Our People: Elisha Hulton

By Jill Nicholas

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MUSICAL TALENT: Elisha Hulton loves life in Rotorua. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER
MUSICAL TALENT: Elisha Hulton loves life in Rotorua. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER

Samoan with music in her soul hitting the high notes locally and across Pacifica

There are people for whom a certain words were surely created.

For Elisha Hulton those words are 'talented' and 'vivacious'. She's bubbly, vibrant, animated - all the attributes that give the adjectives their rightful meaning.

Her talent's without question. At 31 she's a Dame Malvina Major-trained opera singer, holds a Bachelor of Music and a Post Graduate Diploma In Music bolstered by a Masters (music again) and has every letter going in piano qualifications.

She teaches voice, music and dance, directs concerts and choirs and was vocal director for Boys' High's last two productions Aida and The Wiz.

Conducting the Te O Marama choir (formerly the Maori Choir) sets her buzzing.

"To be in their presence is huge, there are some true legends in it, to be with them's such a privilege."

She's knocked Rotorua's socks off at several Lakesides, was placed third in the Lockwood Aria in 2011 and reached the 2014 Lexus Song Quest finals.

The Rotorua Musical Theatre has requisitioned her to musically direct forthcoming productions.

The first time we meet Elisha she's in full evening dress despite it being mid-afternoon, the group she's leading is a line-up of classical performers. When we next see her it's youthful jazz and blues singers under her baton.

When she shares her story with Our People the sequins and satin are replaced by jeans and sneakers. Both are her standard working wardrobes but we're not here to commentate on her highly-honed fashion sense.

The woman with star quality written all over her had her introduction to music at Palmerston North's Congregational Church of Samoa, lip-synching as her parents sang in the choir.

"I'd sit there miming the words, singing is such a big part of Samoan culture."

Soon she too was in the choir, by 7 her musical aptitude had extended to the piano.

"My dad noticed my passion for a toy piano, he bought me lessons, I went through the grades so performing's been a huge part of me from that age."

Four years after she first sat at a 'proper' keyboard church elders asked her to play the organ. By her mid teens she was coupling the organ with conducting the choir. At secondary school there was another choir to join.

"When I was in Year 10 we got into the Big Sing nationals, the New Zealand Secondary Schools Choir were guest performers, they blew me away, I said I wanted to audition and made it."

That choir introduced Elisha to overseas travel. " . . . Brisbane, Canada, America it gave me amazing opportunities to compete internationally."

The more formal side of schooling wasn't shelved.

"I definitely shone more at graphics and design, maths and science weren't my forte at all."

In Year 13 the Secondary Schools Choir musical director encouraged her to try out for a place in Auckland University's school of music.

"I had to work very hard to get there, left with a post graduate diploma."

The course took her five years rather than the more usual three, Elisha took time out to have daughter Jasmine in 2007.

"I met her dad Jared Hulton through mutual friends at my hostel, he was from Rotorua studying for a BA."

When they settled in Jared's home town Elisha's teaching career began at Waiariki's Music Academy.

"I became quite an all-round teacher there because the students had multiple talents and joined local musical legend Richard Anaru (Our People, November 20, 2009) running a bridge course for high school students aiming for a diploma in music."

A slice of those Waiariki teaching years was piggy-backed with study at the University of Waikato under Dame Malvina's tutelage. Two scholarships assisted her, one from Dame Malvina's foundation.

"She was totally amazing, encouraged me to work very hard; in class she's completely not a dame, she's like a mum, a very, very warm, loving person whose added the silver lining to my career."

Elisha became an itinerant music teacher in 2014. "It was time to move into the community, I now feel very connected to it."

She teaches at Boys' and Girls' Highs, John Paul College and at her home studio "four or five students a day", juggling them with her own performances and commitments.

The Hamilton Cantando Choir has recently signed her as guest soloist.

Mentioning that Elisha looks horror-struck. "Gosh, I quite forgot to tell you about my chorus work with the New Zealand Opera. That was such a stunning experience being in my favourites, La Boheme, Madam Butterfly."

The experience scored her a solo role in Jenny McLeod's debut opera Hohepa, at the Wellington Arts Festival.

Elisha's sung opera in Fiji, Norfolk Island, Rarotonga, Tahiti and Samoa.

"Samoa was a very, very moving experience, my grandma was in the audience, she'd never been to a classical concert, had tears in her eyes, when I saw that I started crying too."

The Pacific's seeing more of her. P&O and the Princess Line have added her to their entertainment line-up as their on-board opera singer.

"It's a completely new thing for me, I have to schedule around it."

What of the really big time - Covent Garden, the Met, La Scala?

"I have been offered opportunities to go overseas to gain more skills but my heart, my family, are here in Rotorua. I know there will be more opportunities in the future, to that I say 'bring it on'."

ELISHA HULTON (nee Fai)
Born: Palmerston North, 1985.
Education: Carncot School, Palmerston North Girls' High, Auckland, Waikato Universities.
Family: Husband Jared Hulton, daughter Jasmine, 9.
Interests: Family "I couldn't do what I do without their support." Music. "I'm a converted animal lover since we relented and let our daughter have a dog." Pacific Island culture and dancing.
On Rotorua: "I'm in love with it."
Personal philosophy: "Never stop dreaming, never stop believing, never give up, never stop trying, never stop learning."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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