Music graduate follows in her mum’s footsteps
3 May 2023
“I watched my mum graduate, so it's exciting to have my mum watching me graduate,” says Helen Pahulu.
Graduating is a huge milestone for any university student. But for Helen Pahulu, it’s especially meaningful.
“I watched my mum graduate, so it's exciting to have my mum watching me graduate,” she says.
Helen’s mum Ana arrived from Tonga in 2000 and went on to study at the University of Auckland before becoming a high school English teacher.
“My mum couldn't afford kindergarten or childcare, so she used to take me to classes with her,” says Helen.
“For me, graduating is like a full circle experience.”
The 22-year-old singer and trombonist from Māngere, Auckland majored in jazz for her Bachelor of Music degree. She says her aim is to fuse jazz with Pacific music to create songs that showcase her Tongan heritage.
“It's two genres of music that mean a lot to me,” she says. “Having my cultural heritage mixed in with what I was studying brought a lot more meaning to my degree.”
Helen discovered her passion for music from performing in church when she was young.
“In Tongan churches, singing and brass bands are quite big. I was 10 or 11 years old when I started playing a brass instrument, but in Year 9 my school got me to switch over to trombone because it's quite a versatile instrument. And it was through trombone that I started playing in jazz bands.”
She also credits her high school music teacher Thomas Cho for having a huge influence on encouraging her to take her craft seriously.
“He was actually quite strict, but it was because of his teaching that my music has gotten to the standard it is now.”
At first, the idea of heading to University to study music seemed daunting, but that changed after a group of music students from the University visited her high school.
“After talking to one of the students, I thought ‘this is something that I could do,’” she says.
“Studying music at University isn't as intimidating as I thought it was going to be.”
During her studies, Helen co-founded a support group called The Collective to “encourage and empower” other Pacific music students at University.
“To be very honest, I don't think a lot of Pacific Island kids are encouraged to take up performing arts. Usually, the goal for Island parents is for their kids to do law or engineering, or to become doctors.
“But there is a whole lot of musical talent within our Polynesian communities.”
Hussein Moses | Media adviser
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