To accommodate losing the majority of its students who graduated or left over the past year, the BYU-Hawaii Salsa Orchestra was rebuilt and debuted its new talent for a concert in the McKay Auditorium on Nov. 30, according to director Darren Duerden.
Duerden, professor of music, shared how finding student vocalists is always challenging due to a lack of Latin American influence in Laie, but he said he tried to get students who were familiar with the language and even if they are not Latino. He said he asks native Spanish tutors to help performers use the correct pronunciation. “We are a gringo ensemble, but that’s not the sense that I want you to get from looking at it and from hearing us. I can’t change the color of my skin, but I can change the dialect of the way they [the performers] speak and the music.”
The group performed various Latin American styles from bossa nova music from Brazil to bachata music from the Dominican Republic.
Some contemporary songs were also performed. Some audience favorites were a salsa version of Adele’s “Hello” sung by Rikki Brady, “Haven’t Met You Yet” by Michael Bublé sung by Jeff Mellor, and a special number performed by Assistant Professor Melissa Glenn who sang “Mambo Italiano.”
The grand finale was a song performed in English and Spanish called “No Woman, No Cry,” sung by Laurence Laureano with an unexpected rap intervention from student Spencer Grubbe.
Some of the students who had the opportunity to perform said they were grateful for the opportunity. Ethan Christensen, a freshman majoring in biochemistry from Laie, said he was part of the Kahuku High School Band and performed with Duerden’s son. He said, “We mostly learn what we play during the semester. I didn't know how to play what I did. I learned that this semester, so I am grateful for that opportunity.”
Christensen played the congas, which he said is a percussion instrument played in a variety of Latin American countries. “Tonight we played songs from Peru [and] Cuba. They use it in Africa as well; it’s actually an African drum but is a big Latin American instrument.”
Sullivan Quinn, a sophomore with an undeclared major from Utah, said he played the trumpet since middle school and learned how to play the ukulele on his mission.
Quinn said, “The best part of doing the Salsa Orchestra is the energy. There is so much that goes down in a salsa orchestra that you can’t just simply stand and play, you have to dance while you do it.” Quinn was singing and dancing while on stage. He added, “It’s all the energy that builds up - You gotta sing, you gotta dance!” He explained that there’s no place for competition within the orchestra since everyone is an important part of it.
Herbert Ishibashi, a senior majoring in elementary education from the Big Island, played the saxophone. He said he previously played the saxophone during middle school but stopped playing so he could serve a mission. “Before I started school here, the Salsa Orchestra came over to my stake, they played, and there was an awesome saxophone player.
“Her name was Koko Ohira and as I watched her, I was like, ‘I gotta get back to it.’ So I picked up my sax, practiced as much as I could, and then I came here and ended up playing next to Koko in the Salsa Orchestra, and the rest is history.”
Ishibashi also shared his excitement about being in the orchestra. “It’s been awesome! It’s been so fun! Everybody here has so much talent! I feel a little overwhelmed sometimes, like I’m not good enough to be part of the Salsa Orchestra. I am so stoked to be part of it!”
Cheyanne Malstrom, a junior from Wyoming majoring in social work, said, “I was really impressed. I think I knew that Jeff speaks Spanish from his mission. I didn’t know the other two [vocalists], but I was actually very impressed with their vocals and I thought it was really good.
“I liked how they had some little descriptions of the songs that they sang because I didn't know about bachata and how in the Dominican Republic it was considered for the lower class to listen to.”
Malstrom said, “I thought it was awesome. … The signing was really cool cause a lot of it was in Spanish and it was really impressive that they were able to sing in Spanish. They also sang in English, which was good too.”
To students and audience members, Quinn said, “We’ll keep on giving you guys good entertainment. Come to our next concerts. This was pretty good attendance, but we gotta get the word out! Let’s get people here!”
He also made an invitation for students who are interested in being a part of the Salsa Orchestra. “It’s a lot of fun so let’s get a lot more people here! Dr. Duerden is awesome! Dr. Duerden is probably one of the best teachers you can ever have.”
Ishibashi added, “If there are any secret musicians out there who want to play but feel kinda sheepish about it, come! We’ll find a place for you, and you’ll love it.”