Over a year ago, Margie Farmer, my manager and I, decided to concentrate on creating a viable and enduring scholarship program for singers of color and working artists who want to study with me. We strive to support a diverse and world wide population.
Margie organized and announced the scholarship commitment as part of my 75th birthday celebration.
Oh yes what a celebration it always is to have multiple languages, cultures and ages in the room when we make music.
Thanks to all of you who contributed, we have made big strides in outreach, being able to offer scholarships and open the door to this improvisation work for many worthy singers.
This is how it looks so far in 2019:
In January, Carolyn Brandy’s Born to Drum came to Ha Lau Leo Nani for a week with her co-teachers and dear friends Mabiba Baegne from Congo and Ouida Lewis from Jamaica. The women who attended were able to study Afro-Cuban drumming and songs with Carolyn as well. I stepped in with Circle Singing and an arrangement for Yamaya which we combined with Carolyn’s traditional drum arrangement.
Hearing the maestra drummers talk about their years of study and the difficulties of being women wanting to play the drums of their culture, was an inspiration I won’t forget. We stood tall in their presence, grateful for their courage and persistence. In the midst of all that serious herstory, I have never been with women who laugh so big and open, and who play drums with amazing joy and skill. Kumu hula Ryan McCormack of Puna district offered a generous session on the drum traditions in Hawaiian music and hula. Important when bringing guests to Hawaii so that they understand the history and vibrant culture here.
At the end of the week, we offered a one day workshop festival for the local drummers on Hawaii Island ending in a concert with all students participating. This brought many new kama aina (local) people to Ha Lau Leo Nani. The Singing Barn was full and jamming.
All The Way In, my year long program for the study of Vocal River exercises and creating a life and work in vocal improvisation, always begins here at the farm. This year we were able to provide scholarship support to seven singers making a richly diverse group. We all felt from the first day that this broad reach of singers was compelling us to understand one another and the gifts each one was bringing. Beautiful collaborations are taking shape now for our second session in Perugia, Italy.
I must also report that we lost one of our All The Way In singers, Dominic Gregorio in an untimely death. Our hearts are shaken by his passing; brilliant professor, choir conductor, dancer and singer. A Filipino-Canadian of extraordinary talent, Dominic will be held in memory throughout the year and always, as he had already made a deep impact on the group.
Canoe Songs co-taught by Pura Fe of the Tuscarora Nation came to the farm in March. Five singers were given scholarships support so our gathering was rich and diverse once again.
Lucky us, we got to host Pura Fe and her husband Max of the Cree Nation in Canada. The two of them were wonderful guests on the farm in addition to the workshop. Fourteen lucky singers gathered each day to learn the songs that Pura Fe brings through her from her ancestors. Learning them by ear, direct from her was a privilege and joy. I offered the skills and intuition of improvisation. By the end of the week, I could feel how the two forms were flowing into one another. Completely gratifying to sense that the singers were taking in both the ancient wisdom of tribal song and the intuitive life force of improvisation.
Kekuhi Keali’ikanakaole, a treasured teacher and kumu hula from Hilo taught a session in which she helped us understand the process of canoe building from Hawaiian perspective and guided us in creating our own canoe song. That was my dream, to connect the canoe songs of Pura Fe and Hawaii. It was a beautiful realization, including one afternoon we were invited to join a canoe club at Hilo Bay and go out paddling with them while we sang the Tuscarora canoe songs. One evening Max organized a traditional sweat, including building a lodge of bamboo on our farm. We sang and sweated our prayers.
Having Pura Fe and Max as our guests for a week created a personal bond as well that I know will continue for all of us here on the farm.
In all three workshops there was a heightened awareness and conversation about social change and music, about diversity and strength, about protecting one another with our songs and prayers.
Now I prepare to head to NYC to sing four nights at the Blue Note with Bobby McFerrin and Gimme5. Later in April and again in July Gimme5 will tour Europe for the summer jazz festivals. We are all thrilled about these tours even though it means being away from home. This is something so special I would go anywhere! I experience these performances as a spiritual journey. Our life long friendships and diverse music skills make creating improvisational music a kind of revelation, and the audience participates all throughout the concert. We hope to see you out there in person at some performance. I love the conversations after the show and the opportunity to catch up with you worldwide. Throw me a kiss across the hall. Sing out loud from wherever you are.
In these grave times, I sense that music holds us like food, like the elements, like the connective tissue of life.
Thank you, mahalo nui loa, for your contributions to scholarship and your belief in this music work.
I am bowing in gratitude.