Last night was the Honolulu Chorale’s “Jubilate! A Celebration of Choral Music and Musicianship,” and I was reminded of the Hawaiian phrase, Ke Akua Ho’omaika’i Oe (God bless you). The dinner for John Renke was as much of a celebration of John’s ten years in Hawaii as well as a chance to say ‘goodbye.’ I was one of two speakers, along with Esther Yoo of the Oahu Choral Society—John said that we would be welcome to speak at his funeral as well!
I started off with a little anecdote about how John got started in music. Imagine this conversation between a piano teacher and a student’s mother:
“I’m not teaching John anymore. He absolutely HATES the piano and it’s a waste of my time!”
Yes, this conversation really took place between John’s first piano teacher and his mother. John did quit the piano but took it up again about a year later with a new teacher. And quite frankly, we wouldn’t be here tonight if he had quit for good!”
I spoke to John’s past, his years at Grace Cathedral (1973-1988), about his close friendship with my husband, Carl, and his unwavering and faithful support during Carl’s last days and hours.
Esther Yoo expressed what many of us had experienced: I remember that first day I met John, it was the fall of 2007. It was only for a few seconds because he was rushing off to something that day, probably a rehearsal, but what I remember is his sparkling energy, an effervescent spirit, warm and friendly. Of course, you can’t forget that boyishly handsome grin that comes with all his mannerisms. . . John is a dear friend to me. He is kind, gentle, humorous, always with many words of encouragement and excellent advice when you ask. After many lunches and meetings with John, I have come to realize that he lives and breathes because of music, he LOVES MUSIC, and wants everyone to hear and experience it as he does. John’s heart is like the music he plays, its emotions are high and low, deep and wide, embraces the good and the not-so-good, and its soul is sweet and gentle. . . The past ten years, we all have witnessed that John is a seasoned collaborator, and one who is deeply rooted in the community that he serves. . . He has collaborated and served tirelessly with every organization on the islands. He has been a leading advocate for musicians in our community, generously offering his time and talent. Honolulu has been very fortunate to have John in our ohana (family). His motive has always been to bring people together to hear and celebrate the beauty of the choral art. He desires us all musicians and/or organizations to thrive so that we can offer the best to Honolulu.
John was presented with the Joe McAlister award for his fine musicianship and dedicated contribution to Hawaii’s community. He said that when he was approached about this award many months ago, he had no idea that he would be three days away from moving back to the mainland.
At the end everyone stood and sang “Ho’o maika’i ika Makua,” which closed every Evensong at St. Andrew’s Cathedral and “Hawai’i Aloha.”
Here’s a performance by the Rose Ensemble (of Minnesota) of this beloved hymn of Hawai’i. It was recorded at the European Grand Prix Association For Choral Singing, 44th Tolosa Choral Contest 2012, Basque Country, Spain. But as Esther closed her speech, she spoke for all of us: I think that because John has rooted himself so deeply in our community the past ten years, it is now incredibly difficult to see him go. But (we) wish your next chapter to include those epic musical experiences and you will continue to flourish and bring excellence to your art. We thank you, John, for your support and generosity that you have shown to all of us. We will miss you.