BY LAURIE RUBIN – The walk from our apartment on New York’s Upper West Side to Lincoln Center never contained a dull moment. The aromas from restaurants of every variety perfumed the air, and men and women rushed past to a number of important and interesting destinations.
Jenny and I were always aware of an exciting new Broadway show opening, or that amazing new Italian restaurant in the village that everyone had been telling us to try, just a subway ride away.
Then, there was always the pervading reason why Jenny and I were living in New York. On our walk to Lincoln Center, we could see it everywhere in the young men and women carrying cases with musical instruments, in the posters announcing various concerts, in the snippets of conversations we’d hear about this or that audition. From the time Jenny and I were in college, we knew we’d live in New York.
During our seven years in New York, I sang a lead role in a festival put on by New York City Opera, and I had some pinch me moments when getting to sing with some of the most celebrated musicians in concerts with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Jenny played bass clarinet with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and co-founded a chamber music ensemble and recital series. The two of us were constantly inspired and overwhelmed by all the amazing musicians around us, but one thing New York made us realize is that good mezzo-sopranos and clarinetists are a dime a dozen.
Sure we could play gigs, receive accolades, and enjoy the immediate rush and highs of performance, but there was something deeper in our journey as musicians we realize we had not found yet.
One evening as we examined our lives over a midnight snack, Jenny said,
“It’s been a dream of mine to start a performing arts summer school and festival in Hawaii.”
Though I was puzzled for a moment by this random proclamation, it did not take me long to be right there with Jenny in her enthusiasm. She began to paint the picture of her high school years. Jenny was born and raised in Hawaii, and when she started band in seventh grade, she discovered her talent for the clarinet.
She continued to excel through high school, spending many happy years in the Youth Symphony, discovering the joys of orchestral repertoire, and enjoying the camaraderie of her fellow classical musician peers. Then, in her senior year, Jenny won the Emerson Electric Scholarship, awarded to one student in each state, to attend Interlochen Arts Camp, a place in Michigan for youth to be immersed in disciplined study of the performing arts.
Jenny shared a cabin with dancers, singers, instrumentalists, actors, and film makers around her age from the US, Europe, South America, and Asia. Every day, she and the other campers ate, breathed, and slept music, studying everything from technique to chamber music to orchestra.
Her program culminated in an orchestra concert under the stars in an outdoor amphitheater surrounded by all the countries’ flags from which the students hailed, and an enthusiastic audience numbering in the thousands. Interlochen changed Jenny’s life, and her perception of music.
She remembers thinking often of her equally talented friends in Hawaii who simply did not have the resources to attend a place like Interlochen, and who did not know what possibilities awaited musicians outside of Hawaii.
In January of 2010 on one of our visits to Hawaii to visit Jenny’s family, Jenny happened to mention this dream of hers to her sister Cari who is the director of the Children’s Performing Theater at the Hongwanji Mission School. Cari was a theater major at the University of Portland, and returned to Hawaii to teach drama and direct plays for youth ages 8-13. One of Cari’s dreams was to create more opportunities for students to be able to experience being in musical theater productions.
“So why don’t we get it started then?” was Cari’s response, and start it, we did that very summer.
We are now into our third season of Ohana Arts. The program began as a musical theater workshop for youth ages 8-18. We had 22 participants the first summer, and nearly tripled the second summer with 57 students.
The workshop consisted of intensive training in acting, dancing, and singing, and culminated in fully staged productions, complete with elaborate costumes and sets.
Parents’ and students’ enthusiasm for the new opportunity Ohana Arts opened up for them was both inspiring and eye-opening.
Though Hawaii is rich with community theater and educational performing arts programs for students, there seemed to be limited opportunities for the child who never knew anything about theater to the seasoned drama student. Similarly, opportunities for intensive classical music study and exploration during the summer are few and far between.
As Jenny, Cari, and I have started conversations with the various performing arts teachers on island, the enthusiasm for a program that could build motivation and passion in their students to work towards something new and exciting has been overwhelming.
In the summer of 2012, Ohana Arts will launch an intensive training program in classical music for both local and mainland, middle and high school students where they will study with professionals from both Hawaii and the mainland.
In the meantime, Ohana Arts is very excited to present its Fall Festival of Music from October 30th-November 6th which will include the Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus, Hawaii Public Radio, a production of a one-woman opera just performed on the east coast, and much more in a celebration of French classical music. The festival will include several masterclasses and performances.
Our walks near our new home in Hawaii are very different, but no less exciting or adventurous than those in New York. As neighbors walk by and wave a friendly “hello,” we are filled with the warm spirit of Hawaii, by its rich culture.
We see it as an incredible haven for people worldwide to convene to see performances, to eventually send their children to study, for talented local youth to have access to an intensive, international training program which will inspire their life’s direction.
The joy we get from building this program is not that immediate rush from the applause that dies down after a few hours after a great performance.
It is a life’s work with gradual, yet exciting growth along the way.
The joy we feel from seeing the same enthusiastic students year after year getting better and more confident never dies down.