DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Honolulu Boy Choir members took a short break from practice yesterday and stretched at Makiki Christian Church. This is only the second practice since Christmas for the choir, in danger of disbanding.
Boy Choir sings money blues
After a stellar 32-year history, the nonprofit enterprise finds itself short of operating cash
They have been called the voices of aloha.
They represented the United States at the 50th Anniversary Peace World Commemoration in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1995. They sang at the World War II Memorial Dedication in Washington, D.C., two years ago.
But after 32 years of spreading aloha to audiences in Hawaii and around the world, the voices of the Honolulu Boy Choir could go silent.
HOW YOUR VOICE CAN BE HEARD
For information on how to help the Honolulu Boy Choir, visit the organization's Web site at www.honoluluboychoir.org or call Michelle Saito at 542-4736.
Last Thursday, Honolulu Boy Choir board Chairwoman Jean Rolles told the boys' parents that the nonprofit organization will shut down when its liability insurance expires at the end of May. Rolles said the organization has been struggling financially for at least five years.
Still, parents said the announcement was a surprise.
"We didn't think it was going to be terminated," said Michelle Saito, whose 8-year-old son, Kainoa, has been in the choir for more than a year.
Saito is co-chairwoman of a committee of parents trying to save the choir. The parents persuaded the board to allow the boys to resume rehearsals this week. In the meantime they are trying to put together a business plan to present to the board.
Saito said the committee is just getting started. However, people have called to offer their business and musical experience and donations. And one anonymous donor has pledged $25,000 if the parents can match it, she said.
Rolles said, "(The parents) just don't understand, you have to have a sustainable business, so to speak. It needs an organization to run it on a regular basis and regular funding."
"We're starting to understand that," said Carlson Mun, whose 13-year-old son, Matthew, has been in the choir more than six years.
The parents realize they are facing an uphill battle, but they said it is worth the effort.
Saito said her son has grown emotionally and is more focused and mature since joining the choir.
Karen Ishida is the other co-chairwoman of the parents committee. She also said her 9-year-old son, Bryce, is more disciplined and confident because of the choir. And Bryce is confident a solution will be found.
"I think we can continue on," he said.
Rolles said she believes the Honolulu Boy Choir name is the organization's greatest asset. And she said the board will not turn the name over to an organization that will do anything to tarnish the good will earned by the more than 2,200 boys who have been members over the years.
The choir does not charge the boys tuition. It survives on donations, fundraising and honorariums from its performances. Rolles said there is just no money in the choir business anymore.
She said that in the past the choir could earn $20,000 for a Mother's Day program. The last time it earned any money on Mother's Day was five or six years ago, and then only $1,200, Rolles said.
When Roy Hallman started the Honolulu Boy Choir in 1974, its expenses were low. At the time, Hallman was choral director of Central Union Church in Honolulu. His wife was accompanist and musical arranger.
When their involvement ended about 10 years ago, the organization had to hire people to take their place, Rolles said. It has even had to pay for storage for the choir's equipment and uniforms and rent rehearsal space. She said it costs about $140,000 a year to run the organization.