Shigeru Hotoke's madrigals sang to the world
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Years before tourism revolutionized Hawai'i's economy, forever transforming the young state's physical and social landscapes, the sound of aloha was delivered to distant shores by Shigeru Hotoke and his Kailua High School Madrigal Singers.
Hotoke, who spent his life honing the diverse voices of generations of Hawai'i students, died Feb. 20 at the age of 83.
"He made all of us want to reach for more than we thought we could be," said former student Nancy Rasmussen, who joined Hotoke on three of the madrigals' groundbreaking goodwill trips to Japan in the 1960s.
Hotoke was born and raised in 'Ele'ele on Kaua'i and graduated from Waimea High School, where he was a talented musician and an all-star center in football.
After serving in military intelligence just after World War II, Hotoke used the G.I. Bill to attend the University of Hawai'i, where he met his future wife, Grace. The two music majors fell in love singing duets under the direction of voice teacher Richard Vine.
In his first job at Nānāikapono Elementary School in Nānākuli, Hotoke gathered enough second-hand instruments to start the school's first band. A sign of things to come, Hotoke arranged for his student musicians to travel to Honolulu — no simple undertaking in those days — to perform.
"They were very poor," Grace Hotoke said of her husband's students. "So he asked me if we could work out $16 dollars from our budget to buy 16 ties.
"They looked really good from the waist up," Hotoke said, laughing. "But when they stood up, we realized we had forgotten about the shoes. We called them our Barefoot Band."
Such generosity was typical of her husband, Grace Hotoke said. If students needed money, he'd find chores for them do around his house. He once gave an extra refrigerator to a former student who had just gotten married.
Hotoke took a brief hiatus from teaching to study under legendary choral director Robert Shaw in California, eventually earning a spot with the Robert Shaw Chorale traveling group.
Returning again to Hawai'i, Hotoke got a job at Kailua High School and started the school's first choral line. Grace Hotoke said the group was initially made up of a few "naughty" students referred by other teachers but soon grew to include some 500 students.
Hotoke petitioned the Board of Education to allow his coed group of musicians to travel to the Neighbor Islands to perform. Later, he negotiated exchange programs with schools in California and Oregon.
In 1963, Hotoke was approached by Halekūlani Hotel manager and Hawai'i Hotel Association president Randy Lee about touring the Mainland to help promote Hawai'i tourism. The tours were wildly successful, but they spawned an unforseen problem: Tourists came to Hawai'i wanting to see more of the Madrigals.
Lee arranged for the Madrigals to perform at the Halekūlani on Sundays — a traditional "dark" night for performers — and they filled the house.
After traveling to Japan to perform at an event celebrating the centennial of Japanese immigration to Hawai'i, the Madrigals became frequent visitors to the country. That, in turn, led to invitations to perform (frequently at royal request) in Europe, Africa and Asia.
"You can imagine what it was like to take a group of teenagers to another country with just one or two other chaperones," Rasmussen said. "But there was a mutual respect. He respected us and we respected him. You never wanted to disappoint him. You'd be hard pressed to put that kind of group on a tour today."
Over a 40-year career at the school, Hotoke worked with more than 12,000 students, many of whom make their own mark in music, dance, art and other creative fields.
RETIRED IN 1986
During one trip to Japan, students Betsy Curtis and Chris Rolseth caught the ear of executives from Denon Colombia Japan, who signed the duo to a recording contract. Their rendition of "Shiroi Iro Wa Koi Bito No Iro" was a hit in Japan.
Among Hotoke's many other notable students are Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award winner Mihana Aluli Souza and Te Hau Nui Dance Company director Lorraine Kinnamon.
Hotoke retired from Kailua High School in 1986.
He was part of the Go-For-Broke Opera Company long before Hawai'i had its first professional opera company. He was the first to integrate women into the Gleemen of Honolulu. He also served as choir master for many of the Honolulu Symphony's early opera productions and sang as soloist at Central Union Church for 20 years.
Hotoke is survived by his wife, Grace; sons, Richard and Ryan; and two grandchildren.
A service is scheduled for tomorrow at 4 p.m. at Community Church of Honolulu, with visitation starting at 3 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the Hotoke family suggests that donations be made to the Richard Vine Scholarship Fund, University of Hawai'i Foundation, Community Church of Honolulu or St. Clement's Episcopal Church.