hawaiian slack key guitar instruction: moving forward by looking

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    Hlili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being Vol.8 (2012)Copyright 2012 by Kamehameha Schools.

    Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Instruction: Moving Forward by Looking Back

    Joseph Keola Donaghy

    correspondence may be sent to: Joseph Keola Donaghy, Music Department, University of Hawaii Maui College 310 Kaahumanu Avenue, Kahului, Hawaii 96732-1617 Email: donaghy@hawaii.edu

    The term kk k halu, Hawaiian slack key guitar, describes a style

    of guitar playing that has evolved since the introduction of the guitar

    to the Hawaiian archipelago in the early 19th century. While slack

    key guitar began to develop at least 50 years after the first arrival of

    Western explorers in 1778, many precontact and immediate postcon-

    tact Hawaiian elements of classical Hawaiian education have been

    transmitted in it. This article describes several of the ways knowledge

    of slack key guitar technique and repertoire have changed by profiling

    five guitarists and examining their experiences learning or transmit-

    ting knowledge of the style. Such knowledge tends to be transmitted

    through observation and imitation from generation to generation

    within the ohana (family), and outside of the family using modern

    teaching tools and pedagogy.

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    Hlili Vol.8 (2012)

    I would like an understanding of tradition that invites me to dissolve the worst excesses of modernisation theory and detraditionalisation hypotheses, which strike me as quite disrespectful of many peoples attempts to sustainably maintain continuities of learning and wisdom in their own localities and communities. If you wish to live tradition, these conversations, these narratives, such claims about

    tradition, dont leave you with much of a choice. You mainly get to choose among various worlds pervaded by determinism: worlds of prescription; of storage and retrieval; of unthinking repetition; of unquestioned ideology and unquestioned authority. You could also opt for a world of despair as you passively watch what you love inevitably disappearing in the face of active change and a steamrolling modernity, while clambering to preserve it in the face of impending and irreparable silence. (McCann, 2010, p. 84)

    The term kk k halu, Hawaiian slack key guitar, describes a style of guitar playing that has evolved since the introduction of the guitar to the Hawaiian archipelago in the early 19th century. Kk k halu literally translates as guitar with loosened strings. Kanahele (1979) attributes the terms popularity to the efforts of The Hawaiian Music Foundation beginning in 1971. Keola Beamer believes that Alice Nmakelua coined the term but has no firsthand knowledge to substantiate this opinion (personal communication). While slack key guitar began to develop at least 50 years after the first arrival of Western explorers in 1778, some elements of classical Hawaiian education can be found in its transmission. In this article I will describe several aspects of the way in which knowledge of slack key guitar techniques and repertoire have changed by profiling five guitarists and examining their experiences as students/learners, teachers/mentors, or both. Through their stories I will examine slack key guitar performance as knowledge transmitted through observation and imitation from generation to generation within the ohana (family) and as knowledge transmitted outside of the family using modern teaching tools and pedagogy, including tablature and multimedia technologies. While I do not criticize the use of or dismiss the value of modern learning tech-nologies, I will highlight issues that I have noted stemming from dependence on modern methodologies. I argue that these issues may be addressed through the reimplementation of culturally relevant pedagogies aligned with and informed by

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    Donaghy | HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY GUITAR INSTRUCTION

    older transmission methodologies. Such a strategy would support ongoing efforts to foster an indigenous sense of well-being in the Hawaiian community through the use of both traditional knowledge and pedagogy (Kanaiaupuni & Kawaiaea, 2008). Finally, I will briefly discuss two issues that relate to these changescreativity and innovation and reciprocity for slack key guitar instructionwith the hope that these issues will be researched in greater depth in the future.

    History of Kk K Halu

    The precise origins and early development of slack key guitar remain unclear, and both have been the subjects of much conjecture.1 It is possible that Hawaiians first heard the guitar shortly after the arrival of James Cook in 1778 from subse-quent Western visitors to Hawaii. Some Hawaiians may have also encountered the guitar in 1818, when King Kamehameha I reportedly sent 80 Hawaiians to Monterey, California (Kanahele, 1979, p. 352). The guitar almost certainly arrived in Hawaii with some of the first paniolo2 from Northern Mexico (now Southern California) in 1832. It is indisputable that the guitar had become established in Hawaii before 1850. An advertisement in the June 6, 1840, issue of The Polynesian offers a bass viol, violin, and guitar strings for sale by Henry Paty and Company in Honolulu (Kanahele, 1979, p. 352).

