play time

Craig DeSilva
April 03, 2019

Music can bring people together. Whether in a concert hall, an outdoor stadium, or kani ka pila at home, music has the power to turn strangers into friends. It can comfort us during times of grief, make us get up and dance, lift our spirits when we’re down, and even help mend a broken heart.

Here are four groups of people who share a love for music that keeps them together.

Music on the lawn
Attorney Andy Char doesn’t have to make a case for why bluegrass music is good for body and soul. Char looks forward to playing the banjo and fiddle during monthly jams with fellow Bluegrass Hawai'i members at Ma-noa District Park.

“We’ve developed these friendships over the years playing music with each other, even though for some you only know their first names and what instruments they play,” says Char, whose love of bluegrass stems from listening to Bob Dylan’s NashvilleSkyline album at college on the Mainland in the 1970s. “Sometimes we endup talking more than playing.”

Virginia Hayes, Bob Hayes, Andrew Char, and Gary Jennings

Bluegrass Hawai'i members often take their toe-tapping music on the road to the delight of patients and residents in hospitals and care homes. The group’s largest event will be a music camp at Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden, April 26–29, called Bluegrass in the Ko'olaus. Bluegrass lovers immerse themselves in the music into the wee hours of the night. The twice annual music camp attracts bluegrass players from as far away as Alaska.

“Music is a universal language,” says fiddler Jane “Puna” Fyrberg. “It  crosses all ethnic and social economic groups and creates a wonderful bond.”

They got the beat
The support that Daniel Kam gets from the local music community has set him on a course that could last a lifetime.

Kam, 18, started playing percussion when he was in his elementary school’s band, but had a rough time getting the rhythm down. “I began losing hope,” he admits. “I doubted myself and almost quit.”

But his music teacher, Edwin Ho, encouraged him to stay with it and audition for the Hawaii Youth Symphony (HYS), where he played percussion for five years. Then local jazz bassist Dean Taba encouraged Kam to audition for the HYS’s jazz program, The Combo.

Daniel Kim

Kam says playing in The Combo has raised his playing to a higher level.

The guidance and support Kam receives from mentors and fellow student musicians have given him the confidence to pursue a music career. A senior at Roosevelt High School, he’s now applying to music colleges on the Mainland.

“A big part of being a musician is having good relationships with other musicians,” he says. “Hawai'i’s music community is so tight knit. The more you know people, the easier the music will come because you’ll have a network of support to turn to.”

Sacred time together
Michael Nassir isn’t religious, but classical music has been his salvation.

“Music is tonic for the soul,” he says. “It takes me away from daily worries and concerns.”

Janice Cole, Clifford Hand, and Michael Nassir

Nassir grew up playing piano, but didn’t think he was good enough to become a concert pianist. A physics and astronomy instructor at the University of Hawai'i at Ma-noa, he plays chamber music with friends monthly
at an informal home gathering. And when the music stops, their fellowship continues over snacks and drinks. “That social time is precious,” he says. “We look forward to it just as much as playing music. It’s what keeps us together.”

Nassir says they don’t feel polished enough to perform in public. But their true joy is simply playing for each other. “It’s so satisfying when we can blend and play in sync,” he says. “It’s break-your-heart gorgeous.“     

Pau hana time
Dentist Randy Kam doesn’t have to pull teeth to get a Hawaiian-style band together.

The chalangalang of the 'ukulele and nahenahe slack key tunes have attracted friends and 'ohana for kani ka pila to kick back and relax after work. Kam and his wife, Leslie Brey, organize the monthly pau hana at The Pacific Club in downtown Honolulu. No matter if you’re a novice or been playing for years, all’s welcome.

Leslie Brey and Randy Kam

“That’s the beauty of it,” says Kam. “You don’t have to carry a tune. Just have fun and enjoy spending unhurried time together.”

Even local entertainer Danny Kaleikini dropped by one night. 

Kam fondly remembers Hawaiian music as the center of family lu-'aus and funerals. Much of the music they play is grounded in family roots—from grandma’s favorite song to music an uncle used to play. Some of them even showed up unexpectedly to play for Kam’s mom in hospice.

“That’s real local style to care for one another,” he says.

Photos by Romeo Collado

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