Enchanting is one way to describe the music of the Hakuoh University Handbell Choir from Japan. Performances by the unique choir have been an annual tradition in Hawaiʻi for 22 years with a number of concerts in February. It’s part of a partnership between Hakuoh University and the University of Hawaiʻi Community Colleges, a partnership that includes more than just music.
“Hakuoh and the University of Hawaiʻi Community Colleges exchange students, they have students that come and spend some time with us each fall,” said John Morton, UH Community Colleges vice president. “They accept our students who go over and have an experience in Japan.”
The handbell choir was founded 25 years ago by Professor Hirotaki Arai and is internationally renown, performing around the world. The 2013 ensemble that traveled to Hawaiʻi is made up of 17 students who have the capacity to ring seven octaves of handbells.
“You forget about the fact that these are handbells playing because they have so many tonalities that it actually sounds like an orchestra,” said Tom Holowach, the director of the Palikū Theatre at Windward Community College. “And I think it is phenomenal that they can get that many different sounds out of a bell.”
The students play about 120 different bells of all sizes during the performances with the heaviest weighing 15 pounds. They ring the bells in a variety of ways including striking them on foam covered tables and using mallets. Crowds of all ages enjoy the performances that include everything from classical music to contemporary Broadway tunes.
“Just how everything, how all the bells came together to make the music,” said Windward Nazarene Academy 8th grader Bailey Lum. “It was really great.”
“The huge bells were really amazing and they held more than one bell in their hands,” said Alii Camacho, a 6th grader at Kamehameha Schools.
“The bell choir is amazing,” added Morton. “I enjoyed each time. I bring my mother. She enjoys it. It is just an amazing repertoire of music and I am glad they share it with us.”