Absolutely magnificent!

Woolsey Hall

Tonight was former student Joey Fala’s final graduate recital at Woolsey Hall, Yale University, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Music degree. Being here has been the greatest thrill of my life, as it must have been Joey’s greatest thrill of playing on this magnificent organ.

First, about the organ: The Newberry Memorial Organ in Woolsey Hall was built in 1903 by the Hutchins-Votey Organ Company, improved mechanically and almost doubled in size in 1915 by the J. W. Steere & Son Organ Company, and rebuilt and enlarged in 1928 by the Skinner Organ Company of Boston. University Organist Harry Benjamin Jepson (1871-1952) was responsible for the design of the instrument, executed by Ernest M. Skinner and G. Donald Harrison of the Skinner firm. Consisting of 12,641 pipes arranged in 197 ranks and 167 speaking stops, it is one of the largest and most outstanding instruments of its period. Most importantly, it has been kept tonally and technologically intact since its 1928-29 reconstruction. In other words, it is the Rolls-Royce of organs and it absolutely envelopes the listener in a wash of tonal color and sound.

Here’s the program:

The program called him Joseph, but he will always be our Joey.

Edward Elgar, Pomp and Circumstance, March No. 4 in G Major, op. 39

Maurice Duruflé, Prelude et fugue sur le nom d’Alain, op. 7

César Franck, Fantaise en La majeure

Thierry Escaich, Cinq verses sur le “Victimae paschali”

Herbert Howells, Psalm Prelude, Op. 32, no. 3

Marcel Dupré,  Prelude and Fugue in B major. Op. 7, no. 1

Doing “Shaka” (Hawaiian greeting) with Professor Thomas Murray

What can I say about Joey’s performance? It was in my opinion, Joey’s greatest performance and the best I have EVER hear him play. Masterful in every respect—seemingly flawless in note accuracy, sense of style, brilliant use and nuances of tonal color, and absolute control of the rhythm and breathing. I told someone last night that from day one as a fifth-grader, Joey already had a musical sensitivity which I did not have to teach him. He could make the music sing! And that he did, and played as though his very life depended on it.

I don’t know how Joey played so brilliantly on so little sleep! The day before, the hall was booked from morning to night with Chinese New Year celebrations, and Joey had to start his practicing at midnight! Apparently the power to the organ shuts off every night, but luckily Joey has an override key to keep the organ playing. Then, his ride to St. Paul’s with another singer failed to materialize and he ended up taking the train to Norwalk at 6 am.

With Barbara Adler

I was very happy to see my long-time friend, Barbara Adler, and she drove four hours from Ithaca, NY to attend the concert. She was formerly the Dean of the Hawaii Chapter of the American Guild of Organists when I moved to Hawaii in 1973. She has since lived in ten states, and is now the national treasurer of the AGO.

I was also glad to make the acquaintance of Don Conover’s brother, who sat directly behind me! It was through the generosity of the Don Conover scholarship that Joey was able to take lessons with the assistance of the Hawaii AGO chapter.

Seven years ago, when Joey graduated from high school, I wrote in this graduation card, Today I am no longer your teacher. Today you are no longer my student. We are now colleagues.

Today I would have to correct this to say, Joey, tonight we are no longer colleagues. You are our master.

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Sunday at St. Paul’s

St. Paul’s, Norwalk, CT

Chills ran up and down my spine as I sat in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on the Green, in Norwalk, CT, where former student, Joey Fala, is the Organ Scholar. 

For me hearing him play a liturgical service, masterfully improvising on the hymn tunes which either came before or after the various parts of the service was so totally thrilling—to hear him have come this far and this well truly fills me with such joy and pride.

3 manual Reuter organ

When we saw him before the service, Joey apologized in advance that half the choir was not there this morning having just sung a big Evensong at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, New York City, last week and many in the choir are sick. “It’s Low Sunday,” he said.

Jake Street is the Director of Music.

