku…until he started walking and then wanted to be a cool guy with the tenors at the back. I remember conducting a song with one hand and yanking his shirt with the other when he kept running around me – some good times there lol. Also, I fondly remember that Sunday in 2002 when my Reverend at the time Dr. Rev. Peniamina Vai (RIP) told the congregation to leave the little 2-year old Jeramyah to breakdance down the aisle every time his mum played the fast church hymns lol – so I had one eye on my music notes and the other on my dancing son.
One thing that I’ve had to learn to deal with as a mum/faipese is that I have had to put my foot down with certain people and tell them that I am a mother first, a faipese second. Particularly now, as a solo-mum, I will put my children’s needs and timetable first before I allow the choir to schedule rehearsals. I’ve also had to deal with people who try to ‘own’ me as a faipese – I acknowledge my role in Sunday service, and I do my best to get that choir singing at the top of their lungs every week – but when people try and put their ‘hands’ on the ministry that God has allowed me to fulfil, or try to claim ownership over me as ‘theirs’ – then shit gets ugly. I remember the time an elderly couple (from another church parish) came up to me after a combined service, thanking me for sharing my talent with them that day. When they walked away, a member of my own church asked me “what did they say? and why?” and when I answered..she looked disgusted. Clearly she thought that as a faipese in her church, people from outside were not allowed to compliment me… I left that choir a few months later. I don’t understand how people try and put their ‘stamp’ on something that they had no input in creating and developing. It was my father who put my music lessons/practices/performances/exams ahead of everything he had in his life for a good 13 years, and my mother who made sure my fees were paid and comforted and encouraged me during the difficult times. So everyone else can just watch and listen thank you.
I make it a point to share my music notes with my fellow faipeses, I get requests every month from Samoans around the world who are looking for a particular song copy and for some reason – I happen to have it – so I scan and email it over. I don’t like this attitude of “these are my music notes and no one is allowed to see them” – because at the end of the day, I did not compose all those songs..so I don’t ‘own’ them..and I’m pretty sure that if a composer wrote a song, they would love for as many choirs to sing them right?
My father is pushing 72 and is still the faipese of his church choir. I’m in my late 20s…..okay then..late 30s geez. So the way I see it…I have another 40 years of faipese work ahead of me…..and around that time I will be writing a blogpost called “The Faipese Grandma”….*****dying****