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.
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."
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.
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.
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).
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
Petite Romance ..........................N. Kono
Hamabe no Uta ..........................T. Narita
Tahitian Blue ..............................N. Kono
La Petite Maison du Petit Village N. Kono
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."
"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."
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.