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Illustration of a girl riding a bird through a forest
Image from “Kāmau” by Kalilinoe Detwiler, UH Mānoa PhD student in English

The music of Hawaiʻi’s natural wonders returned to the stage with Symphony of the Hawaiʻi Forests on April 20 and 21 in four free performances for Hawaiʻi students grades 4–12 at the Hawaiʻi Theatre Center.

The performances brought together music, art, science, hula and storytelling to better connect keiki with the forests of Hawaiʻi through an immersive performance that fully embodies the collaborative spirit. Approximately 3,000 students from 45 schools from as far as Lāʻie and Nānākuli attended the performances.

“I hope that the Symphony of the Hawaiʻi Forests sparks their imagination and inspires them to collaborate and create things that they feel passionate about,” said Laura Margulies, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa School of Cinematic Arts assistant professor and visual media coordinator. “With forests and native Hawaiian trees as the topic of this show, I want young people to become more emotionally connected to them as I believe trees are vital for our survival and our happiness.”

The program featured new music performed by the Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra accompanied by new animations based on kaʻao (legends) that were created for this project that tell stories about how we can connect and care for our forests of Hawaiʻi.

Illustration of water evaporating in the sunlight
Image from “Ka Wai Ke Kumu Ola”

Teachers were provided with online educational resources by the Mālama Learning Center about the forests of Hawaiʻi to prepare their students for the topics that would be covered during the symphony. Meanwhile, classes were encouraged to learn a hula about the water cycle so that they could then perform together en mass at the concert.

“This project is a symphony in so many ways, not just musically, but in the way so many members of our community from all walks of life come together to make this work a possibility. It celebrates our forests of Hawaiʻi musically, artistically, culturally, and scientifically, hopefully resonating with all types of learners,” said Takuma Itoh, UH Mānoa music professor and project coordinator.

Symphony of the Hawaiʻi Forests is a collaboration between UH Mānoa, the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources Kaulunani Urban & Community Forestry Program, Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra and Hālau ʻŌhiʻa, with support from the U.S. Forest Service, Hawaiʻi State Foundation on Culture and the Arts and Hawaiʻi Forest Institute.

Performance of Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds in 2018

Symphony of the Hawaiʻi Forests builds on the Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds, which was first performed in 2018 and focused on the diversity of Hawaiʻi’s native birds as well as the loss of extinction and the urgency for conservation.

“This project shows that when we collaborate, we can all find solutions to our big problems like finding ways to care for our forests, whether you’re a scientist, a musician, an animator, or a hula practitioner,” said Itoh. “We all have our own unique roles to play, and I hope the keiki who attended were inspired by the collaborative spirit of this project.”

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