Honolulu Boy Choir may disband
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Derek Paiva
The Honolulu Boy Choir is in financial trouble and may fold after 32 years of operation.
Some parents, however, hope to put together a business plan that will save the organization.
"There are a lot of expenses. And I don't know if this can be done or not," said Carlson Mun, father of a choir member. "But the parents are dedicated. They love the choir. They love what happens to the boys that come in.
"The choir gives them so much confidence. It's a really good thing."
More than 2,200 boys between the ages of 7 and 14 have belonged over the years. They have performed many kinds of music — contemporary, ethnic, folk, traditional and religious — in Hawai'i as well as nationally and internationally. They often incorporate ancient and contemporary hula into performances.
The boys do not pay to participate, which leaves membership open to boys from all backgrounds. The choir relies on donations from individuals, businesses and the community.
Jean Rolles, chairwoman of the choir's board, told a parents meeting Thursday evening that the choir will disband on May 30 if a viable financial plan doesn't arise.
Mun said the parents were told that expenses were $150,000 annually. When some parents expressed interest in raising the money to run the choir on their own, Rolles agreed to look at a business plan.
Rehearsals and performances have been on hiatus since Christmas. No concerts are scheduled.
Rolles, who has been chairwoman for a decade, said she explored many options over the last five years aimed at keeping the choir operating.
"We've tried every which way to keep it (alive) as a organization. But really, to continue seems to be overwhelming," Rolles said. "We just have too many things to conquer.
"We've struggled vainly for the last few years to raise funds for the Honolulu Boy Choir. And there just isn't enough opportunity for the choir to earn enough money to keep it going, particularly when we're an all-volunteer organization."
Expenses for equipment, rehearsal and storage space rental and liability insurance have all risen in recent years, while fundraising has decreased, Rolles said. May 30 is the final day of the choir's liability insurance policy. A private benefactor Rolles did not name recently decided to pull funding that had covered the executive director's part-time salary.
The choir has also seen fewer performance opportunities.
"We have run choir events ... and we end up with sort of the same audience: the parents and the grandparents," Rolles said. "We've tried different ways to expand, to advertise and do other things. But there's just a limited appeal to choral music at this point. We just seem to be in a downturn in ... interest for the audience as a whole."
In December, executive director Kane Kanetani decided to leave the choir. Kanetani, who had served in that position since 2004, is assisting the board with operations temporarily but does not expect to remain.
"It's everything at one time," said Rolles. "It's not one thing."
Rolles said the board would meet next week to catalog the choir's assets, which include equipment, uniforms, memorabilia and an equipment truck, and discuss a parent-submitted business plan. The board will then spend the next two months evaluating the choir's viability.
"If somebody could prove to me with a very sound business plan (that) they could run this organization, I would think of a different way of distributing the assets," Rolles told parents at the meetings. "But I'm not about to do that until (the board) sees some real structure behind (the plan)."
Michelle Saito, head of the choir's parents committee, said parents immediately began putting together a model for a business plan after the meeting. She asked that anyone who wanted to help or offer suggestions to call her (see box).
Saito's son Kainoa has been a Boy Choir member for a year.
"A lot of us come to this organization ... because it has a cross mix of kids from all over the island who have in common wanting to learn how to sing, and work hard doing it," Saito said.
"(Rolles) has been an angel to this choir. She's given of her own funds. And bless her heart, I know she wants to continue but just ... can't see the means of continuing," Saito said. "We're going to do what we can to have it continue."
At parents' request, Rolles was hoping to start up choir rehearsals once again in coming weeks, if only until May 30.
"She has been the person keeping the Boy Choir alive ... apart from the fundraising the boys have been doing, the concert revenues and whatever else has been brought in," said parent Mun, whose son Matthew has been a member of the Honolulu Boy Choir for 6 1/2 years. "She's a good guy."
"We're going to have to look for some angels to help us out," he said.
Reach Derek Paiva at firstname.lastname@example.org.