University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Symphony Orchestra members are not letting COVID-19 restrictions stop them from sharing the gift of music. Under the direction of Director and Assistant Professor Joseph Stepec, the fall 2020 ensemble presented a virtual performance of “Queen’s Anthem” by Denny Miyasato and arranged by Michael-Thomas Foumai, a UH Mānoa music lecturer. The piece features six-time Grammy nominee and 18-time Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award winner Amy Hānaialiʻi.
“They loved it. It was awesome—what an experience,” Stepec said. “She came into class at the beginning of the semester and everyone got to meet her and she spoke to the students a little bit and it was just a wonderful experience.”
Stepec, who has worked on performances with Hānaialiʻi, said, “we ended up choosing this song because it spoke directly to Hawaiʻi and we felt there were parallels in between what had been going on historically and what we’re facing now.”
Violinist Mackenzie Kwong and cellist Sabrina Hardisty are two of the approximately 50 performing musicians. Kwong, a sophomore music education major, thought there was no one better to sing the piece than Hānaialiʻi and described the adjustment to online rehearsals.
“After our first virtual rehearsal, it was a very strange feeling,” Kwong said. “Normally I am helping out by cleaning up the rehearsal room or having a small conversation with my friends and colleagues, but that night, when rehearsal ended all I had to do was shut down my laptop. It was a weird feeling.”
Kwong added, “Even though we are unable to have live, in-person concerts this semester, I am glad we are able to make recordings like this so that everyone can watch from the comfort and safety of their homes.”
Hardisty, a junior molecular biosciences and biotechnology major, credited Stepec with finding a solution to allow the symphony orchestra members to perform virtually.
“I remember talking to him right when COVID cases in Hawaiʻi began to spike, and he told me that although he was disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to play in-person this semester, he was still finding online solutions for us to play together. What he has done for our program this year is admirable and tenacious,” Hardisty said. “We have been rehearsing on an outside app called Upbeat, which allows us to record our parts while listening to a metronome, and when we finish, the software compiles them together.”
The video was produced by Duane Padilla, a professional violinist and educator from Hawaiʻi.
—By Marc Arakaki