Still, there was plenty of music in the service. Joey played Bach’s “Liebster Jesu” in front of the first hymn, which was the same tune, building to a grand crescendo to accommodate the large procession. The choir sang an Anglican psalm, an offertory and communion anthems, and a descant on the offertory hymn. The Ordinary consisted of the Robert Powell Gloria, Calvin Hampton’s Sanctus and Benedictus, a Fraction Anthem by Jack Warren Burnam, and Joey’s postlude was the Fugue on ALAIN by Duruflé. Plenty of music, right, and then some.

What I really appreciated was that today’s choir of about 35 people included both adults and children—Joey tells me there are normally twice the number of kids that we saw today. Still, isn’t this a great educational experience for these children! I would say that the youngest ones were only about 8-9 years old. I think usually they have about 20 kids in the choir.

Afterwards Joey again apologized for having our first impression of St. Paul’s be today, and we kept saying that there was absolutely nothing to apologize for—this would be first rate anywhere. 

By the way, the man who drove me to the church this morning was “Uncle” Gary Loughrey, who has taken Joey “under his wing” ever since he was introduced to him at an AGO meeting by my long-time friend, Barbara Adler. Gary has just retired as an airline pilot, but is also interested in organ building and architecture. I met him last year at Joey’s concert in Dwight Chapel.

A woman came up to me after the service and said, “You must be Joey’s mom!” (No, his second mom!” ) She said they were so very grateful to have him as the organist there.

We went out to lunch with Joey’s former architecture professor and his wife from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where Joey had made a huge impression.

Tonight is his master’s recital in Woolsey Hall, truly one of the great organs in America, played by a lover of the organ since he was in preschool. What a great journey this has been!

Joey is a gift to all who come into his life. Aren’t we lucky!

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World-class library, museum and opera

When I looked at my phone after I woke up yesterday, I was horrified to read that it said 9:27 am! Thinking back, however, I have to remember that Indiana time is five hours earlier than Hawaii time, so my body thought it was only 4:27 am!

Abraham Lincoln

“You must go to the Lilly Library,” I was told the previous night at dinner. The Lilly Library was founded in 1960 with the collection of Josiah K. Lilly, Jr., owner of Lilly Pharmaceuticals in Indianapolis. The Lilly Library is a collection of rare books and manuscripts, and what is unique, is that you are encouraged to touch everything—with a few exceptions. In their permanent collection is a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, one of few things you cannot touch. The library also has the original manuscript for the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Emancipation Proclamation

In the permanent collection there were several portraits of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, along with an original signed Emancipation Proclamation.

Since I will be playing some early English keyboard music next weekend at the Early Music Hawaii concert, I thought it might be fun to look for some. Alas, they didn’t have any, but the librarian brought me something very fascinating — a treatise (in French) on keyboard accompaniment with a number of musical examples: in other words, how to play figured bass (a musical shorthand which is about half my pieces next week). I don’t know how old this book was, but I indeed leafed through its parchment pages… sure seemed old to me, maybe several hundred years old.

I also looked at a decorated choir book page.

Across the street I found an art gallery where there was a special exhibition on tattooing in Indiana, with many images of fully tattooed people from the 1920s who were photographed totally nude with strategically placed fig leaves. I was interested to learn that until recently tattoo parlors were illegal as they were considered as practicing medicine without a license, akin to surgery!

Then I found the museum next door where there was a special exhibition on Vik Muñiz. One of the most innovative and creative artists of our time, Vik Muniz (born 1961, São Paulo, Brazil) is renowned for creating what he calls “photographic delusions.” Working with a dizzying array of unconventional materials—including sugar, tomato sauce, diamonds, magazine clippings, chocolate syrup, dust, and junk—he painstakingly constructs 3-D pictures before recording them with his camera. 

One picture especially caught my eye, as it was the image of Frankenstein, created with caviar! Boy, that must have cost a fortune!

Created with caviar!

I met my host, Dana Marsh, for a quick but delicious dinner at a Japanese restaurant near the theatre which we walked to in time for the pre-program talk. The production of Handel’s opera, Rodelinda, was every bit as elaborate as I’ve ever seen, and the amazing thing was, outside of the directors, everyone else: all the singers, the orchestra, and the dancers, were all students! —Meaning that they were all volunteers and unpaid. In Handel’s day, of course there were no supertitles but even though the English-speaking audience did not understand the Italian libretto, they came for the singing and the orchestral playing.

