In my MUS107 “Music in World Cultures” cable TV class, I tell my students to consider many aspects of experiencing live music, not just the performer, the performance itself, the music (and lyrics), and the choice of instruments.
How you experience music has a lot to do with the space you’re in.
At dusk, I walked uphill, along the busy end-of-the-day traffic of Queen Ka’ahumanu Avenue, to the old town of Wailuku. I crossed the narrow street to enter a shop by the curious name of “Request Music” at the corner of Market and Main, a place I noticed last Friday on the occasion of First Friday in Wailuku.
I immediately recognized my colleagues and ex-colleagues, already standing or seated. The audience dispersed among the racks of CDs. I found a spot on the floor that let me lean against a solid bookcase of some sort.
Glancing around, I noticed everyone had a look of awe, a kind of smug contentment. It’s like being given your favorite candy when you least expect it. One older lady who “chanced” upon this intimate gathering gingerly stepped inside the shop, whose doors were wide open. Her face said it all — “I can’t believe my luck! What is this?”
I was forty minutes late to the live performance of Makana, a musician I had first seen at TEDxMaui and again at the MACC with the Hawaii Pacific University orchestra earlier this year. His guitar playing was featured in the soundtrack of the movie “The Descendants.”
When I learned through a personal invitation on Facebook of this event on Monday morning, I quickly told my colleagues and students.
“Go!” I urged my students. “I will be there. You should try to attend every live performance. It is so rare on Maui. This one is free. You can meet him yourself — in person!”
Unfortunately I didn’t see any of my students there. They could have experienced what I’ve taken for granted all the years I had organized my own house concerts — to share breathing space with the performer. There was no one or nothing between me and the singer, only about four feet of space. This is how I like to experience live music.
“I’m open to requests,” Makana announced after finishing a song on his acoustic folk guitar.
I heard someone echo “Only You by Yazoo” or perhaps Makana mentioned that he had played it on one of his albums.
My heart skipped a beat. He knows this song? I joined the chorus of requests for Yazoo.
I had first heard Yazoo’s “Only You” sung by the Pitchforks, the oldest acapella men’s group at Duke University, during my freshman year. It had stuck ever since. Decades later, when my friend told me about his barbershop quartet activities, I recounted the Pitchforks and “Only You.”
Needless to say, if I could hear Makana play his version of Yazoo’s (he calls them Yaz’s) “Only You” I would not only be traveling back in time but also connecting with my friend who promised he’d get his quartet to revive that song.
But somebody else caught his attention. He didn’t play “Only You.” My heart sank.
After singing his famous “We Are Many,” he retuned his guitar. He played a rift I didn’t recognize. I thought he had dismissed our request.
And then he played that familiar broken chord at the beginning of Yazoo’s song.
I felt like a little girl again. It was a deja vu of Suzanne Vega playing the first few bars of “Queen and the Soldier” in Utrecht. I had joined the crazy standing crowd screaming for her to play this song. When she finally did, I burst into tears.
Tonight, I contained myself. Now I know why audiences react so violently when they get their requests granted.
Songs have meanings. Songs bring back memories, and with them, feelings that we have forgotten.
Makana recorded his version of Yazoo’s “Only You” on his first CD album. He told me the album is now out of print. He has maybe one copy in storage.
“But,” he said, “you can go to my website at Makana Music and click on that album. You can listen to it for free.”
And so I found the album Makana and listened to the entire list while writing this blog post.