Music Makes Magic Happen

A very unique concert took place on the island of Maui Friday night. It was an amazing blend of European, Japanese, and Hawaiian music and talent, performed on a unique combination of instruments in an historic venue.

It started with my good friend, Derek; part time Maui resident, regular visitor to Japan, and student of both guitar and zither. In the course of his business trips to Japan, Derek became friends with the world famous father-son concert zither masters, Yatsuo and Naoto Kono. Early this year, Derek thought it would be great to have Naoto perform on Maui.

Naoto Kono liked the idea. He had done some experimental work with a Japanese slack key guitarist, Yuki (Alani) Yamauchi, and thought it would be better if the concert were done featuring both the zither and a slack key guitar. Yuki had been to Maui and played with a local guitarist whom he recommended to Naoto. One thing led to another and a new amalgam took form with the addition of Hawaiian slack-key guitar legend George Kahumoku, Jr.. George gets a thousand emails a week so it was great luck that Derek was able to meet with him. George and Naoto exchanged cds and decided to perform a joint concert. (According to George, he told Derek that he'd only do the concert if Derek came up to his farm to shovel manure, pull weeds, and spread mulch! Which Derek did.)

If you are not familiar with the concert zither, here is a brief introduction:

"Perhaps the shortest meaningful description of the instrument is that it is like placing a guitar and a harp on a table side by side and then playing both simultaneously. The concert zither is considered by most experts to be the most difficult instrument of all to master because it is essentially, two instruments in one.

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This instrument has 5 melody strings (A, A, D, C, G) covering 29 frets of a small fret board, along with 25 to 40 accompaniment strings. The concert zither has 187 basic tones, which provide a greater range than the piano with 88 tones or the guitar with 136 tones. The concert zither has the added feature that because the strings are struck with one's fingers, the range of tonality of the strings is infinitely variable in pitch, attack, loudness, and timbre. Because of the variation of tones available, those listening to recordings of the instrument often believe that they are listening to duets or trios of multiple instruments."

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George Kahumoku, Jr.

George Kahumoku Jr., is a Hoku* and 2 time Grammy Award winning master slack key guitarist. (*The Na Hoku Hanohano Awards are Hawaii's version of the Grammy Music Awards). He is also a songwriter, world-wide performer, high school teacher, former principal, sculptor, story-teller and a farmer who is so in tune with his islands that he has won several state and national awards for his work with the land.

George has performed to audiences all over the world, including such dignitaries as the Queen of England and the Premier of China. His guitar projects an exquisitely accurate audio image of the haunting, tranquil, beauty of the Islands.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term "slack key", the Hawaiian style of guitar playing, there is an interesting story on what it is and how it came about which you can read on his website by clicking here: ABOUT SLACK KEY.

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Naoto Kono

Naoto Kono trained during childhood in Heidelberg, Germany, learning concert zither, violin, and piano. He studied composition from his father (Yasuto Kono) before returning to Europe in 1980 for further applied musical training. He began performing in live concerts throughout Japan in 1985 and performed in Shanghai and France in 1991.

Naoto is currently performing primarily in solo concerts which provide a wide variety of music, including classical, jazz, pop, folk etc. Many of the offerings in his concert repertoire are original compositions ranging from Renaissance style to modern styles, which expand the realm of the zither beyond the traditional style of music for which it has been known.

Derek, with help from his daughter's bagpipe teacher John Grant (yes, on Maui! - a most excellent one at that) and another piper, Hamish Burgess, secured the venue - Makawao Union Church. Built in 1917 in memory of its late benefactor and organist, the church is now on the state and national lists of historic sites and has excellent acoustics (Pandabonium has performed there). I don't think Derek knew what he had gotten himself into when he first suggested a concert - the work that goes into producing a concert is pretty intense - but he pulled it off in style.

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Makawao Union Church - 1917
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Church interior.

Some comments from Derek (my clarifications in parentheses)....

