Where were you when?

Where were you when you heard about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? Where were you when you heard about the Challenger spaceship explosion? How did you hear about the planes flying into the World Trade Center and other events of September 11? It was one of those major life events which shake you to the core, and become firmly embedded in your memory when you first heard the news.

Beebe Freitas

Beebe Freitas

On Saturday afternoon, I was diligently working on my taxes (!) when Karl Bachman called me with the news that our beloved colleague, Beebe Freitas, had passed. Oh, we all knew it had been coming—Beebe had not been well, that was why I found myself subbing at Punahou Chapel a lot last year and recently. But when the news came, it was still a shock, especially since it was only three days after the death of another musical giant in our community, Neva Rego.

It’s really an ironic coincidence that I was working on my taxes when I heard the news, because for years and up to the last, my husband Carl Crosier prepared Beebe’s tax returns!

Beebe pays her respects at Carl’s memorial.

Her obituary was published today in the Star-Advertiser, “Gifted isle musician helped others reach their potential” and my takeaway was that Beebe was known first and foremost as THE accompanist in town—she made soloists sound better because of her sensitive piano accompaniment. Her sightreading skills were legendary—she could play from open orchestral scores and not miss a note!

Keoki Kerr wrote an extended tribute with many more stories which you can read here.

Another photo of Beebe

I first met Beebe at the University of Hawaii in 1974 when I was hired to teach organ in the Music Department and she was a lecturer in piano. In the early years, I remember going to her house in Aina Haina for a faculty party.

Later I found out she played the organ for not only Punahou School but also at the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu. She was a daughter of a Presbyterian pastor in Youngstown, OH, and her mother was head of the sociology department at Youngstown State University. She began playing the piano at age three and played her first memorial service at age 6.

Beebe was a graduate of Oberlin College, and obtained her Master’s Degree in 1959 from Boston University. She continued her studies at Juilliard where she studied piano with Beveridge Webster. While in New York, she participated in the opening performance of Lincoln Center, and was the rehearsal pianist for Leonard Bernstein, William Steinberg, Thomas Schippers, and Robert Shaw.

After moving to Hawaii with her husband, Louis, who took a business and economics professorship at the University of Hawaii, Beebe also joined the UH faculty, teaching piano, accompanying, working with choruses, and coaching opera and music theater workshops.

She began as rehearsal accompanist for Hawaii Opera Theatre in 1972 and later was named its Artistic Director. As Simon Crookall, now Executive Director of HOT, said in today’s obituary: “Beebe was really a power of nature. She was literally the core of the company for many, many years. She was the go-to person for all things musical.”

I’ve posted this video before but here it is again: Punahou School’s Profile of an Organist, which was filmed for “Hiki No” on Hawaii Public Television.

Here are some comments from Beebe’s colleagues on her passing:

Rest in Love, Beebe Freitas. Beebe was a force of nature, a consummate musician and an inspiration to so many. I spent every single Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening with her when I first came to Hawaii as a young conductor, as she accompanied both the Symphony Chorus and Opera Chorus, when I was chorus master. She was a wonderful and kind mentor and friend. I loved how she would just casually say, ‘when I played this for Lenny, he wanted it this way’. Beebe and I got through TWO Robert Shaw guest conducting gigs together, and dozens of choral/orchestral masterworks with the Symphony and dozens of operas. She helped so many musicians in Hawaii become their better selves. (Tim Carney)

Beebe. Oh, Beebe. Beebe. I will forever treasure the music we made together. I will forever treasure the heart and soul you gave this community. I will miss you. I thank you. I thank you so much. Beebe Freitas, I thank you so! (Susan McCreary Duprey)

I love you, dear Beebe Freitas. Thank you for showing us what the glory of God looks like during your time on this earth. You were so excellent at EVERYTHING! I guess now I’ll just go on and try to make you proud. (Leon Williams)

Beebe was joy. She helped everyone around her feel good and sound better. She was a selfless collaborator and peerless musician. My life is richer for having known her and made music with her. Play on, Beebe! (Greg Dubay)

I wake up to another very sad morning 😢 last week miss Neva Rego passed away and this week the amazing and beautiful Beebe Freitas.Both amazing women in the world of Opera that touched my life for 8yrs while living in Hawaii and so many others! Beebe was the best vocal coach and accompanist a singer could want and I remember, living so far away from the mainland, that id be just fine, cuz all you needed was one! …May you Rest In Peace dearest Beebe! (Jacqueline Quirk)

Sad to find out this morning that the most amazing pianist I’ve ever worked with has passed away. Beebe Freitas was not only a masterful artist but a true light in the world. I’m heartbroken for her family and friends. (Michelle Blake)

I have no words. Beebe Freitas was the loving, generous spirit who’d nurtured countless musicians and singers … (Nanilisa Pascua)

My world has stopped for a moment and my heart grieves for the loss of such a beautiful soul and talented musician. You have impacted many lives. Rest In Peace, Beebe. (Rose Dino)

