Music of Tahiti

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Vivo (nose flute) player Joueur de vivo.jpg
Vivo (nose flute) player
A Tahitian ukulele, or Tahitian banjo. Tahitian ukulele 1.jpg
A Tahitian ukulele, or Tahitian banjo.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the music of Tahiti was dominated by festivals called heiva . Dancing was a vital part of Tahitian life then, and dances were used to celebrate, pray and mark almost every occasion of life. Examples include the men's ʻōteʻa dance and the couple's 'upaʻupa.

Tahiti Largest island of French Polynesia

Tahiti is the largest island of the Windward group of the Society Islands in French Polynesia, located in the central part of the Pacific Ocean. Divided into two parts, Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti, the island was formed from volcanic activity; it is high and mountainous with surrounding coral reefs. Its population is 189,517 inhabitants (2017), making it the most populous island of French Polynesia and accounting for 68.7% of its total population.

The ʻōteʻa is a traditional dance from Tahiti characterized by a rapid hip-shaking motion to percussion accompaniment. The dancers, standing in several rows, may be further choreographed to execute different figures while maintaining the hip-shaking. The hip motion itself may in some choreographies be synchronized amongst multiple dancers and may be further coordinated with the accompanying percussion arrangement.

The ʻupaʻupa is a traditional dance from Tahiti. It was mentioned by European explorers, who described it as very indecent. It is not quite clear how similar the gestures at that time were with the now immensely popular tāmūrē. In both dances the performers form groups of pairs of a boy and a girl, dancing more or less in sexually oriented movements.

Professional dance troupes called ʻarioi were common, and they moved around the various islands and communities dancing highly sensually and erotically. In the early 19th century, however, colonial laws severely restricted these and other dances, which were considered immoral. Herman Melville celebrated one such dance (he called it the 'lori-lori') for its sensuality. They were replaced instead by genres of Christian music such as himene tarava. The word 'himene' is derived from the English word 'hymn' (Tahiti was first colonized by the English). [1] Likewise, the harmonies and tune characteristics / 'strophe patterns' of much of the music of Polynesia is western in style and derived originally from missionary influence via hymns and other church music.

Arioi geographical object

The Arioi or Areoi were a secret religious order of the Society Islands, particularly the island of Tahiti, with a hierarchical structure, esoteric salvation doctrine and cultish and cultural functions. They included both men and women of all social strata, though men predominated. The Arioi principally venerated the war god 'Oro, whom they considered the founder of their order.

Herman Melville 19th-century American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet

Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer and poet of the American Renaissance period. Among his best-known works is his masterpiece, Moby-Dick (1851), and Typee (1846), a romantic account of his experiences of Polynesian life.

Himene tarava is a style of traditional Tahitian music, sung a cappella in a highly rhythmic style by polyphonic choirs. The word tarava means to be spread out, to be gathered. This form of singing is common in French Polynesia and the Cook Islands, and is distinguished by a unique drop in pitch at the end of the phrases, which is a characteristic formed by several different voices; it is also accompanied by steady grunting of staccato, nonsensical syllables by the men.

One unique quality of Polynesian music is the use of the sustained 6th chord in vocal music, though typically the 6th chord is not used in religious music. Traditional instruments include a conch-shell called the pu and a nose flute called the vivo, as well as numerous kinds of drums made from hollowed-out tree trunks and dog or shark skin.

Nose flute musical instrument

The nose flute is a popular musical instrument played in Polynesia and the Pacific Rim countries. Other versions are found in Africa.

Drum type of musical instrument of the percussion family

The drum is a member of the percussion group of musical instruments. In the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system, it is a membranophone. Drums consist of at least one membrane, called a drumhead or drum skin, that is stretched over a shell and struck, either directly with the player's hands, or with a percussion mallet, to produce sound. There is usually a resonance head on the underside of the drum, typically tuned to a slightly lower pitch than the top drumhead. Other techniques have been used to cause drums to make sound, such as the thumb roll. Drums are the world's oldest and most ubiquitous musical instruments, and the basic design has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years.

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Harmony aspect of music

In music, harmony is the process by which the composition of individual sounds, or superpositions of sounds, is analysed by hearing. Usually, this means simultaneously occurring frequencies, pitches, or chords.

Kit violin

The kit violin, dancing master's kit, or kit, is a stringed instrument. It is essentially a very small violin designed to fit in a pocket—hence its other common name, the pochette. It was used by dance masters in royal courts and other places of nobility, and by street musicians, until around the 18th century. Occasionally, the rebec was used in the same way. Several kit violins are called for in Monteverdi's 1607 Orfeo.

The music of the Cook Islands is diverse. Christian music is extremely popular. Imene tuki is a form of unaccompanied vocal music known for a uniquely Polynesian drop in pitch at the end of the phrases, as well as staccato rhythmic outbursts of nonsensical syllables (tuki). The word 'imene' is derived from the English word 'hymn'. Likewise the harmonies and tune characteristics / 'strophe patterns' of much of the music of Polynesia is western in style and derived originally from missionary influence via hymns and other church music. One unique quality of Polynesian music is the use of the sustained 6th chord in vocal music, though typically the 6th chord is not used in religious music. Traditional songs and hymns are referred to as imene metua.


In music theory, tertian describes any piece, chord, counterpoint etc. constructed from the intervals of thirds. An interval such as that between the notes A and C encompasses 3 semitone intervals and is termed a minor third while one such as that between C and E encompasses 4 semitones and is called a major third. Tertian harmony principally uses chords based on thirds; the term is typically used to contrast with quartal and quintal harmony which uses chords based on fourths or fifths.