"A rainstorm blew through Paia (a small town near the church) just as the show began, the temp dropped 6 C and the humidity went up to condensed milk, whatever percentage that is. So there was lots of tuning, given the 50 strings between them."

"George did a very unusual rendition of the Queen's Prayer that in my mind really enhances the song and conveys the powerful emotions behind its writing. I don't know if others were as affected by it, but I found it very moving." (This is a song written by Queen Liliuokalani as she was being held prisoner during the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy by American businessmen. See "Trivia" at the end of this post).

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Derek's daughter (right) and two of her schoolmates handled the box office.

The program for the evening:

Solos by Naoto Kono-
Unter den Lindenbaum ...............Vienese folksong
Komm Liebe Zither .....................KV.351 W.A. Mozart
The Third Man ............................A. Karas
Tanz Fantasie ............................N. Kono
Romance de Montmartre ...........N. Kono

Solos by George Kahumoku, Jr. -
Ulapalakua .................................J. Pi'ilani Watkins
The Queen's Prayer ....................Queen Liliuokalani
Hilo March..................................Joseph Kapaeau Ae`a


Duets -
Petite Romance ..........................N. Kono
Hamabe no Uta ..........................T. Narita
Tahitian Blue ..............................N. Kono
La Petite Maison du Petit Village N. Kono
Rosamunde .................................Folksong

Derek's comments continue...

"Romance de Montmartre, and Tanz Fantasie were my favorites among Naoto's solo pieces. Hamabe no Uta, Tahitian Blue, and Rosemunde, to my great surprise, were my favorites of the duets they played.

Encores were Jack Pitman's "Beyond the Reef", one of the best of the
show, and a solo by Naoto, "When you wish upon a star."

"I think that everyone was surprised at how well the concert zither and slack key guitar could sound together. Including Naoto, George, and I. The audience seemed almost uniformly amazed and delighted."

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Naoto and George during the performance.

"One person said that the concert was the most amazing music that he had ever heard, that it went straight to one's feelings. Some others echoed his comments on the way out the door. The whole audience was spellbound."

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Like I said early on, in this post, I don't think Derek knew what he was getting into - now there is talk of a Japan concert tour featuring the two musicians together!

Music really does make magic happen.

Trivia: The Queen's Prayer (O Kou Aloha No) is usually sung in Hawaiian as a church hymn. An English translation of the sentiment is: "Your loving mercy is in heaven and your truth so perfect. I live imprisoned in sorrow; you are my light; your glory, my support. Behold not with malevolence the sins of humankind, but forgive and cleanse. And so, O Lord, beneath your wings protect us and let peace be our portion now and forever more."

The Makawao Union Church has a Reuter pipe organ with 1,055 pipes.


QUASAR9 said...

That's for Real!
Music can be Magic
The vibrations, the rythm, the beat
can turn a party into a great feast

Derek said...

Regarding the Manure story:
George's concert tale makes it sound as if he made me work hard to buy his cooperation. A better story that the real one. But the truth is, he graciously agreed to play as soon as he understood the situation..... Tough assignment, probably no pay, maybe fun, possibly some special music.

I help him on the farm because he is that sort of person. The manure, weeds, and mulch part is true. He left out that he was right there with me. Both George and Naoto are really wonderful generous people.

Mahalo for your nice summary. Your blog is the best I've ever seen. Gentle, interesting, honesty. It's a model of what the web could be.

Oh yes, Thanks for volunteering to arrange the Japan tour. That will be a great help!


Anonymous said...

I like the blog. It's great! Mason

The Moody Minstrel said...




Pandabonium said...

Quasar9 - yes, that's true and more.

Derek - thank you for the gracious complement. I might believe it except for the line that follows about arranging a concert tour! Arrrgh! Seriously, I have no doubt that both of these men are as you say. It shows it what they do.

Mason - thanks! I'm so happy you like it.

Moody - yeah, me too. The concert was recorded by two systems. I'm hoping there will be CDs made available of it. Derek will no doubt keep me posted on that. If I can get even a clip, and permission to share it, I'll certainly do so.

