Sharing Mana‘o

Love it or hate it, ’tis the season for Christmas music.

A report by Soundtrack Your Brand, a company that provides background music for businesses, claims that 25 percent of retail employees say that listening to holiday melodies nonstop makes them less festive. The report, based on a survey of 2,000 staff and shoppers, has spawned several news stories proclaiming the detrimental effects of Christmas music, especially on folks who are constantly exposed to it, such as retail workers and radio DJs. As a broadcaster, to that I say, “Bah, humbug!”

From traditional carols and hymns to contemporary tunes and even irreverent parodies, I love it all. And I am especially susceptible to student Christmas concerts, being a former band nerd myself.

Last weekend was joyous indeed, beginning with the Wailuku First Friday town party and some 200 student musicians from Iao Intermediate School. As I stood on the corner of Market and Main streets, listening to the strains of “Good King Wenceslaus,” my mind wandered back half a century. The star of the traditional Wailuku town Christmas parades was, of course, Santa Claus, tossing candies from his perch atop a fire engine. But the most enchanting sight, for me, was the Baldwin High School marching band, dressed in flannel pajamas and nightcaps, playing all my favorite carols.

By the time I became a member of the BHS band, the parade tradition had ended, but Wailuku was still a thriving business district. Even with the newly opened malls in Kahului, folks still shopped on Friday nights at Kress and National Dollar on Main Street and mom-and-pop stores like Emura Jewelry and Ikeda’s along Market. On one of those December nights, we would don our formal deep blue uniforms instead of PJs to perform on the sidewalk in front of First Hawaiian Bank. We also played Christmas concerts at the malls, but Wailuku was my sentimental favorite.

Saturday evening, the 20th annual lighting of Lahaina’s historic Banyan Tree attracted an audience of over 1,000. We were treated to an hour of holiday music played beautifully by the Lahainaluna High School concert band. Hearing them play the same arrangement of “Sleigh Ride” that I remember from my Baldwin days, I slipped into another reverie, which led to a chicken-skin realization.

In the mid-1970s, we Baldwin band nerds had a friendly rivalry with the Sabers and Lunas, but all of the students, regardless of affiliation, had great respect for the three public high school band directors: Baldwin’s Lance Jo, Maui High’s James Kidoguchi and Lahainaluna’s Brian Kelley. Together, these men inspired thousands of young musicians throughout their decades of service. In fact, the current band directors at those schools — Stephen Rodrigues at Baldwin, Kerry Wasano at Maui, Myron Carlos at Lahainaluna — are all alumni who returned to teach at their alma maters.

And while we’re on the subject of passing batons and continuing legacies, here’s an even more remarkable and heartwarming tidbit. Iao school’s band director, David Kuraya, is the son of Noel Kuraya, who led the Iao band for 26 years.

Most of my Christmas shopping is done, but I plan to make several more visits to the malls, just to enjoy the band concerts. Each of the schools has posted its holiday performance schedule online, or you can check the shopping centers’ calendars. The Lahainaluna band will cap off its Christmas concert season with a trip to San Diego, where it will participate in the Holiday Bowl parade and halftime show on Dec. 28, broadcast on sports channel FS1. It’ll be playing “The Pina Colada Song,” so even you Grinches who hate Christmas music can enjoy the performance.

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is kcmaui913@gmail.com.

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