What is astounding is that Indiana University puts on 7 operas and/or ballets per season. Other productions this year include Daughters of the Regiment, Florencia en el Amazonas, Madama Butterfly,  Nutcracker, Peter Grimes, fall and spring ballet and The Music Man.

Now, on to New Haven!

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In the company of early music greatness

    L-R: Wendy Gillespie, Paul Elliott, Elisabeth Wright, Stanley Ritchie, Nigel North, Myron Lutzke, Aaron Sheehan and Dana Marsh

Continue reading

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A short night and a whirlwind tour

Welcome sign at the Indianapolis airport

Yesterday afternoon, Patsy Fala, Joey’s mom, graciously picked me up from my downtown Honolulu apartment and drove me to the airport. My flight to Chicago left about 4:45 pm and arrived at the ungodly hour of 4:21 am Chicago time where the captain announced it was a frigid 16 degrees F.! A couple hours later I was on a plane to Indianapolis, then a bus shuttle to Bloomington where I was the only passenger in a 25-seat van. We arrived at Indiana University’s Memorial Union almost half an hour early due to the driver going 70 mph while looking at his iPad and doing some paperwork! Yikes!

As we passed a number of gun shops en route, I saw a church with an outdoor sign, “When the righteous people are in authority, the people rejoice!” Dorothy, we aren’t in Hawaii anymore!

Dana Marsh took me on a quick tour of the massive Music Department buildings—there are about 1600 music students here making IU one of the largest music schools in the country. It has over 1000 concerts or musical programs per year including 7 staged operas, one of which I will see tomorrow night.

Within half an hour of my arrival we attended a gorgeous recital of John Dowland songs by tenor Aaron Sheehan elegantly accompanied by lutenist Nigel North, the 453rd concert of the school year.

I have heard Aaron perform a number of times at the Boston Early Music Festival and he in fact was the recipient of a 2015 Grammy Award for best opera performance. His voice has been called “superb: his tone classy, clear and refined, encompassing fluid lyricism and ringing force.” It was definitely first rate music-making.

After the recital we were walking back to Dana’s office, when I heard someone call out: Kathy! Kathy Crosier! You won’t believe who it was—Zen Kuriyama from Honolulu! Zen’s tenure in the Lutheran Church of Honolulu choir was legendary, but he happened to join after I retired. He and I had corresponded following Carl Crosier’s death, and become Facebook friends but we had never met in person until now. I certainly did not know beforehand that he was going to be here in Bloomington! Zen was on campus to audition for entrance into the choral conducting program, for his second master’s degree In music.

With Zen Kuriyama

Fisk Organ, Auer Hall, Indiana University

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Home for one day

The moment of reveal.

The moment of reveal.

On Saturday morning I gave three organ lessons, which finished at 12:00 noon, then rushed home—my neighbor was already in the garage waiting to take me to the airport for my flight at 1:45 pm. At the last moment, I decided to fly to Los Angeles where my son and daughter-in-law held a “gender reveal” party, which seems to be the “in” thing for prospective new parents these days. I didn’t arrive until after midnight on Saturday, but was able to help in the preparations for the party which started Sunday afternoon at 3:00 pm.

The decorations were all made by my daughter-in-law and my son prepared much of the food (his dad would have been really proud as Stephen diced watermelon, jicama, and cucumber and shredded carrots for a Mexican salad—all done with a simple paring knife and old-fashioned hand grater. Yes, it took him hours! )

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We were all given pink and blue stars to vote for what we guessed the gender would be, and as it turned out, the box was opened to great fanfare and a countdown. Everyone screamed as blue balloons popped up—meaning of course, that it will be a boy!

