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.
Dancing makes me feel alive and free. And it also brings back many fond memories.
In the “mixers” the women line up and wait for their turn to dance with a man who leads in a dance around the room until it’s time to join the queue again. This is Maui on a Saturday evening on the parquet wooden floors of the Omori Dance Studios at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC). In London, it was the opposite — the women were in short supply at Friday night CEROC dances, and the men had to queue for their turn.
The tall gentleman, who led me on my third waltz tonight, gently lifted my left hand from his shoulder and directed it to his shoulder joint. “There,” he said. “Isn’t that more comfortable?” On a previous occasion, an older gentleman kept saying,”Relax. Relax.” It’s been years since I last did ballroom dancing. I finally got the message when I was told, “You’re probably used to being around a lot of women. Please relax and let me lead.”
The regulars were polite and curious. Are you visiting? Where are you from?
I felt embarrassed when I replied that I lived close by and that I actually wanted to participate for quite some time. It was a chance encounter, while looking for my creative writing instructor in the English Lecturers Office, that I learned of “Advance Your Dance.” Verna, the secretary, said, “We meet every week. Several times a week. Are you on Facebook? You can find them there.” That was three months ago. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me on a Saturday evening. The first time is always the hardest. Who dares go into a room full of strangers?
The men and women who come dance here are serious about dancing. They bring their dancing shoes and water bottles. From 6 pm, they can sign in and pay $5 per person to dance until 9:45 pm. From 7 to 8 pm, a particular kind of dance is taught. The rest of the evening is a mix of music for jitterbug also known as East Coast Swing, waltz, quick step, cha cha, tango, salsa, West Coast Swing, and other styles. Last Saturday, my first time, I lasted barely two hours after learning three kinds of line dances. Tonight, it was intermediate foxtrot. The hosts Frank and Sandy Hook are back from Connecticut. Apparently, they also give dancing classes on Monday and Wednesdays in Wailuku.
Dance music brings back fond memories. I recall organizing a latin dancing evening so that I could learn new latin dances from my friend Tim, who was leading a fourteen-member band in London. I rented the church hall on my street and charged five pounds at the door. My friend, the late Ayyub Malik, checked everyone in. All was perfect, except there were too many guys and not enough ladies. I learned a few things that night. Guys were fine going alone to a dance. Girls would not go alone. They’d go with another girl or a guy. A girl was okay dancing with another girl. Guys didn’t do that. Not latin, anyway. Being the responsible host, I made sure I danced with every guy so no one was left out. I even threw in a raffle draw to give away my personal things to make it worthwhile. In the end, we broke even. Everyone was happy, except I couldn’t walk for a few days.
Last Saturday, someone asked me if I had been dancing regularly. “No,” I answered, wishing I was able to say yes. “Not continuously. Just off and on.”
I did ballet when I was six. It morphed into Chinese Folk Dancing. In high school, I was voted “Dancing Queen” at age sixteen. In college, I took a social dancing course to satisfy half of the physical education requirement. My partner and I worked out cha cha moves to KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Give It Up.” During my junior year abroad in Montreal, the overseas Chinese crowd got me interested in ballroom dancing. With this minimal experience, I was invited to organize social dancing classes in my second job in Singapore. It became so popular that my colleagues asked if that was my real job at the bank. Seeing how it flattened the organizational hierarchy and made a community out of my colleagues, I proposed to start a social club to engage the single foreigners from forty different countries at the London offices of another employer. And that’s how I learned to salsa, lambada, and merengue.
What is so fun about dancing? It makes me feel alive and free. It also brings back fond memories, such as the night I crashed a London Business School Annual Ball with a friend who was in town on business. According to Facebook, he is now a serious ballroom dancer.
My next mission? Bring guys so that the ladies don’t have to wait.
Maui College Choir prepares for spring concerts entitled Earth Songs.
First I met the conductor, Celia Canty. Then I saw the college choir perform. Next I wrote reviews.
Now I accompany the singers, arrange for them to perform, and blog about their upcoming performances.
I asked Celia about her choice of songs for the Spring 2012 concert. “They all have to do with the earth,” she replied in a recent interview. “The songs are from all over the world, and the choir sings them in original language. But ‘earth’ also has another meaning, too — as in planting trees, jasmine flower, etc.”