Derek said...

Ok, You didn't actually volunteer. YET. But the rest is true.

There will be a CD. The recordings are excellent. Better than that maybe. The type of good that can only come from a happy accident, as there are too many compromises in the recording process to engineer them all correctly. Better maybe to record in a historical church. It is that kind of good. Magic, miracle, or happy mishap of fate, listeners can assign their own responsibility.

The quality of the musicianship is in the same catagory. Although the responsibility for that is in the performers. How it gets in them is also left to the listener to decide. All I can say is that this CD is like no other that has ever been made.

During the concert, for mechanical reasons, I was stuck behind a piano off to the side of the stage. So while I heard the concert live it was a poor area for listening. So it was late last night before I found time to get the recording onto a decent system to listen to it. I wish I could have been in the audience with nothing to do but listen and watch. I've been pleasantly surprised twice now.

The CD will come as soon as it is possible to have it out. Details to follow. Naoto just arrived home this morning.

I'll try to get you a clip sooner. That is up to George and Naoto.

Thank you for helping us share this with the world.

Happysurfer said...

*Applause! Applause!*

Pandabonium, thank you for sharing this.

It must be difficult to play the zither, not to mention master it.

Pandabonium said...

Happysurfer -

Irony, magic, coincidence, call it what you will, I was posting on your blog just as you were posting on mine!

I've never tried to play the zither, but judging from the unprintable words that Derek uses when he is practicing, it must be very hard. :D (Just kidding, Derek).

Glad you enjoyed the post, Happy.

Hill said...

Ditto what Q said.
Music is magic.

Derek said...

The hardest things to notice seem to be the things that aren't there, even when the significance of the absence is of great importance.

I have now listened numerous times to the recording, which is as crisp and clear as a certain unnamed western head of state's head is of rational thought. I finally noticed that during the music, there isn't any noise from the audience. I've not noticed a sound. Now there is a tribute to the artists in this day and age!

So let's give a really big hand to the audience. Mahalo as well.

And yes Happysurfer, The concert zither is difficult, akin to mastering two things at the same time. Comparable perhaps to say...two successful marriages at the same time.

bonnie said...

Sounds wonderful.

Made me pretty sad when I went back to the church we used to attend when I was a kid & they weren't singing the Queen's Prayer as part of the service any more. It seemed as much a part of the ritual as the Gloria Patri. Don't know quite why they stopped singing it - politics, new pastor, new organist, who knows. We were gone for a long time before I got back there.

But I missed it. If a clip could be managed, it would be lovely to hear. I can almost promise I'll cry.

Derek said...


I didn't mention that George's version of The Queen's Prayer was an intrumental version. George conveys the words so well with the music that words are superfluous. It conveys the imprisoned Queen's feelings pain,sadness and hope for the future so well instrumentally that some people find it unsettling. I think it is a masterpiece.

george@kahumoku.com said...

George Kahumoku said:
Aloha all from my farm at the Clifts of Kahakuloa. Thanks to Derek his friends and Ohana for inviting me to participate and putting on this great concert, at a great place with Naoto Kono.
It was Dereks persistence and good nature and intensions that made everything happen. My four greatest passions in life are Music, working with At-Risk kids ,gardening and eating. (Not neccessary in priority or order) and Derek's has helped me to enrich and participate in at least 3 of them. I have ulterior motives for wanting to go to Japan. I have many MOA friends who are natural organic farmers in Okinawa, Hokaido and rural Japan and the big island who are natural farmers and I have 15 kids,( one by birth, the rest are Hanai,adopted with out paers Hawaiian Style) one of them live in Japan. I travelled to Japan During the mid 80's and had lots of gigs in Bars and too much smoking for me. I'd like to do more performing Arts centersand visit on of my Hanai daughters Sarah Hall who live and works in Tokyo. I had a wonderful time working with Naoto Kono and hope to get better playing his original songs on Slackkey guitar.Mahalo to all for the oppurtinity to share my music