It’s the day after the party and I have just gotten off the plane back in Honolulu, only to get ready for my trip to Bloomington, IN and New Haven, CT on Wednesday. That means I’ll have only one day at home—one day to repack my suitcase with much warmer clothes, plus play for St. Andrew’s Priory Chapel at 9:20 am and Punahou Chapel 10:45 a.m. Oh, I’ll also teach one organ lesson on Wednesday morning. You see, I’ll be visiting long-time friend Dana Marsh at Indiana University in Bloomington and attending Joey Fala‘s last graduate degree recital at Yale, a trip I’ve planned for a long time.

In the meantime, I formatted the program for the Early Music Hawaii concerts, which will take place after I return.

My next two gigs

My next two gigs after I return from the mainland

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A formidable task

George Frideric Handel, 1685-1759

George Frideric Handel, 1685-1759

One of the pieces that I accompanied last Sunday at the Punahou Chapel 50th Anniversary celebration was Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” from Messiah. The piece was done at the dedication service 50 years ago, and the chaplains wanted to include it in the 50th anniversary service too.

Now, you have to understand that when I am asked to play the “Hallelujah Chorus,” I always have one question: Am I playing it with instruments or am I providing the only accompaniment? If it is the former, then I always breathe a sigh of relief, because then I play “continuo organ,” which are just the basic chords, not all the running sixteenth notes that are part of the orchestral accompaniment. I must admit that I’ve played the continuo organ part to Messiah for several years running (with the Kona Choral Society), and it’s a piece of cake.

Unfortunately, when I inquired about the Punahou service, I found out that I was going to be the only accompaniment. According to an article I found in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, “It’s one of the most difficult accompaniments that an organist can play,” said Trent Johnson. Essentially you have to play all the notes the orchestra plays, reduced down to what you can grab with only two hands and two feet.

The article continues, “… you’re constantly doing widely different things and having to adapt them to an instrument that the piece was not written for,” says Steven Russell, an officer of the Monmouth County chapter of the American Guild of Organists. “You have to improvise. You’re looking at notes, but you’re not playing what’s there.”

The author suggested that if you do a Google search on “Handel Messiah organ” one of the first links that pops up is “Organist fail,” a soundtrack which recorded when the organist had a TERRIBLE mishap and played the final chords in another key, which is all too easy to do—when the player “somehow lands on the wrong notes, clashing with the singers.” The organist who was interviewed said, ““It’s a little intimidating … because there’s so much going on in the accompaniment and everyone knows it.”

But the last few chords are super easy—it’s what comes before that is so challenging. Thankfully everything went extremely well after I had practiced for a few days. I must say, though, that after I played Saturday’s rehearsal where the choir rehearsed nothing but the Hallelujah Chorus for an hour, I was exhausted! All those sixteenth notes! All those runs! All those pedal jumps!

Guess what! Just now I discovered that there are several “easy” and “intermediate” versions of the organ accompaniment that are published and readily available. Of course, though, a lot of the notes have been left out, so getting one of those “cheats” really wasn’t an option for last weekend’s service.

To tell you the truth, I can’t imagine Handel himself trying to do an orchestral reduction of Messiah for the organ alone—he would have always included instruments.

Here’s a video showing Simone Gheller playing the Virgil Fox arrangement of the Hallelujah Chorus. Except for the middle section, you can see that his feet never stop moving!

And just to cleanse your aural palate, here is the 2011 performance of the Kings College Cambridge singers doing the Hallelujah Chorus with only organ accompaniment.

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Oh, THAT Toccata and Fugue!

Cheeky. That’s how I would describe my performance of Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor yesterday at the 50th anniversary celebration of Thurston Memorial Chapel.

Another way I’d describe it is: Gutsy. I say this because I bet it’s been 20 years since I’ve played this piece in public—and I only practiced it for about 4 days, when I decided to program it for the prelude at yesterday’s service.

So why would I program a piece I hadn’t performed in public in 20 years? Because yesterday’s program was not only a celebration of the Punahou chapel — it was supposed to be a celebration of the new Allen organ too, which had only been installed a few months ago. Yes, the 1989 Allen was replaced by another Allen (and I dare say that in another 25 years, they will replace this instrument, too—the average life expectancy of an electronic instrument.)