Beloved musician, encourager, and friend. Beebe Freitas will be missed by many whose lives she impacted. Beebe accompanied all the chapel songs I led when I taught at Punahou whether it was Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th or 7th grades. Especially with the younger ones, she could help with an adjustment and make me look better. I admired her not just as the fantastic musician she was but as a person full of faith and grace. I loved her and cherish her memory. (Pam DeBoard)

Beebe Freitas and Neva Rego…Two amazing women that greatly inspired me and so many others with their gift of music and song …What a huge loss for our Islands and for all those who knew these humble, strong and remarkably talented women ….And yes, I am thinking there is quite a concert going on in heaven as we speak 🎶🙏 Play on, mighty Maestras….You will be sorely missed 💕 (Melina Lillios)

I’ll miss Beebe sooo much! In addition to being the most talented pianist and organist, she was so warm, gracious, loving, and caring. She is a beautiful person, created in the image of God. Thank you for blessing us, Beebe!! ❤ (Gail Wakatake)

Services for Beebe Freitas have been announced for Saturday, March 10, at 10:00 am, First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu. (I am so sorry that I will not be able to join my colleagues in celebrating her life—I will be in Seattle that weekend.)

Aloha, Beebe!

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Absolutely phenomenal!

If ever there was a two-headed person with three hands, that was what we in a sold-out audience saw and heard at tonight’s stunning Hawaii Symphony Orchestra concert with JoAnn Falletta, conductor. It was absolutely phenomenal! That was my reaction to tonight’s concert with Lang Lang and his 15-year-old protégé, Maxim Lindo—their ensemble was so incredibly perfect and dynamics and rhythm perfectly in sync—I’ve never heard two people play with such precision and nuance.

You see, Lang Lang injured his left hand by overpractice and his doctor prescribed complete rest—that was nearly a year ago and the tendinitis has been healing more slowly than expected. Although Lang Lang did use his left hand occasionally, there were so many added notes and harmonics that one could hardly believe that all those notes were played by only two people and three hands! The good news is that Lang Lang plans to resume full use of his left hand by July of this year.

Maxim can certainly look forward to a stellar career—in fact his bio in the program was as long if not longer than Lang Lang’s! Both of his parents are musicians, and he grew up from birth in a music school. He has played the Rachmaninoff 3rd Concerto in St. Petersburg, Russia, and other solo appearances in Moscow, Munich, Beijing, Chicago, Paris, and at Carnegie Hall in New York numerous times. I was thinking that this young man must be having the time of his life, touring with Lang Lang—and he’s only 15 years old!

Lang Lang and Maxim Lindo

On the scheduled program was Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on the first half, then the two pianists played “Aquarium” from The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns, “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker by Peter Tchaikovsky, then “America,” from West Side Story of Leonard Bernstein.

One funny thing happened during the Nutcracker performance—the music had been photocopied and taped together in long sheets. At one point the music started falling forward only to be saved by the quick bow of concertmaster Iggy Jang, preventing it from falling onto the keyboard in just the nick of time!

The concert closed with an absolutely brilliant and exciting rendition of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and I was left completely breathless. The audience immediately leaped to its feet and we were treated to an encore, Chopin’s “Minute Waltz.”

Paul Barrett, principal bassoon

Two things about tonight’s concert program made this a truly memorable event: The first was a heartfelt and emotional performance of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod in memory of long-time bassoonist Paul Barrett who died of pancreatic cancer on February 1. Read his bio here. Oboe principal Scott Janusch said Paul had played in this orchestra for 40 years and will be remembered for his fine musicianship, teaching, and for his sense of humor and grace during his illness. His wife, violinist Judy Barrett, who played in our Bach Chamber Orchestra for 20 years, sat in her usual chair behind the concertmaster. I was thinking she would have taken a break from the orchestra during this mourning period—imagine how difficult it must have been to get through this music—in fact I saw several of the players wiping away tears. As requested, no applause followed Nimrod—we were told to think of Paul.

However, I also thought about pianist Beebe Freitas, whose death was announced just yesterday. As one of Hawaii’s living treasures, Beebe was a giant in this musical community. I will write a complete post about her later.

The other unusual thing about this concert was that there was a lion dance at the end of intermission, in celebration of Chinese New Year and Lang Lang’s appearance in Hawaii. What fun!

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A total triumph!

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Aloha, Auntie Neva

You may remember my telling you about my husband Carl’s unique voice, in which I wrote:

The child was in great demand as a boy soprano, having a voice “as clear as a bell.” He found himself singing solos not only at church, but at ball games and for Elks and Lions Clubs. Cousin Marie Seastrom often accompanied him on the piano. However, when Carl’s voice changed, he simply stopped singing and focused on his keyboard skills instead. It wasn’t until he moved to Hawaii and landed at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, that he had to sing again. He used to tell me that it was difficult for him at first — he was so used to playing intervals on the piano, that when it came time to sing he was sometimes off the mark when singing in his natural baritone voice. He was a fairly good sightreader when it came to piano music, but making his throat sing the intervals was a whole new ballgame…

Betty Grierson and Neva Rego

It was in the early 80s, that Carl went to voice teacher, Neva Rego, for several years of lessons. She had just returned from a long sojourn in Italy. She had never trained a countertenor before, but decided she would treat it like any other voice.

