Taping Displays Hawaii's Natural Beauty and the Music of Peace

In March, when students gathered to sing along with MENC’s World’s Largest Concert® (WLC®), the young performers they watched on the program included singers in Hawaiian shirts and dresses who sang “’Ulili E (The Sandpiper)” in ocean-bound canoes.

General music teacher Cynthia Debus of Kamehameha Schools Hawaii in Kea’au, explained how she chose the songs her students performed and how the filming took place.

Students in the Kamehameha Schools Chorus filed their entry for the World’s Largest Concert under the direction of Cindy DeBus (above in the pink top).

Q: Why did you select the songs your students sang?
A: I was very excited to see that for the first time in the 15 years that I have been participating in the WLC, a Hawaiian song was chosen to be part in the program. “’Ulili E” is a very popular mele (song) here in the islands. I thought it would be very appropriate that Hawaiian keiki (children) help bring the song to children around the world.

Our children are taught to respect all cultures, so “Ev’rybody Says Peace” seemed like a wonderful choice to open the line of discussion about the several cultures that were introduced in the verses.

The singing of ” “’Ulili E” was filmed in photogenic Hilo Bay, where ocean-going canoes called wa’a are commonplace.

Q: How did you come up with the staging concept for your songs?

The Big Island of Hawaii has so many lovely sites, it was hard to choose just two. I wanted to have the shoot in a place that was unique to Hilo and would display the natural beauty of the island. Rainbow Falls, with its magnificent waterfall, is just minutes from downtown Hilo. It was named for the beautiful rainbows frequently seen in the waterfall’s mist. Most visitors to Hilo would recognize Rainbow Falls as it is the backdrop for many a photo-op. “Ev’rybody Say Peace” seemed like a logical song to sing in such a wonderful setting. ” ‘Ulili E” was filmed in Hilo Bay. It is also a beautiful part of Hilo where  (canoes) can be seen on a daily basis. Our school has eight wa’a, a coed paddling team who with their wonderful coach were happy to assist with the filming of the concert. It was a chicken skin morning as the High School students carried their little brothers and sisters into the canoes for the taping. Nearly one hundred parents watched on the shores as we played the sync tape over the megaphone so that the keiki could hear the music out in the ocean.

Students enjoyed performing ” ‘Ulili E (The Sandpiper),” a song that is popular in the islands.

Q: You had about sixty third through fifth graders performing. Is that all of the kids in your program, or was this a select chorus? If select, how did you choose them?

The Kamehameha Schools Hawaii Keiki Choir is an all-volunteer, non-auditioned choir that rehearses after school three days a week. We sing at many school and community events. I have never felt comfortable with auditioning little children to be in their own school choir. I can only imagine how devastating it would feel to be told you are not good enough to sing for your school. Interesting enough, I have had many adults tell me they won’t sing because they were told as a child that their voice was “off key” by their teachers. I don’t ever want to do that to a child in my classes. Of course I want to the choir to sound as good as possible, but not at the cost of an eight year old’s hurt feelings.

Students had help getting into their ocean-going canoes.

Q: The filming looks like quite an operation! How many volunteers did you have and were there other school district officials who helped out?

I am fortunate to work for an organization that prides itself on service to the school and to the Hawaiian community. Our school is K-12, and everyone who was asked to participate was excited to contribute their expertise to the project. With the full support of our principal, Kahea Naeole-Wong, I enlisted the help of several staff members. The High School Technology teacher who filmed the event had a great time as he rode on the back of the Jet Ski for some of the footage. Our Hawaiian language expert helped with pronunciation, our school lifeguard volunteered his time, our art teacher, as always, helped with crowd control, and another technology teacher heard about the project and came down to the bay to take still shots and document the event. Of course mahalos go to the wonderful parents who were willing to bring their children to the locations on the first day of our Christmas vacation. It was definitely a team effort.
Q: Do you perform the WLC at your school each year?

Our school always participates in the concert as part of Music In Our Schools Month; however, we generally do it in the individual classrooms.

Q: Have you applied to be a featured school in the WLC before? Have you appeared in the program before?

Prior to coming to Kamehameha School’s present campus, which opened in fall 2001, I was the music teacher at nearby Chiefess Kapiolani Elementary School. The choir was fortunate to be on-screen participants two times in the 1990’s. It was such an exciting event for the school at that time — I wanted my students at Kamehameha to experience the thrill as well.

Q: Discuss your school and your music program — also, how long have your taught at this school or at other schools?

Kamehameha Schools was founded by the will of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a descendant of Hawaiian royalty, and the great-granddaughter of Kamehameha the Great. Kamehameha School was established in 1887 in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. Two new campuses were established on the neighbor islands of Maui and Hawaii in 1997; they now serve students in grades K – 12. Kamehameha also operates 30 preschool sites statewide. The three campuses enroll over 5,000. Christian and Hawaiian cultural values and practices as well as service learning are integral to Kamehameha Schools programs, both on campus and in the community. It is the policy of Kamehameha Schools to give preference to applicants of Hawaiian ancestry to the extent permitted by law. Incidentally, Kamehameha Schools is the largest private landowner in the state of Hawaii.
The children come to music class twice in each six-day rotation. As a member of the Hawaii Orff-Schulwerk Association I embrace the teachings of Carl Orff with a hands on approach to music education including the integration of speech, singing, movement, body percussion and instrumental playing.

After graduating from the University of Connecticut, I taught in East Hartford, Connecticut and then Miami, Florida. For the past 23 years I have lived in Hawaii where I have been fortunate to be a music educator at a very supportive public school and now at Kamehameha Schools where music is an integral part of the school curriculum.

Q: How did the kids feel about being chosen for the taping?

The choir was very excited to be chosen for the WLC. They worked very hard to learn the songs during the busiest time of the year. Along with preparing for our Christmas Concert, the students of Kamehameha Schools prepare for the very important Founder’s Day Celebration on December 19th. There were no complaints from anyone as we prepared for these three big events.

All in all it was a wonderful experience for the Keiki Choir and we look forward to the airing of the concert. Mahalo nui for letting us be a part of such a special event.

The World’s Largest Concert

All photos by Chandall Asuncion

Roz Fehr, March 26, 2009. © MENC: The National Association for Music Education