It was one of the first “real” organ pieces I learned while a teenager, and I still teach it to my students in the way that my teacher, Norman Söreng Wright, taught it to me. For one thing, there are two different interpretations of the opening. In the manuscript by Johannes Ringk (1717-1778), you can see that there are no flats in the key signature but there are fermatas ( ) over the last notes of each little phrase.

Johannes Ringk's manuscript

Johannes Ringk’s version

The manuscript used by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), however, places the fermatas over the rests, like the following example. This is the way I play it, and the length of the fermata depends on the acoustics of the room. If it is a very dead room, the rest is pretty short. If you are playing in a huge cathedral with many seconds of reverberation, the rests are much longer.

Mendelssohn's version.

Mendelssohn’s version.

Electronics aside, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor can rightly be called the most famous organ work ever—even people who don’t even know what an organ is have heard this piece, in cartoons, and especially, in horror or Halloween movies. Its fame started when it depicted a storm in Disney’s Fantasia. The piece has been used in over 20 Hollywood movies such as The Phantom of the Opera, Sunset Boulevard, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, and La Dolce Vita.

I tell my students there are a zillion different interpretations of this piece. Here, though, is a performance which is close to mine in tempo and interpretation. Unfortunately the performer is not listed, but the organ is located in the Basilica of Leżajsk, in southern Poland. It’s a tracker organ which dates from the 17th century,

The Zeusaphone musical coil by Tesla.

The Zeusaphone musical coil by Tesla.

Hey, I was looking at performances of this piece on YouTube, and I found versions transcribed for guitar, piano, harp, flute, accordion, clarinet, horn, marimba and even a saxophone choir. (Yes, go ahead and click those links to watch videos of all the ways and instruments on which people have performed this work!) The weirdest of all was for Zeusaphone, which is a musical coil made by Tesla and looks like a lightning machine!

I can’t tell you the number of people who came up to me yesterday and thanked me for programming this work. In fact several told me it was their favorite piece of music!

And as for my opinion on my performance yesterday: It went much better than I expected, thank God! About 99.8% of the notes were right!

P.S. Did you know that someone calculated that there are approximately 8000 notes in that piece!


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No programs? No problem!

Jeremy Wong gave a faculty recital at Orvis Auditorium.

Jeremy Wong gave a faculty recital at Orvis Auditorium, University of Hawaii at Manoa

I guess it’s only in America that going to a concert and getting a program is a given. After all, the purpose of a concert program is to know what is coming next. It’s nice to read program notes about the music you’re hearing and knowing how many songs comprise a set is important to knowing when to clap. Especially if you are going to a vocal recital, it’s nice to follow the words as the song is sung, more so if the song is in a foreign language.

Hey, do you know that in Europe, if you want to read the program, normally you have to pay for it! I’ve paid 2 euros (about $2.40) for concert programs at festivals I’ve attended.

Jeremy Wong, after the concert

Jeremy Wong, after the concert

Well, tonight only about an hour before his faculty recital, baritone Jeremy Wong was told that his programs were lost and could not be found! Yes, he had prepared and sent all the written texts to the office. But being that all his songs were in English, there was no problem with the audience being able to understand all the words.

His program consisted of three folksong arrangements by Benjamin Britten, five songs by Gerald Finzi, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, Songs of travel, all sung with clarity of diction, and absolute clarity of tone with an excellent range of dynamic contrasts. Although not on the program tonight, I would say that his voice is perfect for singing Bach—much like Max van Egmond!

What was interesting to me was that during the Gerald Finzi songs (Let us garlands bring; Come away, come away, death; Who is Sylvia? Fear no more the heat o’ the sun; O mistress mine; It was a lover and his lass), Jeremy read the text before each song, looking at what he called his “cheat sheet” with the words on a music stand, wearing his glasses. After reading the text, he took his glasses off and sang the song from memory! The process of reading the text with the glasses, and then singing the song without glasses from memory was just charming and rather amusing. Jeremy, we know you could sing the words from memory, how about speaking them from memory!

