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Wide shot of the symphony performing with animation on a screen above the stage
Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds concert, photo: Philip Kitamura
Drawing of one o o bird looking at another
Image from Vanished Voices: a farewell to the Oʻo, animation by Kayla Abalos and Jeanine Higa; music by Takuma Itoh. View the full animation with a computer-generated mockup of orchestral score.

Few Hawaiʻi residents have seen or heard one of Hawaiʻi’s native forest birds, but a partnership between the University of Hawaiʻi and the Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra aims to introduce the birds to the next generation through music and art.

The Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds is a multidisciplinary effort to educate elementary and secondary students on Oʻahu about Hawaiʻi’s endangered native bird species and the importance of conservation efforts.

“The sound of extinction isn’t silence, but a decrease in complexity as species, or variations on a theme, disappear,” said Melissa Price, assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management. “Whether cars and city noise or the sound of introduced species, the sounds of the extinct species are often replaced.”

On May 9, an educational concert by the Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra brought together approximately 3,000 students, teachers, parents, scientists, educators, composers, artists and conservationists to celebrate Hawaiʻi’s endangered native forest birds and hear their songs.

Composers worked with visual artists to create six new movements partnered with video and animation all illustrating Hawaiian forest birds.

“We delved into the subject, appreciating the specific nature and characteristics of these endangered and extinct birds that we were tasked to bring to life through animation,” said Laura Margulies, lecturer in the Academy for Creative Media System and one of the artists for the project. “Not only did the keiki become enriched, the artists did as well.”

Experts in many fields

Drawing of a bird in plants
Image from No Ka Huliau, animation by Laura Margulies, Elyse Chai; music by Jon Magnussen. View the full animation with a computer-generated mockup of orchestral score.

The project is a collaboration of UH Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, College of Education, Music Department, Academy for Creative Media System, UH West Oʻahu, Windward Community College, Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra, Bishop Museum and local artists. More information about the varied experts involved in the project is available on the Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds website.

“There are so many creative minds and talent in our community, and it was thrilling to have so many of them come together for a project that everyone believed in so deeply,” said Takuma Itoh, associate professor in the Music Department.

Prior to the concert, the nearly 30 public, private and home schools involved were asked to participate in a set of lesson plans, available at the Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds website, to introduce the birds through science, music, art, social studies and other means.

Educating future conservationists

Women seated performing hula
Hula at the Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds, photo: Philip Kitamura

“During the symphony, I recalled Maya Angelou’s words, ‘People will forget what you said and did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,’” said Charlotte Frambaugh-Kritzer, associate professor in the Institute for Teacher Education. “Indeed, the music and animation presented at the symphony became the vehicle for us all to feel the plight of the Hawaiian forest birds. In my opinion, you cannot receive a more compelling learning opportunity for our keiki.”

Teachers had access to full lesson plans for grades 4–12 developed by the College of Education and a graduate student in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. The plans included links to readings and audio and video resources to prepare students for the concert. The lessons focused on the biology of Hawaiian forest birds, their place in culture and the threats to their continued survival, while also exploring the structure of a symphony and how some instruments can sound like birds.

UH Mānoa music education students visited many of the participating schools to teach the students an original hula about Hawaiian birds that was created specifically for this project, so the students could join in with music and movement during the concert.

“This project shows what new art can do: We can react to issues important to us today, create something that is unique and local, and bring entire communities together,” said Itoh. “There was nowhere else besides Hawaiʻi that this project could have been created, and I think it resonated with people here so much more profoundly as a result.”

Going forward, the project members are planning to adapt the music and visuals for display at the Bishop Museum, as well as future performances to bring the music of Hawaiian forest birds to an even greater audience on Oʻahu and the neighbor islands.

“If we could get every fourth grade class learning the hula, learning the science, learning the music and attending the symphony every year, that would be a dream come true,” said Price.

—By Heidi Sakuma

Woman holding a bird puppet with two kids
Sharing Hawaiian birds with the next generation, photo: Philip Kitamura
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