'Trilogy' mission accomplished for concert debut
By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer
Inspiration frequently hits writers when they're in a poor spot for scribbling. Say you're sitting in a beachside restaurant, for example, when the USS Missouri, aboard which World War II peace treaties were signed, comes into view offshore. Say you've already penned and recorded a song about the USS Arizona, the battleship that defined the start of the war.
"We were sitting at the Sheraton Waikiki, and I watched it as it slid by," said Keith Haugen, singer and songwriter. "I think I felt even more closely tied to the Missouri than to the Arizona. I had photos rendered from the original negatives of the signing, and friends who had been there."
As the Missouri advanced through gentle surf on its way to its new home port, Haugen knew the image would find its way to pen and paper.
The result, "Mokukaua" (which means "battleship), was composed in Hawaiian in 1998, but the first time it will be performed publicly is Saturday as part of the Armed Forces Day Combined Military Band Concert.
It's the middle section of Haugen's "Trilogy of War & Peace," each section paying tribute to a different element of the military mission.
And it's a change of pace, musically and visually, from the typical armed forces celebration. Instead of a brass band, Haugen has forged a Hawaiian-style trio, joining Don Humphrey and Gordon Manuel Freitas, all playing guitar. In place of formation marching, the audience will see American Sign Language in one part and hula in another.
Part I, written 10 years ago for the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, is "We Still Care," a composition by Haugen. He performed it as the theme of the Aloha Bowl halftime show that year and recorded it backed by the Sounds of Aloha barbershop chorus. Wife Carmen Haugen has added the sign language at past public performances, but she's traveling; Michiko Corey, a former Miss Deaf Hawai'i, will fill that role at this weekend's rendition.
The message is one of mourning for the lives lost that day, rather than one dwelling on the enmity with Japan. Haugen, who spent eight years working as a photographer for the Army in postwar Japan, wanted to keep the focus of the lyrics on appreciation for American sacrifice.
"I took great pains with that to try not to offend anyone," he said.
Military percussionists will give a persistent drumbeat reminiscent of a funeral march to usher in the final section, "Walking Through the Memories," written in 1999 and premiered at the same armed forces event last year. This piece (like the first part, it's written in English) started off as a salute to the national cemetery at Punchbowl, but Haugen decided that was too restrictive. Once he decided to make the song a more general "Requiem to the Fallen," he said, it came together readily.
However, Haugen saw the middle part, "Mokukaua," as an ideal interlude in a few respects. For one, it's in Hawaiian, with the spotlight on Vernon Kealoha Campbell, who will perform hula and modern dance.
And it's more clearly a warlike expression of victory. There is a final shout: "Na makou i lanakila ai! (It is us who won!)" to underscore that theme and to distinguish it from the other parts. After all, this was war, the business of the military.
"I wanted to make that statement," he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the song "We Still Care" was a collaborative composition.