That was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship, which included many dinners together and Carl even doing Neva’s yearly taxes, and that of her housemate and business partner, Betty Grierson, which Carl did until the very last.

In 2008, local television personality Leslie Wilcox taped an interview with Neva for her program, Long Story Short, in which Neva described her childhood passion about beautiful singing, begun when she was just seven years old.

Well, I wanted to something in music. I wanted singing; I loved it. And you know, here’s this little kid from Kaimuki, wanting singing. And you know, I don’t know why, but I felt it. As I recall, when I was seven years old, I heard this beautiful aria on the radio with this Italian singer. And I remember telling my mother that was the most beautiful thing I ever heard in my whole life. All of seven years, yes? And Mother said, You really loved it? I said, Oh, I love it, I just love it. Well, that did it. Mother went down to House of Music, at that time in Waikiki, and she kept buying all these records of Italian singers. And well, that whetted my appetite for opera.

After 26 years in Italy, Neva came home to Hawaii to take care of her ill father. She started the Bel Canto School of Singing in her Kaimuki home, where she became known as Hawaii’s voice coach to the stars: Robert Cazimero, Tony Conjugacion, Jimmy Borges, Jasmine Trias and Jordan Segundo, and a waiting list with more than a hundred names.

Neva Rego, 2008

She ended the interview with this:

My name is not really Neva; it’s Aggreneva. And everybody gets all twisted ‘cause they don’t know who she is. But my mother named me after a Russian opera singer, and her name was Aggreneva Schlovanskaya. I’m kinda happy Mother stopped after Aggreneva. Mother never told me that I had this name. I knew it was a kooky name; at school, they called me Aggrevacious. You know how school kids are. Anyway, all of a sudden, I said to Mother that I was in love with music and I wanted to do music. So Mother said, Well, you know, I think I’ll tell you about your name. And she told me about Aggreneva Schlovanska, who had come here years ago with some Russian group. And they sang at Hawaii Theatre. Isn’t that interesting?

And your mother obviously had a love for opera.

Yeah. But I was the one that was gonna make it my life.

You can listen to the audio or read a transcript of the entire interview here.

And this week, we got the sad news that our dear Neva Rego has joined the choirs of angels on Wednesday, Valentine’s Day and also Ash Wednesday (Carl Crosier’s mother also died on Ash Wednesday—it makes it all the more poignant.) You can read the announcement here. Here are some of the comments which have been posted to Facebook:

… how do I say thank you enough… I am the singer I am because of yours and Betty’s love, support, guidance… I will always be grateful. Rest in Love and Peace…(Malia Kaai-Barrett)

What a loss! She was such an important part of the vocal community and mentored so many. (Phyllis Haines)

I’m so saddened by this news. May she rest in love & peace. (Karli Tario)

She has left an incredible legacy! (Ryan Souza)

She was brilliant and a wonderful inspiration to everyone. Absolutely the best voice teacher I ever had! I am so sad to hear that she is gone from this world. Surely, she will soon be teaching the angels in heaven to sing Bel Canto! (Mary Strong Spaid)

Wow, this is so sad. Neva was a gem. I took lessons with her for a bit. I loved her studio and all her memories on the walls. I was so happy when she recovered earlier, but now I guess was the appointed time. Aloha Neva! (Beth Barry)

I learned so much from her… I wish I had been able to study with her longer. She was and is truly a musical gem. 😔 (Taylor Ishida)

I think of her often and how she inspired me to work hard and fight for my goals. Rest in peace, Neva, and thank you. (Jennifer Wadley)

Oh, this is so sad. Neva was an incredible and generous and kind force of nature. (Timothy Carney)

I cannot even imagine how many voices and hearts she shaped during her time on earth. My deepest condolences to Auntie Betty and to all those that loved Mama Neva Rego. There are some folks that are so larger than life that you cannot imagine their presence no longer being here. There will never be another Neva! (Anita Hall)

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Lang Lang in Honolulu!

I, along with 2,157 other lucky people, will be able to hear world-famous Chinese pianist, Lang Lang, live in Honolulu on Sunday, February 18, 2018 at 4:00 pm. I know exactly how many people will be there because there are exactly 2,158 seats at Blaisdell Concert Hall, and the concert is SOLD OUT! For this I’m happy and relieved—finally Honolulu has recognized that one of the world’s most recognized and popular classical musicians is worth hearing—although it will not exactly be the same as “hearing Lang Lang,” as you will read below. I would be absolutely mortified and embarrassed if there were acres of empty seats, as is usually the case with Hawaii Symphony concerts. (sigh!)

