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“We sing for you.”

That was the message from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Choirs as they brought a mele (song) to life, virtually.

The piece is dedicated to frontline workers, UH alumni and students protecting their communities, graduating UH students and everyone “finding innovative ways to keep Hawaiʻi connected, thriving and resilient.”

person conducting and person playing the piano
Jace Saplan conducts the virtual choir.

The piece “Waikā” was selected in connection to the theme of honoring works passed down through oral lore, Director of Choral Activities and Assistant Professor Jace Saplan said. “Waikā” honors text taken from “Hole Waimea,” a chant composed for Kamehameha I. After transitioning to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the piece took on a new meaning.

“With infinite poetic entry points, kaona (Hawaiian metaphor) allows us to interpret this mele in many ways,” Saplan said. “According to Kumu Stephen Desha, a scholar of moʻolelo (story), ‘Waikā’ is a mele that celebrates a community’s efforts to protect their loved ones in times of strife—manaʻo that is pertinent to our current circumstances.”

Recording process

The group encompasses four ensembles: the University Chorus, Concert Choir, Nā Wai Chamber Choir and the UH Chamber Singers. Saplan said producing the virtual project was tricky because it was very different than singing with a live ensemble.

“We are trained to respond to gestures with collective breath and we rely on the communal voice to create nuance in real-time,” Saplan said.

Each student practiced on their own with virtual support from the instructors. Then, when it was time to record, students sang to an accompaniment track individually in their homes. There are more than 100 students in the combined ensemble so Saplan ensured the project was technologically accessible and inclusive. After receiving the individual recordings, UH Mānoa graduate student Nicholas Matherne compiled the videos into one cohesive performance.

“I am humbled by the resilience and innovation of our student artists,” Saplan said. “There were a plethora of hurdles when we transitioned to an online platform, but they met the circumstance with grace, patience and resolve.”

—By Marc Arakaki

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