    There is little documentation of the arrival of the guitar, and there appears to be even less of the development of slack key guitar. Beginning in the mid-1830s, Hawaiian language newspapers became the source of much information regarding Hawaiis rich oral history and society of that era, but there seemed to be little interest on the part of Hawaiians and others in documenting the use of the guitar in everyday life (Kanahele, 1979, p. 351). I tested this statement by searching the Ulukau Hawaiian Electronic Library, which contains approximately 7,000 text-searchable pages from Hawaiian newspapers printed between 1834 and 1948.3 Those pages contain only three references to guitar, the earliest occurring in 1868, and 17 references to the partially transliterated gita, the earliest found in 1862. The fully transliterated term kika occurs 165 times in the archive; however, in only three occurrences did the term refer to a guitar, the earliest appearing in the May 21, 1925, issue of Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, one of the most prominent and longest-running Hawaiian language newspapers. The other occurrences of kika in the newspapers referred to a cigar or a tiger.4

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    Hlili Vol.8 (2012)

    While there is no definitive proof that the arrival of the guitar can be attributed to the paniolo, their influence can be clearly heard in early Hawaiian composi-tions that reflect the influence of Spanish and Mexican melodies (Kanahele, 1979, pp. 351352) and the strong tradition of guitar in areas where the Mexican cowboys worked, such as Kohala on Hawaii Island. Recent evidence suggests that at least one nonstandard tuning,5 Open G, also known as G Spanish tuning,6 arrived with the Mexican cowboys (Kohl, 2006, pp. 3638). This tuning is known as Taro Patch tuning in Hawaii (Beamer, 1973, p. 33) and is one of the most widely used and arguably easiest tunings to learn and play. Kohl presented a music notation of the song Spanish Fandango, a Mexican folk song of Spanish influence, which dates to the 1800s. It was performed in the Open G tuning and sounds similar in melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic style to some older and modern slack key guitar styles (Kohl, 2006). Other subsequent tunings were likely developed by performers in Hawaii, allowing them to personalize their playing styles and facilitate perfor-mance in keys that were better suited to the performers vocal range (Beamer, personal communication, 2007).

    While most commonly performed as an accompaniment to vocal performance, kk k halu has also developed into a distinct unaccompanied guitar style. Keola Beamer, noted kk k halu performer and recording artist, recorded instrumental renditions of several Hawaiian song standards on his debut release, Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar in the Real Old Style (Beamer, 1996). Windham Hills recording artist George Winston helped increase public awareness of slack key guitar in the 1990s with the release of his Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters series, which features preeminent contemporary slack key guitar artists such as Keola Beamer, Ledward Kaapana, Sonny Chillingworth, Cyril Pahinui, George Ku, Raymond Kne, Dennis Kamakahi, and many others. Compilations of slack key guitar recordings, both with and without Hawaiian language vocals, by various artists were awarded the first four Grammy awards for Hawaiian Album of the Year, the first of which was bestowed in 2005. The selection of slack key recordings for these awards has caused some consternation within the Hawaiian community because of what has been perceived as its narrow representation of Hawaiian music, the awarding of the first Hawaiian Grammy to a non-Hawaiian producer, the mistaken belief that all of the releases lacked vocal performances in the Hawaiian language, and the awards selection by the Academys entire membership instead of restricting the process to those knowledgeable about Hawaiian music genres7 (Chun, 2001; Donaghy, 2007; Obejas, 2006). While lamentable, the passion displayed by both supporters and critics of the Academys selections show that slack key remains a living and vital component of Hawaiis musical tradition and its future.

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    Donaghy | HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY GUITAR INSTRUCTION

    Subject Biographies

    I will first provide biographical information regarding five performers of kk k halu and their roles as teachers/mentors and students/learners of slack key guitar. The first two, Raymond Kne and Kenneth Makuakne, I describe as learners of slack key guitar. The third, Pono Beamer, is discussed only in his role as a teacher/mentor. The last two, Alice Nmakelu

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