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Choir students joined hands with members of the Kawaiaha’o Church while singing the traditional Hawaiian song “Hawai’i Aloha” at a festival in Honolulu

Members of the concert choir, the women wearing long red dresses and the men wearing black suits, singing at a concert. They are standing on risers with tan sound barriers behind them. Several black microphones can be seen.
The BYUH Ho'olokahi Chamber Choir performing at the "Out of Darkness" concert late last year.
Photo by Christal Lee

Members of the university's choirs participated for the first time since the pandemic at a choir festival in Honolulu, and John Zenger, a junior from Rexburg, Idaho, majoring in intercultural peacebuilding and music, said an unique aspect of the event was a guest conductor from a university or professional choir comes and directs all of the choirs in a piece they perform together at the end of the day.

The BYUH's Hoʻolōkahi Chamber Choir and Seasider Singers attended the festival was titled “Praise the Lord!” on March 21 hosted by the Kawaiaha’o Church. Part of the festival took place on campus with the American Heritage School Chamber Choir from American Fork, Utah, and the rest was in Honolulu at the Kawaiaha’o Church.

It was the first festival Dr. Erica Glenn, a visiting assistant professor of choral activities and voice in the Faculty of Language & Performing Arts, attended as a BYUH professor.

John Lidang, a junior from Las Vegas majoring in political science, said to prepare for the festival he listened every day to tracks of the songs they needed to learn. Even though the students typically get into "serious mode" before an upcoming event, said Lidang, it was unique this time because the festival was on a Monday. This meant the choir members had two days before the festival where they did not sing together.

Additionally, Abish Baliwas, a sophomore from the Philippines majoring in biology and anthropology, said she prepared for the festival by reviewing her music to ensure she was confident and secure in her parts. She emphasized she listens to the other choir members to make sure they all blend.

She said it was important to follow Dr. Glenn as she directed them, specifically regarding dynamics. "I work not for myself but for the whole choir," said Baliwas. She added it took a team effort for the choir to perform well.

Kenneth Makuakane, the senior pastor of the Kawaiaha’o Church, began the festival with a prayer and an introduction of the choirs. Makuakane said the festival was sacred for the Kawaiaha’o Church.

Choir member Brandon Sorilla said he was very excited to perform “Leron, Leron,” at the festival because it is a Filipino song. Sorilla, a junior from the Philippines majoring in vocal performance, said he worked on this song with the Seasider Singers in 2020 before the pandemic, but they never had a chance to perform the song. “It was great to hear people actually sing it now,” he added.

The festival was available to the public and admission was free. Members of the local Kawaiaha’o Church community attended the festival as audience members, and during the festival, students from all over the world worshipped in song with members of the church.

The program

The festival began with two numbers performed by both choirs. The first piece, “Praise the Lord,” was arranged by Ralph Johnson. Next, the choirs sang “The Spirt of God Like a Fire Is Burning,” arranged by Mack Wilberg. BYUH students John Zenger, Cris Wilson and Sam Hansen were the soloists for this song.

Following the opening numbers, the BYUH Seasider Singers performed four numbers, including “Tongo,” by Greg Gilpin; “Sure on This Shining Night,” by Morten Lauridsen; “Cantar!” by Jay Althouse; and “I Sing Because I’m Happy,” by Charles H. Gabriel, arranged by Kenneth Paden and Rollo Dilworth.

Next in the program was the American Heritage School Chamber Choir directed by Rob Swenson. Its pieces were “Exultate Deo,” by Alessandro Scarlatti; “Come By Here,” by Kyle Pederson; “Ko e Lupe (The Dove),” by Hiva Usu and transcribed by Rob Swenson; “Amazing Grace,” arranged by Bruce Stevenson; and “Still I Rise,” by Rosephanye.

Anna Wright, a freshman from Gilbert, Arizona, majoring in psychology is a member of the Seasider Singers. She said “Ko e Lupe (The Dove),” by Hiva Usu was a favorite of many students because it is a Tongan piece.

Wright shared this number was her favorite because of the history tied to the song. “Oral stories can fade because they aren’t written down,” said Wright. “So, to write it down into a song and preserve it in that way is just amazing.”

Next, Buddy Nalua’i performed an organ solo, which was an improvisation on “Beautiful Savior.”

The Ho’olokahi Chamber Choir followed the organ solo and performed four pieces titled “Alleluia,” by Jake Runestad; “Ohtul,” by Part Uusberg; “Earth Song,” by Frank Ticheli; and “Leron, Leron,” which was arranged by Saunder Choi.

The closing number was a traditional Hawaiian song titled “Hawai’i Aloha,” and was performed by all three choirs as well as the congregation.

Iese Wilson, student director and alumni of BYUH, introduced this number and shared the history behind its meaning. “It is a privilege for us to join hands and keep this tradition alive,” said Wilson. The festival concluded with everyone joining hands and singing “Hawai’i Aloha” altogether.