In music, hocket is the rhythmic linear technique using the alternation of notes, pitches, or chords. In medieval practice of hocket, a single melody is shared between two voices such that alternately one voice sounds while the other rests.

Maestro Title of extreme respect given to a master musician

Maestro is an honorific title of respect. The term is most commonly used in the context of Western classical music and opera, in line with the ubiquitous use of Italian musical terms.

Chorale settings refer to a wide variety of musical compositions, almost entirely of Protestant origin, which use a chorale as their basis. A chorale is a simple melody, often based on Gregorian chant, written for congregations to sing hymns. Chorale settings can be vocal, instrumental, or both.

French classical music began with the sacred music of the Roman Catholic Church, with written records predating the reign of Charlemagne. It includes all of the major genres of sacred and secular, instrumental and vocal music. French classical styles often have an identifiably national character, ranging from the clarity and precision of the music of the late Renaissance music to the sensitive and emotional Impressionistic styles of the early 20th century. Important French composers include Pérotin, Machaut, Dufay, Josquin des Prez, Lully, Charpentier, Couperin, Rameau, Leclair, Grétry, Méhul, Auber, Berlioz, Alkan, Gounod, Offenbach, Franck, Lalo, Saint-Saëns, Delibes, Bizet, Chabrier, Massenet, Widor, Fauré, d'Indy, Chausson, Debussy, Dukas, Louis Vierne, Duruflé, Satie, Roussel, Hahn, Ravel, Honegger, Milhaud, Poulenc, Auric, Messiaen, Françaix, Dupré, Dutilleux, Boulez, Guillou, Grisey, and Murail.

Double clarinet

The term double clarinet refers to any of several woodwind instruments consisting of two parallel pipes made of cane, bird bone, or metal, played simultaneously, with a single reed for each. Commonly, there are five or six tone holes in each pipe, or holes in only one pipe while the other acts as a drone, and the reeds are either cut from the body of the instrument or created by inserting smaller, slit tubes into the ends of the pipes. The player typically uses circular breathing.

A false relation is the name of a type of dissonance that sometimes occurs in polyphonic music, most commonly in vocal music of the Renaissance. The term describes a "chromatic contradiction" between two notes sounding simultaneously in two different voices or parts; or alternatively, in music written before 1600, the occurrence of a tritone between two notes of adjacent chords.

Joan Ambrosio Dalza was an Italian lutenist and composer. Nothing is known about his life. His surviving works comprise the fourth volume of Ottaviano Petrucci's influential series of lute music publications, Intabolatura de lauto libro quarto. Dalza is referred to as "milanese" in the preface, so it must be assumed he was either born in Milan, or worked there, or both.

Johannes Alanus was an English composer. He wrote the motet Sub arturo plebs/Fons citharizancium/In omnem terram. Also attributed to him are the songs "Min frow, min frow" and "Min herze wil all zit frowen pflegen", both lieds, and "S'en vos por moy pitié ne truis", a virelai. O amicus/Precursoris, attributed simply to "Johannes", may be the work of the same composer.

Guillaume Faugues was a French composer. Very little is known of his life, however, a significant representation of his work survives in the form of five mass settings. Faugues holds an important place in the history of the Parody mass because of his use of the technique, particularly in Missa Le serviteur.

Duchess Elisabeth Sophie of Mecklenburg German poet and composer and by marriage Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg

Elisabeth Sophie of Mecklenburg, Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg was a German poet and composer.

Clapper (musical instrument) musical instrument

A clapper is a basic form of percussion instrument. It consists of two long solid pieces that are clapped together producing sound. A straightforward instrument to produce and play, they exist in many forms in many different cultures around the world. Clappers can take a number of forms and be made of a wide variety of material. Wood is most common, but metal and ivory have also been used. The plastic thundersticks that have recently come to be popular at sporting events can be considered a form of inflated plastic clapper.

Kunegunde Hergot was a German printer in Nuremberg and the wife of first Hans Hergot, and later of Georg Wachter, both printers.

Julien (Jean) Perrichon was a French composer and lutenist of the late Renaissance. He was a lute player for Henry IV of France and famous enough to be mentioned by Marin Mersenne in Harmonie universelle (1636) as one of the finest musicians of the preceding age.

Style brisé is a general term for irregular arpeggiated texture in instrumental music of the Baroque period. It is commonly used in discussion of music for lute, keyboard instruments, or the viol.

The passamezzo is an Italian folk dance of the 16th and early 17th centuries.

An Wasserflüssen Babylon song

"An Wasserflüssen Babylon" is a Lutheran hymn by Wolfgang Dachstein, which was first published in Strasbourg in 1525. The text of the hymn is a paraphrase of Psalm 137. Its singing tune, which is the best known part of the hymn and Dachstein's best known melody, was popularised as chorale tune of Paul Gerhardt's 17th-century Passion hymn "Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld". With this hymn text, Dachstein's tune is included in the Protestant hymnal Evangelisches Gesangbuch.


  1. Smith, Barbara & Amy Stillman. "Hīmeni". In Deane L. Root (ed.). Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online . Oxford University Press.(subscription required)
<i>The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians</i> encyclopedic dictionary of music and musicians

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is an encyclopedic dictionary of music and musicians. Along with the German-language Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, it is one of the largest reference works on western music. Originally published under the title A Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and later as Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, it has gone through several editions since the 19th century and is widely used. In recent years it has been made available as an electronic resource called Grove Music Online, which is now an important part of Oxford Music Online.