You see, Lang Lang injured his left arm a few months ago and the doctor told him he risked permanent injury unless he gave it a rest. Rather than cancel his busy concert schedule, he came up with a solution.

Teenage pianist, Maxim Lando

At the last concert, Hawaii Symphony Orchestra President, Michael Titterton, explained that one of Lang Lang’s students, 15-year-old Maxim Lando, will play the left hand part to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with Lang Lang playing with his right hand. I found a video on YouTube showing the two doing exactly this. Lando is an alumnus of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, founded in 2008. He made his Carnegie Hall debut at the age of six and has played in the historic venue more than 15 times.

Years ago, I read Lang Lang’s autobiography (Lang Lang: Playing with Flying Keys) and rather than be horrified about his grueling practice schedule at age seven, I bought several copies of his book and shared them with the parents of my organ students. Here was his schedule:

5:45 am. Get up and practice piano for an hour
7:00 am. Go to school
12:00 pm. Come home for a 15 minute lunch, then practice for 45 minutes
After School: Two hours of piano practice
After Dinner: Two hours of practice, then homework

There was no question that Lang Lang’s overbearing father set the tone for the competitive atmosphere in which he grew up. I frankly could not get one scene out of my head, which happened when Lang Lang was 9 years old and dismissed by his teacher, declaring he lacked talent. Lang Lang had begun to accompany the school choir and one day the rehearsal ran late, so that Lang Lang missed his after school piano practice. His father was in a rage: “You’ve missed nearly two hours of practicing, and you can never get those two hours back … Everything is ruined!”

Despite Lang Lang’s protests, his father continued: “You’re a liar and you’re lazy! You’re horrible. And you have no reason to live. None at all!”

It finally came to this: “Dying!” he said. “You should die! Everything is lost! He even shoved a bottle of antibiotic pills at him, and screamed that he should swallow 30 of them right now in order to die. “Count yourself lucky that you don’t have to live in shame!”

Pianist Lang Lang

Lang Lang responded by hammering the wall with his fists, “like a boxer attacking a punching bag.” He told himself to “pulverize the wall until every bone in his hands was broken.”

To tell you the truth, I gave Lang Lang’s book to my students’ parents, definitely not to have them emulate his father’s example, but to let them know that practicing is serious and needs to be more than “5 minutes per week,” which is what I suspect some of my students do.

As for myself, there were only a few times in my life when practicing consumed me—that was in 1968 when I was in Paris studying with Marcel Dupré, and the other times were when I was preparing all-Bach recitals, which took months of preparation.

I confess that I was not a very good student when I was taking lessons in junior high and high school. If I got an hour a week, that was doing pretty well. You may remember that I basically sightread all my piano and organ lessons throughout high school and my teachers were none the wiser, at least they didn’t say that they were aware that I was sightreading.

Wow, what kind of organist would I have become if I had really practiced while growing up?

Anyway, I am really looking forward to hearing Lang Lang live, even if it is only his right hand. Read the Honolulu Star Advertiser classical music writer Steven Mark’s interview here.


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Tenor High Cs

Audrey Luna and Michele Angelini in HOT’s Daughter of the Regiment (Photo credit: HOT)

Last Sunday, I went to the Hawaii Opera Theatre’s production of Donizetti’s “Daughters of the Regiment,” and what I absolutely loved was the famous tenor aria, “Ah! Mes amis, quel jour de fête!” which features NINE high Cs. The whole opera was characterized by Honolulu Star Advertiser reviewer Ruth O. Bingham as “lighthearted entertainment featuring spectacular vocal displays held together by a slender plot, … the opportunity to hear vocal pyrotechnics.”

Promoters billed Audrey Luna, soprano, who sang the role of “Maria,” as making headlines last November by “singing the highest note ever sung at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.” She appeared in nearly every scene, “lighthearted, carefree and unconstrained by vocal norms,” according to Bingham.

Michele Angelini (Photo: Rebecca Fay)

But the voice which absolutely wowed me was Michele Angelini, who despite his Italian name, is an American tenor. You see, to hear a tenor sing a high C (one octave above middle C), on pitch and without going into falsetto, is considered the very top of a tenor’s range. Even in the opera’s debut in 1840, the opera was “a barely averted disaster,” because the lead tenor, Mécène Marié de l’Isle, was frequently off-pitch. Ooh, I can’t imagine anything more painful than a tenor out of tune singing all those high notes!

Not so with Michele Angelini, who was “right on the money” with every C, absolutely effortless and beautiful, right on pitch. I tried to find a video with Angelini singing this, but alas, couldn’t find one.

There is a whole blog post devoted to this aria in OperaWire, which showcases four tenors singing this role: Alfredo Kraus, Juan Diego Florez, Lawrence Brownlee and Luciano Pavarotti. Apparently, Pavarotti’s whole career started with the singing of these 9 high Cs, when he sang at the Royal Opera House in 1966 and gained the title “King of the High Cs.”

