Hawai'i Music Institute making future superstars
By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer
|Irmgard Aluli is the centerpiece of this portrait of music-industry professionals involved with the fledgling Hawai'i Music Institute, at the Windward Community College campus in Kane'ohe. The group (including musicians Ron Loo, far left, and Brother Noland Conjugacion, far right) posed in the college's nearly completed theater and later joined voices in a rendition of the classic "O Makalapua."
Cory Lum The Honolulu Advertiser
Hawai'i Music Institute inaugural classes
"Intermediate Slack Key Guitar," with Ron Loo, 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Tuesday through Oct. 16, $35
"It's Only Rock 'n' Roll: An Overview of the Music Business," with William Meyer, 9 a.m.-noon, Oct. 6, $60
"The Day the Music Died? The Challenges of Digital Technology," with William Meyer, 9 a.m.-noon, Oct. 20, $60
Registration: 235-7433 or http://ocet.wcc.hawaii.edu/ register.htm
Institute information: 235-7342
Most musicians haven't a clue about how to make that happen. Even if they do, they don't have the desire or time to enroll in business school, or they feel uncomfortable with formal music training.
Into this void steps Windward Community College, which this term has launched the Hawai'i Music Institute, a collection of classes and programs meant to ease fledgling musicians into the industry and bring some music to the Kane'ohe campus, besides.
Guitarist and Windward music teacher Ron Loo is the first to conduct a class conceived as part of the new institute, an intermediate slack-key guitar course set to start Tuesday (see box). During his early Windward teaching days 25 years ago, Loo formed a slack-key club which included such notables as Gabby Pahinui and "Aunty" Alice Namakelua to share local talents with students. In a sense, he said, it was like a music institute on a smaller scale.
"What I tried to do at that time was to create an environment that would be inspirational," he said. "Ever since those days, people have a good feeling about Windward as a place you can go to get help.
"There's nobody doing what the institute is trying to do, or they're just doing it in bits and pieces. Where do you go to learn about copyright, about recording technique? In this institute, we have the whole kit and caboodle."
Loo's class requires some musicianship from the start, but other artists who will be teaching here are approaching students more fundamentally. "Brother" Noland Conjugacion wants especially to teach children how to understand music at a more instinctive level, something that would appeal to those comfortable with a Hawaiian mode of learning. How is the song built rhythmically? What are the "colors" of music?
And then, so they're not so intimidated by it later on, he'll move them along toward music theory.
"How I teach music is a combination of the standard American theory, and a simpler Hawaiian concept," Conjugacion said. "As their interest grows, and they feel the fun, then they feel the confidence to learn the other stuff.
"I get them to enjoy music first, so they can sense the sound of life."
These courses would interest students whether or not they are planning careers in music. Clearly, however, those who yearn to break into the industry need more than artistic technique.
They need some business savvy, too, which is why the second course being offered comes from William Meyer, a lawyer representing local artists, who also was a steersman for recent legislative changes enhancing rights to protect artistic property for musicians in a digital age.
"We're going to look at the business and legal issues involved in music, whether they're the traditional issues, like copyright, or the new implications of digital technology," Meyer said.
Some of these implications include the sharing of digital music files over the Internet. Although the new law clears the way for prosecution, Meyer said, enforcement is impractical. So, he added, the discussion also will cover new business models giveaway recordings aimed at promoting live performances, for example.
Others in the industry who have taken part in plans for the new institute include promoter Milton Lau, who said he'd like to teach a class to help musicians know their niche and market themselves to it.
Recording industry executive Flip McDiarmid knows from experience how steep the learning curve is for new artists.
"The first thing is, if you're lucky, they'll come in with a demo tape that's a simple cassette," he said. "They'll say, 'I have 12 songs on it ... Yea!' But all the songs are exactly the same tempo, and it's the most boring thing."
Acting provost Angela Meixell said planning for the institute began only a year ago and the decision was made to start things off slowly and build from there.
"It's not yet funded in any way," Meixell said. "Something we will be looking for is grant support.
"But we wanted to offer the courses we felt we could, to show good faith to the folks who have done such a lot of work for this."
Among the instigators is Mike McCartney, former Windward state senator and "Hawaii's Stars" producer, now heading the KHET public television staff. McCartney said saw a number of "Stars" performers balk at pursuing a career because they didn't know the first step, and he approached Meixell with an idea that was fleshed out by a planning committee.
The same goals have been met in other music centers with different approaches. In Texas, however, the Office of the Governor includes a Texas Music Office which provides new musicians with information on getting started and other resources.
At Windward, the eventual hope is that a degree or certificate program can emerge and, in any case, that would draw more people into higher education.
"It's about education and giving people hope," he said. "Last year there were almost 190 CDs released, by people pursuing their dream. It's their vision of making it happen. Why not teach people the business?
"It's an industry here in Hawai'i. If we ever want to be the Nashville of the Pacific, education is the way to create that capacity."
One short-term goal that can be fulfilled is to create a venue for more musical concerts on the Windward side, showcasing both budding and established talents. Irmgard Aluli, one of Hawaiian music's living legends, has shown an interest in helping the program, Meixell said, and the college wants to play host to her and her group Puamana for one of the first concerts in the new campus theater, due to open in November.
"Aunty Irmgard" entered music in a simpler age, when family ties nurtured you through the process. Aluli was part of Maui's famous Farden family, so musical success flowed smoothly.
But she knows what's important.
"Oh, that's good," she said, upon hearing that the college would be teaching about copyright law. "That's for making records. You really need that."
Aluli already has shared some of her guitar technique with Loo's students, in what the teacher said is typical behavior among artists on this side of the Ko'olau Range.
"Folks in our own back yard are really gracious," he said. "We envision Windward as a place where folks just thinking about doing music can come and learn and experience and create."