In the beginning, the choir was a collection of individuals with separate voices and universes. After weeks of rehearsing, they blend into one single sound. It requires hearing oneself and hearing others. Celia Canty, who has perfect pitch, can hear if someone sings out of tune. She says it’s both a blessing and a curse to have this ability to hear absolute pitch, as it’s sometimes called.
When we arranged to have the college cable TV crew film the singers, it was intended as a concert performance with no audience. I would have preferred a video of a rehearsal, for that’s far more interesting than a concert. At a rehearsal, one gets to learn. One gets to see how the raw material becomes refined into something beautiful. See the video below of a rehearsal of the popular Chinese folk song — Jasmine Flower, which Puccini used in the opera Turandot and which I once arranged for harp (PDF) because I loved it so much and wanted to play it.
Now in its 6th consecutive year, every Wednesday evening George Kahumoku’s Masters of Slack Key Guitar in Napili gives visitors a dose of the real Hawaiian aloha — a must see.
One early evening in February 2011, I met a Hawaiian man carrying several guitars (in cases) and pushing a small trolley full of sheet music. I pointed to his guitars and asked, “Do you teach guitar?”
“Yes, I teach slack key guitar. Want to learn?”
Slack-key guitar is a genre of guitar playing that is native to Hawaii. Slack refers to the loosening of the tuning pegs such that different open tunings allow a more natural sound.
“No. I don’t have time now. My husband plays the guitar.”
“Tell him to come to my class. Here’s my card. I’m George Kahumoku.”
“He’s not here. He’s on tour on the mainland. A solo guitar tour,” I said.
“He’s a guitarist? A professional?”
He had a strange expression on his face. Later I guessed that he was probably pondering, “How did a professional guitarist come to Maui and I didn’t know about it?”
George Kahumoku, or Uncle George as he is affectionately called, is Hawaii’s Renaissance man. Winner of several Grammy and Hoku Awards, he is a master slack key guitarist, songwriter, world-traveling performer, high school and college teacher, artist and sculptor, storyteller and writer, farmer and entrepreneur. Needless to say, George has been there, done that. He knows many people.
The second time I met George was in a computer training session. Sensing my curiosity about his “Masters of Slack Key Guitar ” concert that Thursday evening of 10th March 2011, he gave me two tickets for the McCoy Theatre at the Maui Arts and Cultural Centre.
The third time we met in the Maui College canteen. I mentioned that I was looking for a piano to practise on. He told me he was teaching that evening and could give me access to a grand piano.
The fourth time we met was that evening, to deliver an autographed copy of a new book that was signed at an event that Robert Bekkers played at. We interrupted his Hawaiian guitar class. “Come to my show at Napili tomorrow,” invited George Kahumoku, Jr. as we exchanged contact details after the class and near his truck.
Napili is a place north of Lahaina and Kanaapali on the other side of the Wailuku mountains. The short way to get there is the treacherous and dangerous way on shoulderless roads. The longer way is the safer way south, east, and north. There is no path across or through the Wailuku mountains to reach the west side that is famous for romantic sunsets. We had the lame excuse that we were performing at the Four Seasons in Wailea last Wednesday and could not drive the 40 minutes to see his weekly show at Napili.
When the Four Seasons manager called this past Tuesday afternoon to cancel what would have been our second Wednesday performance, the initial disappointment turned into a blessing in disguise. “Bring your guitar,” George had phoned Robert that Wednesday morning. We drove the hour journey to Napili Kai Beach Resort where the show was to begin at 7:30 pm.
Unlike the McCoy Theatre, the Aloha Theatre at Napili was an outdoor stage inside a huge marquee. Everyone was dressed in colourful Hawaiian shirts and dresses. We were the exception, too formally in black and white. When we arrived at 7:40 pm, a young man was playing a tune I recognised. Enthusiastically I said to George,”Robert can play the duet to this. Who is that?”
“He’s my student,” said George.
The young man was Peter deAquino, who together with his first cousin Garrett Probst of the Ukelele Boyz co-host the weekly shows of George Kahumoku, Jr at Napili.