I was trying to think of the equivalent feat in the organ world, and I can think of a number of difficult, almost impossible passages in pieces like Mozart’s “Fantasy in F minor, K. 608,” or perhaps Jehan Alain, “Trois Danses,” or Franz Liszt’s “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam,” which stretch the performer to the outer limits.

Even though it’s now been a week since my last post in this blog, I’ve been on a virtual treadmill trying to get things ready for my Vivace! night with the Oahu Choral Society, scheduled for Saturday, March 3rd. You can find out how to buy tickets and more information on the OCS website. I compiled a guest list for sending invitations in addition to writing my “acceptance speech.” Thank you, members of the Academy, oops, I mean, the Oahu Choral Society … 

For the slideshow I had to look through dozens of photo albums plus 39,000 digital photos on my computer to come up with pictures which showed me at various stages of my career. My sister Margo even looked through old family photo albums to find pictures of me at the piano and organ as we were growing up. I was surprised to find pictures that I had never seen before now (!) like the one taken at my senior organ recital in 1972:

Photo taken at my senior recital, 1972. My sister was my page-turner.

I have walked the length of Ala Moana Shopping Center so many times now in an effort to buy my dress, shoes, and accessories—this task is now DONE! I also made an appointment to have my hair and makeup done on that day.

My son, daughter-in-law, grandson, and the other grandma will be coming to Hawaii for just three days to attend the event, and I was happy to find a local company which rents cribs, strollers, and all sorts of baby equipment for tourists and other people like me—grandmas who have babies coming to visit.

In addition to getting ready for Vivace! I have been subbing at the United Church of Christ Judd Street, learning all kinds of praise music, plus have produced a newsletter for my condo building and taught organ lessons. I’ve also spent hours helping Roy Helms, a tenor in the Lutheran Church of Honolulu choir, with the website for his company, Contemporary Crafts Market.

And the real kicker is that I’ll be playing in a concert with the University of Hawaii the very night before! Jeremy Wong, the interim director of the UH Choirs during Miguel Felipe’s sabbatical, asked me about playing a concert of Spanish and Italian baroque music a long time ago last summer, when I knew nothing about Vivace! It’s an entire concert with me playing from scores containing nothing but figured bass (a musical shorthand)—which always takes a lot of preparation on my part.

Why do I always do this to myself?! (Groan!)



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Sneak peek!

My new shoes for March 3rd.

Hey, want to have a sneak peek at what I’m going to be wearing on Saturday, March 3rd? Some of you may have seen my Facebook page about Ala Moana Shopping Center, where I’ve been going a lot lately. Business Insider has recently named Ala Moana the most valuable mall in America, with nearly $6 billion in total assets, with over 350 stores, all the way from Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales to Ross’s and Target.

And — the reason I’m going to be wearing my Sunday best (even though it’s a Saturday!) is because I have been named the 2018 Dale Noble award recipient by the Oahu Choral Society (!) Here is a portion of the letter which was emailed to me:

Mele Aku, Vivace! will take place March 3, 2018 from 5-9:30 pm at the iconic Bishop Museum. Every year we take one night in the spring to celebrate the members and supporters of the Oahu Choral Society and the greater fine arts community. The Dale Noble Award has been an honor we have reserved for those outstanding musicians that exemplify OCS’s mission; to contribute to the rich tradition of choral singing, bringing the finest choral music to Hawaii. Over the years, Kathy, you have promoted choral singing in Hawaii not only by your contributions as a talented organist but
also with the passion you share for music on your blog. In today’s changing media climate you have created a true “buzz” for the musical community, not an easy task! You are a true champion for the arts!

When Malina Maneevone, the chair for the Vivace! event, called me on the telephone to give me the news a couple of weeks ago, I told her: You have got to be kidding! I’m someone who stays in the background—I do stuff like type programs and send out publicity releases. I’m just stunned that you chose me!

And … I’m not a choir director waving at people to try to get them to sing! I just sit at the organ (or piano) and give out pitches for other people to sing.

Furthermore, as you may recall, it was just six years ago (2012) that Carl Crosier was named to this prestigious honor. I was going to protest, “Isn’t there some sort of law about not giving the award to two members of the same family?!” I’ll save you the trouble of looking for the 2012 Vivace! photos because here are just a couple:

Carl and Kathy Crosier.

Carl and Kathy Crosier at the Vivace! fundraiser, 2012

Vivace! honoring Carl Crosier

Vivace! honoring Carl Crosier

Being that this year’s dinner will be at the Bishop Museum, the event will have a different look and feel. There will be music from the Oahu Choral Society Chamber Singers, the Honolulu Barefoot Boys, an exciting Silent Auction including an excursion on Maui including a 2-night stay at the Grand Wailea, tickets to premiere events, private art tours, concerts, restaurants, Maui Divers exclusive jewelry line and a night at Oahu’s The Modern Hotel.