It’s funny, without a program in my hand to follow along, I felt I enjoyed the program even more. Somehow I was “unfettered” and not distracted by holding a program in my hand. I talked to Jeremy after the concert, and he says there is a movement among vocalists not to furnish written programs these days, so his concert was right in vogue.

By the way, I also enjoyed Tommy Yee‘s accompaniment immensely—never overplaying, always sensitive with dynamics, just right, and in my estimation—absolute perfection on the piano. Wow, he’s fantastic!

Thank you gentlemen, for a most enjoyable evening. Because of the extremely high winds, I really didn’t feel like going out tonight and wanted to hibernate, but tonight’s concert more than made up for the blustery weather.

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14,000+ chapel services

Over 14,000 chapel services, plus weddings, funerals and other services—that’s the estimate of the number of events which have taken place at the Robert Shipman Thurston Memorial Chapel on the Punahou School campus since it was built fifty years ago. Before that time, services were held at McNeil Hall, Dillingham Auditorium, or even outdoors. With 8 regular chapel services per week, it’s a busy place.

The Punahou lily pond.

The Punahou lily pond.

Robert Shipman Thurston was a graduate of the Punahou Class of 1941 whose plane was lost during World War II. His parents gave $25,000 to build the chapel in his memory, a building designed by the renowned architect, Vladimir Ossipoff (who coincidentally also designed the Lutheran Church of Honolulu across the street). Thurston Memorial Chapel architecturally is reminiscent of a mother hen, guarding her chicks.

From its website you’ll read that the school was built on the lands of Ka Punahou, named for the fabled natural spring discovered centuries ago under a hala tree. The spring still flows today, at the heart of Punahou’s campus under the Thurston Memorial Chapel, and its waters not only form the iconic Lily Pond, but also are used to irrigate portions of the campus.

Beebe Freitas

Beebe Freitas

This weekend, the school will celebrate the chapel’s 50th anniversary with a special service on Sunday afternoon, January 22nd, which I’m playing in the absence of Punahou’s long-time organist, Beebe Freitas, who is recovering from an illness. Beebe has played the organ here for more than 30 years, so it is understandable that it will be a disappointment not to have her at the service. They will just have to settle for me instead!


When I asked what they wanted me to play, Chandra Peters, the chapel coordinator, shared a newspaper clipping with me. It was from 1989, the dedication of the chapel organ by University of Southern California organist, Ladd Thomas. When she showed me the clipping, I said excitedly, “Carl (Crosier) and I were there at that recital!”

Ladd Thomas and Cherry Rhodes

Ladd Thomas and Cherry Rhodes

Ladd Thomas’ program included Bach, Dupré’s Variations sur un Noel, a Walther concerto and a mood piece, Autumnal, by Dorothy James. You may remember that I went to the University of Southern California—unfortunately I did not study with Ladd, but have certainly known him, and his wife, organist Cherry Rhodes, all these many years.

A couple days later, Chandra dug up the chapel dedication program, and I was so surprised to see that Walter Kau (1920-2010) was the organist. For the prelude, he played the “Little” Prelude and Fugue in B-flat from the 8 Little Preludes and Fugues, formerly thought to be by Bach, but now considered a spurious work. For a postlude he played “Magnificat VI” by Marcel Dupré. Walter was the organist at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church for over 50 years before retiring to his home parish, St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, where I was the parish administrator. I remember typing the funeral bulletin!

Interesting that Walter Kau and Ladd Thomas both programmed Bach and Dupré!

Initially, I was also going to play Bach and Dupré (his Cortège et Litanie), but because of time restraints, I’ll be playing the famous Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Paul Manz’s “God of grace and God of glory.”

I will also be accompanying the Punahou Choir in Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus, as was done at the 1967 chapel dedication.

It looks to be another busy weekend, with a birthday party for a former student, organ lessons, rehearsal with the Punahou choir, and the 50th Anniversary service. In addition I’ll be attending Jeremy Wong’s faculty recital in Orvis Auditorium at the University of Hawaii, “Songs of Travel: A Recital of English Song.”

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