After George told his stories and played his songs, he invited Robert on stage to play a solo. George then invited Peter deAquino to play Tico Tico on the ukelele and Robert to jam on his concert guitar in accompaniment. Thereafter the special guest of the evening, Jeff Peterson, son of a Hawaiian cowboy on Maui, entertained the guests with his stories of Hawaii and various styles of guitar playing. What went through my mind was this: how nice it is to know your roots so well — to be able to share stories of your grandparents and your roots and use words from your own language to describe your culture and values. Was this the slack key guitar tradition?
There was more to come. The real fun of the evening came after the intermission when the Ukelele Boyz, Sterling Seaton, Jeff Peterson, and George Kahumoku all played together. What a great idea to host a weekly show and invite different guitarists to play! It was sheer joy to watch them banter on stage and jam to various styles: Hawaiian, folk, rock and roll, etc. No words can describe that wonderful evening in Napili. In those 2.5 hours, the performers communicated the essence of a Hawaiian aloha through their stories, conversations, and music.
I concluded that this Wednesday show is a MUST for all visitors to Maui. I was glad that Uncle George insisted we come to this show. Mahalo!
A solo guitar concert before dinner, before a private viewing of a new commission in a one bedroom apartment in Wailuku on the island of Maui.
There is a grassroots movement of turning one’s home into an art gallery and concert hall. I sincerely believe it. Live music is not confined to grandiose concert halls for 2,000 people. Similarly art, especially contemporary art, that is works of living artists, is not destined for museums, waiting to be curated and valued.
Living composers and artists are creating new works every day.
There are not enough concert halls to hear their works or museums to view their works.
Hospitals, schools, hotels, and restaurants have unleashed their walls for art exhibitions. Similarly concerts are being staged in alternative locations. Venues can serve more than one purpose.
What about one’s home? A home is your castle. Home is where the heart is. It’s the last place of safety and tranquility. Why should you turn it into a concert hall or art gallery? Because you turn a concert and an art exhibition into a very special event —- one with a personal touch that is unique only to you, the host.
Last evening, we hosted a small intimate guitar solo concert in our one bedroom apartment in Maui. Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers gave a half-hour performance of four pieces he will play in Boston next month. We were privileged to sit so close to hear this private performance.
After dinner, Maui-based artist Frances Ku revealed her latest work — yet untitled piece in watercolour. I had asked her to paint one for our piano guitar duo for years. We are always looking for new original artwork or photographs for our concert invitations, posters, publicity, and CDs.
“Wow!” was the unanimous and simultaneous reaction. She had neither signed or framed it yet — literally hot off the press, still drying.
Could we have invited more people to this private event? Yes and No.
We wanted to. But we did not have enough chairs, wine glasses, and plates.
Next time, we should just ask our guests to bring their own.
It goes to show that a concert and/or an art exhibition can take place whenever there is a will to make it happen. Even in one bedroom apartments — as we have experienced in Amsterdam and now, Maui!
Note: Robert took photos of this painting and immediately made a CD cover for the new CD Live at Duke 2010, pictured below.
Conversations inspire artists. Works of love and labour do also. Living in a place with panoramic views in Maui is another.
“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Thomas Edison
Creativity requires inspiration. It takes a spark to light a fire. Where does that spark come from?
Maybe it’s more like 20% inspiration that fuels the 80% perspiration — the 80-20 rule. One idea may start a chain of events, like the idea of getting a guitarist to go on a solo concert tour by himself. Most of his time is spent practising, preparing CDs for sale, getting concert bookings, making travel arrangements, and doing the actual work of performing and traveling.
Inspiration comes from conversation with people who stimulate us, like the recent gourmet dinner in the home of a composer and his chef-turned-knitter wife. That evening in Kula led to a private viewing and a house concert the following week.
Works of love and labour inspire us to try something of our own or remind us when we were in the “flow.”
Some people move to environments that are conducive to their creativity.
Every morning we wake up to the following scene, when the sun appears above the slope of Haleakala in Maui.
Even from inside the apartment, we can look through the floor to ceiling glass and admire the harbour and the volcano. This is what inspires me to write my blogs. This is what inspires Robert to create the CD covers and concert posters.
Every visitor that has come to our intimate house concerts in Wailuku has marvelled at the spectacular view from the balcony. From here, we can hear the outdoor concerts at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. Elton John is visiting on 24th and 25th of February 2011. Perhaps that’s an occasion to discuss what inspires artists, musicians and other creators — on our balcony.