Most of my associations with Hawaiian music have to do with dance — hula — but I want you to know that in fact some of the most beautiful Hawaiian music is choral music: sung, but not danced to.
The Hawaiian word for song, himeni, is actually a derivative of the English word “hymn.” Most Hawaiian music today has evolved, melodically, from church music and church traditions of choral singing.
In this vein, there exists a wonderful showcase for Hawaiian choral music, which is a song contest that has been going on for close to 30 years: Ka Himeni Ana. And the Coach and I were delighted to be present at this year’s event.
The most wonderful thing about it, in my opinion, is that the entire show is “unplugged” — indeed the whole point of it is for the musician-contestants to perform without amplification.
So what you’re watching and hearing are, according to the program, “amateur Hawaiian music groups performing in the ‘nahenahe‘ style, the distinctive Hawaiian music form that features sweet vocal harmony supported by unamplified acoustic instruments.”
(My Hawaiian dictionary defines nahenahe thus: “Soft, sweet, melodious, as music or a gentle voice; soft, as fine cloth; softly blowing, as a gentle breeze; gentle-mannered, soft-spoken, suave.”)
The program notes go on to say: “The world is now overwhelmed with far too much loud noise. We are bombarded by so many noxious sounds today that we seldom experience the joy of listening. It is not necessary to force music on others with loud speakers, for if singing has quality, people will become quiet and listen. No other sounds in the world are more beautiful than natural human voices, and excellence commands attention. Because we often forget the style of music that came before, this contest is intended to provide a balance in the music offered in our islands today.” [emphasis added]
There in the historic and exquisite setting of the Hawai`i Theatre, adorned with what seemed like a whole forest of fragrant white ginger, we became quiet and listened. It was a treat for all the senses.
Here’s the winning group from 2011:
This is the thirtieth post in my series, 31 Days of Life in my Hawaii. Click here to get the links to the other posts in the series.