Not specific to the Joy of Music…and All That Jazz but more about the environment that has helped to nurture and grow the Windward Choral Society into the group of singers who can make such a fundraising event happen. A non-auditioned community chorus is a rare thing and the support of the community is the blood that runs through its veins. Here on Oahu that community is much larger than our little town of Kailua and the whole island has a musical thread that runs through it.

I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker the other day that sparked a little thingy in my brain (there are precious few LARGE thingies in there as I bet you know if you read my stuff). Both of his parents are Chinese and as they began to grow a family were looking for an alternative place to put down roots. Without getting all political they simply thought that the environment they were in wasn’t the best for raising and educating their children.

His father had been on a business trip to Taiwan and was moved by how children politely referred to their elders as “uncle” and “auntie”, terms of endearment that were used to address even perfect strangers (like himself). That simple piece of culture pushed the right buttons and my co-worker was raised in Taiwan until he was nearly high school age and the family immigrated to the United States and chose to take the path to citizenship (I’m not gonna get all political with this either but if that’s not the story of how this place was built I don’t know what is).

I remember the first time a neighbor’s young girl called me “uncle” without having a clue as to who I was (having recently become a GREAT-uncle I am really a fan of someone not using the “great” prefix…makes me feel old). It was so simple and innocent and such a perfect example of aloha, especially to someone who had just moved to Hawaii, that it made me feel welcome in a way that was hard to describe.

Now that I’ve been here for many years I’ve absorbed a long list of what makes Hawaii special, acknowledging that there’s a long list of others I have yet to experience. From something as simple as a shaka thrown as someone slows to let you into traffic (don’t look for THAT in southern California) or the sight of a man built like an NFL lineman sitting at a bus stop playing a uke, this place is unique.

The one that really got me though (and still does) was when I was singing in a church choir and the final piece of music was “Hawaii Aloha”. I’d never heard it before and thought its simple melody line was just beautiful. As I was a new haole guy I made a point of looking up the lyrics and it got even better.

Imagine my surprise when, as we started the song, the congregation stood and moved together taking each other by the hand as they sang with us, raising them to the sky as the last “Mau ke aloha, no Hawaiʻi” wound down. It was so spontaneous that I just stood there and stared.

Fast forward all these years and I’m used to it now just like the rest of you, but take a step back and consider: fill a room anywhere in Hawaii the size of the Ko’olau Ballroom (where the Joy of Music will be on 11/19, tell your friends), doesn’t matter what the mix of skin color or income level, and bring forward “Hawaii Aloha”. They will all rise as one and take each other’s hands to raise their voices. Perfect strangers. A white-haired uncle joining hands with a 20-something covered with tattoos; a dishwasher from Korea and a US Senator; it doesn’t matter. They wrap their arms around Hawaii and become a choir for just those few minutes and, as they leave, there’s always a little extra aloha to go around.

THAT, my friends, it what fills a room to keep the arts alive.