From Fiji Times Online (12 February 2009)

Jason's choral odyssey

By Irene Manueli

Choral control ...Jason's smiling style in motion

JASON Konrote is a familiar face to many Fiji urbanites. That's because he is a central figure in Pasifika Voices, the premier Suva-based choir of young Pacific islanders eager to empower and uplift through music.

The tall, portly 30-year-old is the man you'd mostly see with his back turned to the audience during a choral production. That's because he is the music conductor.

Jason is a protégé of Igelese Ete, the region's musical maestro of Lord of the Rings fame.

He is the youngest son of John Konrote and Marina (nee Rounds), who are originally from Rotuma and Ra, respectively. He is one of Fiji's most promising choral conductors.

Tell him that though and he'll shake his head effusively. That's just Jason.

On stage he exudes enviable confidence before hundreds of people. Off stage, he is somewhat shy. Almost always though he is either smiling or laughing. Failing that, he is talking with someone, in his usual, animated fashion.

Many will remember him from last year's Suva Secondary School Music Festival. He is very proud of that production because it involved a 450-strong choir, the largest he has ever presided over.

Aside from the massive number, the fact that they were students made it even tougher because most, as expected of youths, had short attention spans. But, as was evident at all the main performances, Jason commanded their focus and obvious respect.

From his minimini exercise (which involved a good measure of clapping, stomping and island humour), to his easy-flowing gestures, he had the choir on the desired vocal tract; hitting all the right notes.

He also made directing a mass choir look deceivingly easy as he was the exact opposite of the popular imagery of conductors; stiff, iron-faced, rarely cracking a smile and with a no-nonsense attitude. Jason laughs when asked about his style.

"It's Pacific flavour," he quips. Again, he credits Ete for this.

Jason's first production entitled, Vaka, The Pacific Journey, was a sharp learning curve for him and his mates.

After writing the script, he and his friends (50 of them altogether) had to put it together without the help of Ete, who was in Samoa to direct the choir in singing his composition, the last South Pacific Games' anthem, Live the Dream.

For Jason, this meant he had to direct the music among many other things. They all had to put on a variety of hats, some of them for the first time, to ensure the show went ahead.

It came off superbly, even if it meant learning 12 songs, including several Pacific island songs in their native tongues. They also had to learn a Samoan song three days before the show.

Nevertheless, the show garnered rave reviews. Jason was particularly delighted that many believed it to be another superb Ete production.

He has nurtured his talents and broadened his musical ear and skills throughout the transition from Malaga: The Journey _ Ete's first production here that involved only USP students, to the ‘Malaga Singers' — remnants of the former who refused to let their choral odyssey end, and then to ‘Pasifika Voices' — the change prompted by the need to be more reflective of the group's composition.

His experiences have inevitably given him much wisdom, not just in music directing, but in performance and stage production.

He may not have mastered a musical instrument but he knows the innards of music and its notations like the back of his hand.

Pasifika Voices' productions include island dances. This means a lot of research is poured into an item to ensure it remains true in all aspects — song and dance — to its heritage.

In fact before he met Ete, dance was more Jason's forte as he was always involved in dances at school, at family functions or at Rotuman community obligations. Prior to Malaga, his only exposure to choral music was when he was in the last school music festival in the 1990s before it became dormant. First hand experience of how uplifting and empowering the school festival was for him fuelled his passion to have it revived. This was achieved by the choir in 2007.

Aside from the music, preparing for a show is usually a frantic exercise, particularly as performance nears.

For Jason though, it's all very normal the adrenaline, the unexpected, the mishaps, the stress.

"It's not exactly pressure for me because I am very methodical in my approach," he says. It's a skill he credits his parents for instilling.

"Mum and dad taught us how to plan stuff, how to create budgets, how to do menus; just a whole lot of life skills that we thought at that time were a waste of our time," he says.

He adds he could never have succeeded in his endeavours without the support of his family, who make a point of attending every one of his shows.

So far he has produced one original song, Turaga Dau Loloma — a song of praise with a melody inspired by a Solomon Island chant. It was a joint effort with his friend, Ratu Eroni Dina.

He is about to complete his second original composition and is working on another production, this time based on the Rotuman myth of Raho.

Jason says he never planned to direct music nor lead stage productions but now he can't imagine life without it . It's still all volunteer work, fuelled by his passion for music, the solid bond with his peers involved with the choir and the desire to empower and inspire young people.

His time now is divided between his teaching studies at USP and Pasifika Voices.

While he may not be rolling in cash for his efforts, Jason is far from losing faith or joy in his musical odyssey.

It's only just beginning, he reasons, smiling.