Last night belonged to Don Conover, retired Minister of Music and organist of the Church of the Crossroads. It was the first ever fundraiser for the Honolulu Chorale, a volunteer community chorus which has been in existence for forty-nine years and which has never charged admission to its concerts. Jeremy Wong, the interim choral director at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, is the Chorale’s new director. You see, Don conducted the choir for three years after the long 19 year tenure of Joe McAlister, who died last year. And so Don became the first recipient of the Joseph McAlister award for outstanding service. A number of people were invited to speak about their years with Don, including yours truly.
But wouldn’t you know it—I had typed out my speech in advance, and at the last moment, decided to enlarge the point size to make it more readable with my old eyes. What I didn’t realize until I got to the Honolulu Country Club was that my speech spilled onto two pages, and I had left the second page in the printer at home! Panic set in while I hurriedly tried to reconstruct what was on the second page. Luckily only one paragraph was missing and I had brought a pen!
So here’s what I said: I first met Don when he was a graduate assistant at the University of Hawaii Music Department in 1974, so we go way way back.
When a person turns 50, you can do all kinds of things. You could do something wild and crazy, and maybe just a little dangerous — like go skydiving and jump out of an airplane. Or maybe that’s a little too exciting for you, and you decide you’d rather have a naked girl jump out of a giant birthday cake. Or throw all caution to the winds and YOU jump out in your birthday suit!
Well, twenty-three years ago, our friend Don Conover did not do any of that — instead he had a brilliant and unselfish idea — to take money that was given to him for his 50th birthday and to give it to others. It was at that same time that the Times of London noticed that fewer and fewer people were learning how to play the organ (Maybe you didn’t even notice that organists are going the way of the dinosaur and becoming extinct!) In the UK, only one in 5 organists was under the age of 40, and here in Hawaii, not one of the members of the local American Guild of Organists was under the age of 30.
That was the beginning of the Don Conover Scholarship award of the Hawaii Chapter American Guild of Organists — designed to help alleviate the organist shortage. The program encourages people to learn how to play the organ by paying for half of their lessons. Since then, the Hawaii Chapter’s scholarship program has been one of the most successful and generous in the country. Over 60 students in Hawaii have learned how to play the King of Instruments and many have become professional church organists. One is now even pursuing a concert career as an organist. I have been privileged to teach 39 of the more than 60 students receiving awards from Don’s fund.
So thank you, Don, for your vision and generosity.
I handed off the microphone to baritone Buz Tennent who, before he sang two songs, reminisced about the days at Le Bon Restaurant where Don Conover was the pianist, and all the wait staff were singers (many of them in church choirs) and Buz himself was the bartender. Ah, those were the days–I remember taking my parents to that restaurant several times and some of the LCH choir members worked there and sang ’round our table. Check out columnist Wayne Harada’s remembrances of Le Bon here.
The highlight of the evening, though, was when Don’s partner, Ernest Harada, took the stage and sang a parody of Memory by Andrew Lloyd Webber (words by Pam Peterson), spoofing “Senior Moments” and other lapses of memory.
Midnight – I wake up and remember
That I left the door open with the groceries outside.
Where the hell did I put my keys? Oh, look here they are
Underneath the TV Guide.
Mem’ry, what became of the short term
I remember the old days, I was sharper back then
If I eat fish and do the crosswords every day
Will the brain cells grow again?
I could swear I put those tickets right here in my wallet,
Now I’m late; I thought the show starts at eight;
I wrote that in my whatchamacallit.
Damn! What did I walk in this room for?
Maybe when I was younger, I took too many ’ludes.
Where’s that ginko biloba that I picked up today?
Oh, I left it at Whole Foods.
What the heck is that guy’s name?
He sings with me in choir.
Did I turn both of the burners off?
Or is my house on fire?
Shoot me, put me out of my misery
Or just leave me to wander the mall parking Lot.
If they ask, tell them I once had a memory too.
What was the question? I forgot.
(To be honest, I think Ernest sang the song with a lot more drama and humor!)
Ernest told me that of all his accomplishments, Don was most proud of the AGO Scholarship program and the Church of the Crossroads music scholarship program, the latter of which has raised nearly $100,000 for voice lessons for students who sing with the church choir.
Congratulations, Don, on your award!