Music for wee monsters - Phil News

We’re going on an interactive trumpet hunt with TVNZ’s Toi Time. Gary Steel chats with Jojo and Buzz about their Auckland Philharmonia collab.

The little ones are so used to digital entertainment in 2024 that it can be hard to know how to begin to explain the analogue magic of the orchestra. In recognition of this thorny issue, Auckland Philharmonia has come up with a clever solution by going straight to the heart of the problem: television.

TVNZ’s popular Toi Time has been entertaining preschoolers since 2022, the programme’s young team of singing, dancing and gently cajoling actors becoming instant friends/celebrities to tiny tots throughout the land. Some wag described it as a Kiwi Wiggles and that’s not wrong, but there’s a refreshing emphasis on our unique culture and language.

So, why not bring Toi Time to the orchestra? Taylor Meihana Rogers, a graduate of Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School, and an effervescent personality who already has a number of theatre and drama credits to her CV, hatched the plan with the Auckland Phil in a move that ties in nicely with their aim to take the Toi Time characters out into the community.

While the show uses the queen of kid songs ‘Aunty’ Anika Moa as a lynchpin between the various subjects explored in song and dance by Taylor Meihana Rogers (as Jojo), Awhimai Fraser (as Māia) and Erroll Anderson (as Tama) – not to mention the out-and-about segments featuring Reuben Butler (as Buzz) – Tunes 4 Tamariki will bring these buoyant characters into a setting familiar to the Auckland Phil’s audience.

As a first introduction to the wonders of that multi-faceted organism known as an orchestra, the Toi Time personalities will sing several numbers familiar to TV viewers but of course, with orchestral accompaniment.

More importantly, this interactive show with loads of audience participation will demonstrate the various instruments that make up a symphony orchestra. “We go on a trumpet hunt, which ties in with our theme song, ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf?’” says Taylor. “We then meet instruments from different sections of the orchestra along the way.”

There will be a couple of classical pieces, but the show is geared more towards explaining the orchestra and its instrumentation.

“It’s mostly children’s songs that have been revamped into orchestral versions that we sing and dance to. They’re all songs that we know really well and have been in the orchestra’s library of songs but now with a Toi Time twist.”

“A big part of what Taylor’s done,” explains Reuben, “because she’s written the script as well, is highlighting each section of the orchestra, even down to the quality of sound you get from, say, the string section as opposed to the brass section, trying to articulate that in a fun, children’s show way. It’s a nice balance between performing artists dancing and singing, and presenting the orchestral musicians as performers as well as giving mana and respect to the instruments they play.

“It’s really good what Taylor’s done with the script, because it highlights everyone as an artist, and also shows what a superpower weapon an instrument is.” Not that they need worry, given their experience with live theatre, but Taylor admits to a few opening night jitters. “We’re coming from green screen land, and a lot of the magic of Toi Time on TV is in the green screen, so the fear of going live is that some of the magic of the show is lost, but I think there is this magical beast of a thing, the orchestra, that’ll help bring it to life.”

A huge part of it for the Toi Time crew is the sharing of te reo Māori, says Taylor, and she’s thrilled that the orchestra shares their enthusiasm. “All the instruments, when we introduce them, have Māori names as well, and we’re using te reo throughout the show.”

Like What Now before them, the Toi Timers plan to get out and about in the community between shooting their show. Having produced the second season in 2023, by the time of the Tunes 4 Tamariki concerts in April, they will already have wrapped up the third season.

That will screen later in the year, but before then there’s this chance to see the group in the flesh, an opportunity for the under-6s to hear the dynamism of acoustic instruments in a live setting, a phenomenon that hearing a tune through smartphone speakers could never hope to capture.

Reuben: “What is great about a show like this is that it really encourages kids to be involved, dance and sing along. A lot of the children’s theatre we’ve done can feel like ‘we’re performing a show to you’, but this one’s very much like ‘we’re going on this journey together’ and it’s a common understanding between everyone at the start.”

Tunes 4 Tamariki: Toi Time
10am & 11.30am, Sunday 7 April
10am & 11.30am, Saturday 13 April

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