Psst—There will also be a slideshow of yours truly, including some of my baby pictures!

Here’s the invitation:

This year’s Vivace invitation.

Tickets are available on the Oahu Choral Society website. I would be so honored if you would join us that night. It will be a great night of music and speeches—aw shucks!


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Yuri McCoy, concert organist

Yuri McCoy will give an organ recital on February 25 in Honolulu.

It’s time again for the Annual Organ Concert of the Hawaii Chapter American Guild of Organists and this year’s artist is Yuri McCoy, no stranger to Hawaii. Yuri’s concert will be Sunday, February 25, 2018 at 2:00 pm at Central Union Church, 1660 South Beretania Street.

Yuri originally came to Honolulu to earn a graduate degree in piano performance and served as organ scholar of St. Andrewʻs Cathedral under Canon Director of Music John Renke. This concert marks his return to Hawaiʻi now as a rising star in organ performance. Currently a doctoral student at the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University in Houston, he is studying with organist Ken Cowan, who himself gave a memorable concert here at St. Andrew’s Cathedral a few years ago.

Moving from piano to organ Yuri has a vast repertoire of music for both instruments and specializes in music of the 20th and 21st centuries, especially the rarely heard masterworks. Do you remember the time he played Schoenberg’s “Variations on a Recitative,” not once, but TWICE in a row, with a short lecture on Schoenberg in between by Paul Hesselink?

Yuri was one of ten young competitors at the prestigious Longwood Gardens International Competition, June 18-22, 2013. There was a very nice “human interest” video of Yuri made at the time which I bet you’d enjoy watching—there is a short clip of his wedding at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in which Yuri himself played the processional! He says it went smoothly—and all he had to do was change out of his organ shoes! (Yes, I was there!)

Now Yuri is a father of a daughter. You can see by the photo below that she’s starting young!

Yuri McCoy’s daughter.

He was featured recently on public radio’s With Heart and Voice on the January 7, 2018 program of sacred choral and organ music for Epiphany. Yuri is heard about 29 minutes into the program.


Yuri’s concert here will include some standard works of Bach, Buxtehude, Liszt and Vierne as well as lesser-known composers such as Karg-Elert, Elmore, Bonnet, Whitlock, and Dan Miller.

The concert is free, and donations are welcomed. More information can be obtained by calling 808-721-3468.

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I survived an amazing weekend!

With Joan Ishibashi

I’ve had a houseguest for a week—my good friend Joan Ishibashi, a United Church of Christ pastor, massage therapist, former Hawaii resident for 15 years, and all-around BFF (best friends forever!) Nearly five years ago my husband Carl, son Stephen and I were in Los Angeles, attending Joan’s wedding to Kantila Vaghela, where I wrote this:

Those of you who know Joan, however, will understand why it is that 44 people from all over the globe (London, Japan, Brazil, Ohio, Colorado, California and Hawaii) were here to celebrate with her—she becomes a good friend to almost everyone she meets on her life’s adventures. 

You can read about Joan’s Hawaii connections by clicking here. Last summer I was in London where Joan moved nearly five years ago and we spent four fun days together, exploring churches, organs and museums.

My Friday night dinner guests

The table is set.

On Friday night, I hosted a dinner for Joan and five other dear friends: Fritz Fritschel and Carol Langner, Chuck Pearson and his wife Josie Bidgood and Mary Reese. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a dinner party, but I’m learning from my mistakes!

Pupus included oven-baked zucchini chips, tomato and mozzarella appetizers, French bread with brie, and miniature garlic shrimp. The salad course was baby spinach with raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, gorgonzola and honey pecans. The dinner was honey lime glazed salmon, rice pilaf, broccolini and baked parmesan herb tomato. A key lime pie for dessert was brought by Mary Reese— YUM!


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What a difference it made having Joan to not only help with the food preparation but in the cleanup, too!

Saturday morning I taught an organ lesson, and then we attended a delightful recital by the students of Darel and Georgine Stark, and Sachi Hirakouji. The Stark kids (Sophia and Raphael) played both piano and organ (yes, they are my organ students!) but what absolutely melted our hearts was their gorgeous duet rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Pie Jesu,” sung with perfect intonation and phrasing. Raphael will be singing the solo in Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” with the Hawaii Symphony and the Oahu Choral Society on Thursday, April 5 at 7:30 pm at the Blaisdell Center—you can be sure I will be there!


Then it was back to the condo for a quick dinner before going to the concert hall to hear an amazing violinist, Robert McDuffie, play Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade after Plato’s Symposium, under the baton of Keith Lockhart. McDuffie had studied the work with Bernstein himself thirty years ago and what I was so amazed at was his tremendous physical energy and the fact that he never looked at his violin, neither the fingerboard nor the bridge. I was at first disappointed that the symphony did not program more well-known repertoire such as Bernstein’s Candide or West Side Story, but McDuffie’s virtuosic performance more than made up for the unfamiliarity. Come to think of it, the entire orchestra met the challenge of this difficult work, especially the strings.

