Friday, November 18, 2016.
If you find yourself in Maui sometime, George Kahumoku Jr. will be happy to pencil you in for a music lesson and jam session… In exchange for feeding livestock and pulling weeds on his farm.
Partly due to his multiple Grammys, partly to his endlessly kind demeanor, the Hawaiian songwriter, master slack-key guitarist and ordained minister is widely sought for his musical expertise. In fact, people from around the world regularly venture on his doorstep for lessons.
“This week I’ve probably had about 60 people come from all over,” he estimates.
For visitors who aren’t up for hard labor, a lesson will cost $100 an hour. Anyone else can pay him by helping tend the vegetables, sheep, goats and mini horses on his 3-acre farm.
“They help us on the farm, and we teach them singing,” Kahumoku says during a phone interview, which he pauses from to direct some students on feeding the goats. “We’ll work (on music) for an hour and a half, then we’ll go pick fruit and veggies and share a meal for an hour and a half, and then we’ll jam for an hour and a half.”
This routine reflects strong elements of Hawaiian culture, such as respect for land and giving, that he strives to share through his music, he says.
“Our Hawaiian culture and music all goes hand in hand,” he says. “It’s all inter-related and symbiotic with each other.”
On top of giving lessons, Kahumoku travels the world performing Hawaiian music, with his latest tour focused on Hawaiian hymns.
This is a fitting topic for himself and his two fellow performers - Uncle Richard Ho‘opi‘I and Kawika Kahiapo - who are also ordained ministers.
“The most important thing we want to share is the message that was shared with us,” he says.
By this he means how European Protestant missionaries strongly influenced both religion and music in Hawaii by bringing Christian hymns to the islands in the 1800s, he says, which introduced both a new religious doctrine and new methods of music composition to the Hawaiian culture.
“These Protestant songs were taken and put in Hawaiian words so they would appeal to Hawaiians,” he said.
These hymns continue to play a strong role in Hawaiian life, he adds.
“Most of us know the same hymns. We were brought up with the same songs,” he says.
Kahumoku shares Hawaiian music in as many ways as he can, he says. He has recorded several albums of traditional Hawiian music that have earned three Grammys. He has also taught musical workshops around the world, including a Maui workshop he hosts each year, which of course also includes gathering and preparing food.
“(My students are) learning skills besides music. They’re learning the (Hawaiian) culture,” he says.
He also strives to educate his students on the core beliefs of Hawaii, he says. This includes “aloha,” which he says means love, beyond its commonly recognized meaning as a greeting. He also teaches Hoʻoponopono, the Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness.
“Be sorry for anything you did and try to correct it as soon as you can. Ask for forgiveness, and then be thankful for the bounty and the gifts that God has given us,” he says. “I try to live by that message every day.”
“Hymns of Hawaii” will run on December 2 and 3 at The Smith Center. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.thesmithcenter.com/shows-tickets/upcoming-events/?pg=4.
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