Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, April 5, 2001

Peter Moon, peering out his front patio door
at his Manoa home.

New Moon rising

The Sunday Manoa maestro
adds teaching to his impressive
list of accomplishments

By John Berger

After enjoying 30 years of success as a musician, songwriter and record producer, Peter Moon is taking off in two new directions. It's no surprise that one involves branching out into teaching ukulele. But he's also become a student of piano as well.

Moon has been sharing his knowledge of ukulele and ki hoalu (slack key) for several months, a task that makes him more uncomfortable than performing in front of hundreds of people.

"Being illiterate in music, I've developed a method for teaching that's not structured like a note-reading class because I don't read notes," he said.

"It's real different verbally imparting something and not performing, but I decided that this is a good time to do it. At this age I'm not in clubs and don't want to be up until 2 in the morning on weekends. I never wanted to be an old guy hanging on after 30 years on the road, and teaching is refreshing."

Moon goes public this weekend as he and Dwight Kanae present a guitar and ukulele workshop at the Mission Houses Museum on Saturday.

"Everybody wants to be a lead player these days, but we're going to include the history, too," Moon says. "I'll explain the usages of these 'tools,' as I call them, of Hawaiian music. We'll also perform on both (instruments), and answer questions. So it's part teaching and part performance."

The workshop is open to the public; reservations are strongly suggested. Those interesting in private lessons should call 941-9951 to schedule a skill-level placement appointment.

Moon's new career grew out of the response he received for the instructional video, "Peter Moon: The Magic of the 'Ukulele," that he released in 1999. Moon calls his syllabus "The Magic of the 'Ukulele," although he is teaching slack-key techniques as well. His students range in age from 9 to 81. Some are tackling an instrument for the first time. At least one is a professional guitarist who wants to learn Moon's style of slack key.

"I teach by ear but I have different methods and homework material I assign and I really feel like a teacher.

"I tell them that I will teach them the fundamentals of how to play a song so they don't sit here for a month and just do scales or chords, which is awfully boring. When you walk out of here I want you to be able to play something you like -- off the radio or off a CD -- and I want you to express yourself and not try to sound like somebody else."

Moon says that in addition to teaching he's also been enjoying the challenge of taking piano lessons "for fun, and to learn how to read music." His son was taking piano and Moon thought, why not?

"If there was a guitar teacher up the street or in this town that I wanted to learn something (from), I'd go. There's no ego involved. There's nobody who's perfect in music. My theory is if you're open, then learn something."

Moon helped to redefine modern Hawaiian music as a member of the Sunday Manoa in the late '60s and early '70s. He also contributed to the success of the Hawaiian Renaissance by organizing and producing the annual Kanikapila concerts at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Moon concentrated on the "business" side of the recording industry for several years in the '70s and came back stronger than ever in 1979 as the leader of the Peter Moon Band. The group's debut album, "Tropical Storm," won four Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, including "Album of the Year" and "Group of the Year," in 1980. The PMB also won "Single of the Year" in 1980 for "Island Love," and the song became an early musical signature.

Moon topped that in 1983 when his group's third album, "Cane Fire," won a total of seven Hoku Awards including two -- "Song of the Year" and "Single of the Year" -- for the title song.

Moon and a changing roster of all-star musicians continued to expand the frontiers of contemporary Hawaiian music thereafter with infusions of rock, reggae, jazz, and Latin music, years before "world music" became known here.

A musician's life of late nights and international concert tours became less appealing after Moon got married and became a father. The Peter Moon Band -- Moon, Mark Yim, Bobby Hall and Martin Pahinui -- gets together several times a year for "fun stuff" here and in Japan, but teaching is now his primary interest.

"Before the Renaissance it was like a hidden thing. No Hawaiian wanted to teach anybody else. That's been changing but I think it's still important to get it out there."

New Moon phase

Workshop: "The Magic of the 'Ukulele" with Peter Moon and Dwight Kanae
Date: 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday
Place: Mission Houses Museum, 553 S. King St.
Cost: $45 per person ($40 for Museum members); $65 for student 14 or younger and an adult. A maximum of 50 people will be accepted
Information: 531-0481

Note: Bring your own ukulele and/or guitar. No videotaping allowed.

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