Joan’s photo of the Hawaii Symphony concert. I sat in the third row with Nyle and Kathy Hallman!

I was surprised to read in the program that the concert hall will be undergoing renovations and an upgrade and that the HSO will be displaced from its home since 1964 for at least a year or more until construction is finished.

Sunday morning I played the organ and piano at the United Church of Christ Church on Judd Street, where I will be substituting as organist/pianist all through the month of February, Palm Sunday and Easter Day (unless they find someone else!) I am glad to say that I survived playing praise music—actually it was just reading a bunch of chord symbols not unlike playing figured bass. Even though he said he wasn’t a guitarist (and I told him I wasn’t a pianist!) Matthew Leong, the guitar player, was easy to follow and play along with. They kept saying over and over that I was Sachi’s teacher! (Sachi Hirakouji had been subbing for UCC Judd Street for the last few weeks.) After the service, many people commented that it was nice to hear the organ and that I brought out the best in that instrument.

With Professor Byong-Suk Moon, organist

And then Sunday night at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu! What an amazing, exciting, stunning organ recital by Byong-Suk Moon! His program opened with Bach’s “Organ Concerto in D minor,” followed by his own transcription of Mozart’s “Variations on ‘Ah, vous dirai-je maman,” K. 265. I looked at his score after the concert and he played from the piano version at breakneck tempos, with not a note out of place! Then another of my favorites, Rheinberger’s “Introduction and Passacaglia, op. 132,” then Karg-Elert’s Organ Improvisation on ‘Nearer my God, to thee,’ and finally ending with Guilmant’s “Final from the Organ Sonata No. 1 in D minor.”

Prof. Moon with Jieun Kim Newland

It was an absolutely brilliant program, brilliantly and stylistically played, one of the most satisfying recitals I’ve gone to. Even my friend Samuel Lam said that it was the best organ recital he had ever heard, in either Hawaii or the mainland! Quite a compliment, coming from Sam!

I was greatly heartened to see a healthy size audience, which is always a challenge in Hawaii—getting people to come hear a performer they’ve never heard of before.

Prof. Moon cleaning up the kitchen!

And then, the most amazing part of the evening—after the concert we went to the home of the Rev. Brian Grieves and Young-Jin Kim, (Moon’s hosts who had requested my assistance in promoting the concert) where Professor Moon not only cooked a complete meal for about a dozen of us, but also cleaned up the kitchen! Here he was supposed to be the guest of honor, and he was the cook and dishwasher, besides! I knew a few of the party guests, including Father David Kennedy (who hired me at the Priory 40 years ago!) and Karen Leatherman (organist of Epiphany Episcopal Church and my organ student). but I had the great pleasure of meeting for the first time, The Rev. Irene Tanabe, rector of Epiphany Episcopal and one-time Curate of St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle! She and I knew so many people in common, including Jason Anderson, the second Compline Choir Director, and Mel Butler, who was Peter Hallock’s successor.

What a small world!

With The Rev. Irene Tanabe




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Living in a bubble

I definitely live in a bubble!

I definitely live in a bubble!

Back in August 2015, I wrote a post called “Musical Olympian” in which I wrote about living in a bubble: Some time ago, I took a PBS Newshour quiz called, “Do you live in a bubble?” Charles Murray, a political scientist theorizes in his book, Coming Apart, that certain Americans have little exposure to American culture at large. They therefore live in a social and culture bubble. If you’d like to take the test, you can click here.

Some of the questions that were asked were,  “In high school, did you letter in anything? and “During the last five years, have you or your spouse gone fishing?” Most of my answers were ‘no.’ I would have to say that in our household, sports were a big zero — we did not watch football, basketball or baseball on television, even big events like the Super Bowl or the World Series. If you ask me, from year to year, as to what teams are playing in the Super Bowl, I couldn’t tell you.

Well, now I have further proof of living in a bubble: I have never experienced or listened to “praise music”: defined as contemporary Christian worship music. According to Wikipedia, Contemporary worship music (CWM), also known as praise and worship music, is a defined genre of Christian music used in contemporary worship. It has developed over the past sixty years and is stylistically similar to pop music. The songs are frequently referred to as “praise songs” or “worship songs” and are typically led by a “worship band” or “praise team”, with either a guitarist or pianist leading.

All that is now going to change, as I substitute for the next five weeks for the United Church of Christ Judd Street. In addition to traditional Christian hymnody, I will be playing three “praise hymns.” It will be a new experience for sure—and as I listened to the first of the songs on YouTube, I am definitely feeling out of my comfort zone! Yes, I can face down any Bach you could throw at me, but give me a praise hymn, and I’m completely flummoxed!

After Sunday, I’ll let you know how it goes!

