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Trio blends unlikely sounds into award-winning music

Guitarists and erhu player to perform at MACC on Saturday

Greg Sardinha (from left), Tsun-Hui Hung and Jeff Peterson, who combine the unique sounds of steel guitar, Chinese erhu, and Hawaiian slack key guitar, will perform during the next Live @ the MACC virtual concert series at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Photos courtesy of Jeff Peterson

An unusual blending of Hawaiian slack key guitar and steel guitar with the Chinese erhu led the “Across the Sea” trio of Jeff Peterson, Greg Sardinha and Tsun-Hui Hung to a 2018 Hoku Award for Instrumental Album of the Year.

Now, the three virtuosos on their respective instruments will combine talents at 7:30 p.m. Saturday to present a unique cross-cultural collaboration as part of the Live @ the MACC virtual concert series.

Melding the haunting sound of the erhu with slack key and steel guitar, the trio’s award-winning album featured new arrangements of such Hawaiian standards as “Waika,” “Keawaiki” and “Pua Lililehua.”

“It’s such an unusual sound, but it combines well with the Hawaiian instrumentation,” Peterson explained. “We wanted to give traditional Hawaiian songs a new light with the erhu, which is very much like a voice.”

Internationally recognized as one of the most innovative players of the traditional two-string Chinese version of a violin, Hung graduated from Taiwan’s Chinese Culture University, and received a Master of Arts in music composition from Ohio University and a Ph.D. in cognitive ethnomusicology from Ohio State University. She has won numerous awards, including first prize at the prestigious Taiwan National Erhu competition.

Maui-born guitarist Jeff Peterson performs on the Great Wall of China. He will play a solo Live @ the MACC show on April 17 with new compositions that reflect the many places he’s visited.

Hung, who lives in Hawaii, has also recorded with steel guitarist Sardinha on another project, and with the Hawaiian Style Band’s Wade Cambern on the duet album “Constant as the Moon.”

The trio has toured the Mainland and around Taiwan, as well as playing on Oahu.

“We’ve got a good response,” said Peterson. “It’s been fun.”

For the MACC show, they will focus on songs from “Across the Sea” and introduce some new material, “since the album came out,” he said.

Peterson will also perform at another Live @ the MACC virtual concert at 7:30 p.m. April 17. That solo show will feature a number of new compositions.

“It will reflect places I’ve been,” said the Maui-born guitarist. “There are Spanish influences and also a piece inspired by a trip to Istanbul and a trip to India and Africa. I went to Zimbabwe on a tour with the State Department with Keola Beamer and Moanalani. We had an amazing experience. I wrote a piece there called ‘Aloha Meets Ubuntu.’

“Ubuntu is the concept of humanity and togetherness, which is part of their culture. I’m going to play that piece and I prepare my guitar to make it sound like a kalimba, what they call the mbira in Zimbabwe. For the piece from Istanbul I tune my guitar to sound like an oud.”

A frequent Na Hoku winner, Peterson’s latest recording, “Ka Nani O Ki Ho’alu, The Beauty of Slack Key,” won awards in 2020 for Hawaiian Slack Key Album and Instrumental Composition of the Year.

He’s looking forward to releasing a new album soon.

“It’s all original music that I wrote over the past year,” he said. “I’m hoping it will be out in April. Just being at home with the pandemic was a good way to be creative. I went crazy and wrote over 100 songs. I’m doing these weekly streaming shows on Stages.com on Wednesdays, and I try to do a new program every week. I’ll take a theme like the uplands of Maui and I would research songs about it and write new pieces. I went through every island and I did different eras and people in Hawaiian history.”

He was also busy writing books in 2020, self-publishing two ukulele instructional guides on Amazon — “20 Practice Routines for Fingerstyle Ukulele” and “Graded Classical Repertoire for the Ukulele.”

“I found a way to play famous guitar pieces I’ve always loved, like by Bach, Vivaldi and Beethoven, and I made arrangements for the ukulele,” he said.

More than 60 classical pieces, including Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” are arranged for low-G ukulele.

Peterson will also be teaming with acclaimed classical guitarist Ben Verdery and Oahu-born musician Ian O’Sullivan on ukulele, performing an arrangement of Peter Moon’s “Guava Jam” to open Verdery’s “Peace, Love & Guitars” video concert, featuring collaborations with various musicians, presented by the New York City Classical Guitar Society.

Filmed in Hawaii and New York, it will stream at 2 p.m. Hawaii time and 8 p.m. Eastern time on April 23. Tickets at Eventbrite.

“Ben is such a genius,” Peterson said. “I’m barely scratching the surface with collaborations compared to what Ben does. It’s phenomenal. Ian will be on the North Shore and I will be in Kailua and we’ll see where Ben will film. I’m sure it will be a very creative place. I’m excited.”

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