PEOPLE | Fonmoa nurtures new talent, plans for Fiji’s first orchestra

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Band master Lorenzo Fonmoa is pictured with members of the National Youth Band and the musical instruments given by offi cials from Guangzhou City in China at the National Youth Training Centre in Valelevu, Nasinu. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU

SONGWRITER Yona Marie says being a music teacher is something akin to being a superhero who is saving the creative minds of our youths in today’s world.
Somehow, this is true for Lorenzo Fonmoa, the music theory and brass band trainer at the Youth Training Centre in Valelevu.
YTC Valelevu, which is also known as The National Youth Band Program, was set up in 1995 by the Ministry of Youth, Employment Opportunities and Sports to provide a “second chance opportunity” for students who had dropped out of the formal education system but had musical interest and talent.
Originally from Rotuma, Mr Fonmoa has been teaching at the institution for four years now.
“It (interest in music) started when I was a young boy watching a big choir master of Churchwood Chapel Circuit by the name of Samuel Taukave, and watching him conduct the choir, and the opera soloist, Aisea Antonio singing in church – that was where all my music interest started from,” he said.
“My dad was a choir master in Rotuma, but my parents didn’t really want me to do music, but I chose it,
and I don’t regret choosing music.
“I started training at a young age, led by my parents with guitars, pianos, and ukuleles. I later went on to the brass and woodwind field, led by Master Cati of FNU (Fiji National University band master Cati Natera). Armed with the musical knowledge gleaned from Mr Natera and FNU lecturer Finau Tuqota,
Lorenzo began his teaching career.
He taught in Manurewa East in New Zealand and schools around Fiji and Rotuma, both for primary
and secondary students.
“Later on, with my serious deep passion in music, I was told ‘you are wasting your time teaching
in primary, go and work with the youths, you’ll be a good asset’, and so it’s gotten me here.
“You come to work, you’re happy. You’re doing something that you’re passionate about, you head to the gym, you go home and it’s a happy life. No stress.”
But teaching 64 youths the basics of music and trying to get them to work together to produce a tune is no easy feat.
“There was a lot of difficulties for me, as the teacher, to know the paces of each student, where they
are at in their learning of their principal choice of instrument, and the lack of instruments.
“But we managed to get through. In the past, we got to test and help students reach their dream career despite the challenges.”
However, both teacher and students’ prayers were answered when Guangzhou City in China gave 120 musical instruments and 150 musical accessories to the centre.
“Christmas came early for me and for us at the Youth Training Centre.
“It is a teacher’s dream that each child has the resource that he or she needs for the development, and the success of the program. “There were times when our students had to share one instrument
between eight people.
“Today, I can say that when we go to class, every child will have an instrument.”
For Mr Fonmoa, his dream and the next goal is setting up an orchestra for the centre. An orchestra is an assembly of instruments from different families.
He said the dream could be achieved if the centre received more instruments in the years ahead.
“Now that we’ve accomplished the marching band, and woodwind instruments, hopefully in the near
future we can have an orchestra in Fiji with the violins and double basses and cellos.
“It would be a huge accomplishment if the centre could  one day have an orchestra that Fiji could call her own. It would be a true blessing.
“Tonga has started, Samoa has started, we’ll still have to wait for more blessings and then we can reach that, but it is very much achievable in Fiji. We can get there.”
Mr Fonmoa’s advice to youths with a passion for music is “there’s no regret in choosing a music career”.
“You will live a happy life, coming to work doing something that you’re passionate about. And when
you’re done with work, if you want to continue teaching or doing private lessons, then that’s up to
you. As for me, I’m also a powerlifting coach and head referee so I go to the gym after work, and I do
my business in the gym and then head home.
“It’s a happy life, to be honest with you, and peaceful.”