Minnesota Guitar Society E-Interview

Guitarist (Newsletter of the Minnesota Guitar Society), Volume 28 No. 1, January/February 2012
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Q: How did the Water Songs project come about?
A: I was interested in creating a concert program and recording of Hawaiian music that would be appealing and relevant to Minnesotans. I brainstormed ideas for a project that could weave music, history, and current issues together, but couldn’t seem to find just the right theme. Then one day while driving to St. Paul, I found myself chanting “No ke aha ka wai,” a hula ‘ili‘ili (hula with water-washed pebbles) about fresh water that my late teacher Pohaku Nishimitsu taught me and some of my Rose Ensemble colleagues several years ago. It all suddenly fit together: Hawaii and Minnesota historically and presently share a love and reverence for fresh water—why not begin illustrating that connection by bringing some of Hawaii’s fresh water-themed songs to Minnesota? I applied for an Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to pursue this project, and am thrilled that were able to make it happen.

Q: How did you pick the songs for the CD?
A: We had to do some paring down, which is really exciting! I began by looking for texts in Hawaiian lyric collections dating from the late 19th century. My mentor and program consultant, Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman, also began suggesting chants and songs, and before we knew it, our songlist grew to over 2 hours of music—we just kept finding more songs that we loved! I’ve been able to narrow the list down by looking more closely at texts, trying to feature a variety of composers (for example, I really wanted to make sure we included a fair number of songs composed by members of the Hawaiian monarchy), researching the number of times each song has been recorded, and scrutinizing the originality of
our arrangements.

Q: How did you find the other musicians?
A: I met David Burk while working on a program of Sephardic music with The Rose Ensemble several years ago. He plays a number of Middle Eastern and Western string instruments, and it turns out he’s really into Hawaiian music too! David has a gift for arranging and a fantastic attitude about music and life. Rahn was recommended to us by my dear friend James Holdman, and we have been so fortunate to work with him. He’s been game to try new styles and techniques from the beginning of our collaboration, and his enthusiasm lifts me up when I start to feel overwhelmed.

Q: How did you decide on the group’s name?
A: “Lau” is Hawaiian for “leaf.” Amy and I worked for about a week to come up with a name for the group that would fit our personalities and the nature of our work. Lau is green, expectant, new, and
growing, fed by the elements around it. Lau also lives to nurture and sustain the life of the plant. We felt like it would be a good symbol for us—we want to honor and perpetuate the roots of Hawaiian
music and culture while incorporating aspects of our present musical and cultural landscape.

Q: Your resume lists such a wide range of performances settings. Do you have a favorite?
A: I love them all! I especially love working with smaller ensembles—regardless of the style or the instrumentation. There is such a wide array of shapes, levels, ideas, colors, and imagery that are possible in music, so when I’m working with a group that allows for conversations and implementation of all things available in our palettes, it’s sensational!

Q: What’s next for you and for Lau?
A: In the immediate future, we’ll be recording the water songs project, then get ready for more performances and our CD release celebration in collaboration with Hamline University’s Center for Global Environmental Education on May 11. I would love to keep sharing and developing this program, and start expanding Lau’s vision thematically and musically. In the meantime, I’ll continue to be involved with collaborative work in other dimensions of our Twin Cities music scene; singing with Silver Swan Chamber Ensemble, The Rose Ensemble, and chasing other charming projects.

2011-12 Local Artists Series
Sunday, Jan. 15th, 2 pm.
The Lau Hawaiian Trio perform “Nā Mele Wai (Hawaiian Fresh Water Songs),” a program in which modern and ancient sounds unite in a sparkling collection of Hawaiian chants, songs, hulas, and stories about fresh water. Woodbury Indoor Amphitheater, Central Park Place, Woodbury. Free.