In the meantime, tomorrow I’ll be meeting Byong-Suk Moon, the visiting Korean organist who will be playing a concert on Sunday afternoon, January 28 at 5:00 pm at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. The word is out that he speaks fluent German but little English, so we will see how that goes. I will show him where to find the organ key, how to turn on the lights and air conditioning, etc.

This week I’ve had a houseguest, Joan Ishibashi, who is a United Church of Christ pastor and former Executive Assistant of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. You may remember I visited her in London last summer where she moved four years ago.

This weekend in addition to attending the organ recital by Prof. Moon, we will also attend a recital by students of Darel and Georgine Stark, including my two organ students, Sophia and Raphael who will be playing the organ.

We will also go to the 100th birthday concert of Leonard Bernstein by the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night.

Honey lime glazed salmon

Oh, and tomorrow night I’m giving a dinner party for 7 people—friends of Joan’s (and mine!) from her LCH days. I just now compiled the menu: tomato and mozzarella appetizers, oven baked zucchini chips, cocktail shrimp, spinach salad with blueberries and pecans, honey lime glazed salmon, rice pilaf, baked stuffed Parmesan tomatoes and broccolini.

Just another crazy weekend!


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A Tongan funeral

The organ at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church where I played for the Tongan funeral.

The call from the church administrator came about 6 pm on Thursday night. As soon as the caller ID showed up, I knew I was going to be asked to play the organ: Kathy, I know it’s late, but can you play for a Tongan funeral tomorrow at 1 pm? 

In case you don’t know, Tonga is an archipelago of 170 islands located in the South Pacific. Even though Polynesians had inhabited the islands for 3000 years, Tonga was “discovered” by European explorers in the 18th century—just as the English explorer Captain James Cook became the first European to “discover” the Hawaiian Islands in 1778. Capt. Cook first stopped by Tonga in 1773.

Austin Organ console

Methodist missionaries started coming in 1822, and introduced hymn-singing to the Tongans. These 19th-century hymns continue to be sung today, with Tongan lyrics. I was not surprised when the family chose Blessed Assurance, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and Amazing Grace for the three congregational hymns. So I decided to play gospel hymns for the prelude and communion: How great thou art and Savior like a shepherd lead us by American composer Dale Wood.

Time was short, though, because even though I’ve played services at this church before, I had no assurances that I could remember on what memory level I had saved my registration combinations. The only time I would be able to practice and set up the organ was between 8:30 and 9:30 am—I already had a scheduled rehearsal somewhere else at 9:30 am, and from 10:00 to 1:00 the church would be holding a wake. 

The Tongan wake consists of hymn singing interspersed with people getting up and talking about the deceased. This funeral was no exception, and when I finally arrived back at the church about 12:30 pm, the hymn singing was very much as heard in the following video. All of it was unaccompanied and sung in parts, with some sections sung by all, and others sung only by men or women.

Everyone, and I mean even the young children, wore black clothing. (It was a good thing that I also wore black, so I fit right in!) That is an influence, apparently, by Christian missionaries who came to Tonga. According to Wikipedia: The period of mourning, and thus the obligation to wear black, differs depending on how closely related a mourner is to the deceased. For an acquaintance it may be a few days; for a distant relation it may be a few weeks whilst for close relatives the mourning period may last for up to a year. 

Everyone, men, women and children, were also wearing waist mats, called taʻovala. Obviously I didn’t take photos of the people at Friday’s funeral, but you can see the taʻovala from King George Tupou V’s funeral procession (2012).

The King of Tonga’s funeral procession. (Photo credit: Torsten Blackwood)

A tradition at Tongan funerals is also the phenomenon of wailing, loud crying. Here’s what I found about wailing at a Tongan funeral: According to Lee (1996), she states that wailing at a Tongan funeral is normal emotional expression that many Tongan women will do, and that after a funeral, many people will joke about death or the deceased in a friendly manner. Wailing at a Tongan funeral is customary if you are Tongan. When someone wails at a funeral, they are usually crying and talking out loud about the deceased. The mourner can wail about a variety of things from how much the deceased will be missed, or wail about the deceased dying because the person ate too much. (From “Traditional Tongan Funerals“)

At first I was surprised to hear this, but finally when it was time to start the funeral (on the dot of 1:00 pm), there was a little break in the wailing, and I jumped right in and started my prelude. The priest came over and thanked me! The service itself was the traditional one from the Book of Common Prayer including a Eucharist, so there were no surprises there.

For my postlude, I played David Johnson’s O Love How Deep on the tune DEO GRACIAS, and was I ever surprised to hear that former student Joey Fala also played it for today’s Evensong at Duke University Chapel!

I cued the video to start right at the postlude. [N.B. If you receive notice of my blog postings by email, you will have to go to the actual blog to hear the video. Sorry, I don’t know why my email subscribers are unable to see the video links I post in my blog!]

I guess great minds think alike!

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