Isle musicians give
aspiring stars
a head start

Spring semester schedule of classes

By Jason Genegabus

IT'S NOT OFTEN that Hawaii's karaoke regulars and backyard-style kanikapila band members get a chance to study with local music industry heavyweights. Now in its fourth semester of existence, Windward Community College's Hawaii Music Institute gives both novice and experienced musicians a rare opportunity to learn from the likes of Melveen Leed, Peter Moon and Byron Yasui.

"Our instructors are committed to sharing insights that have been acquired over several decades and are wanting to give back something," said Ron Loo, a full-time professor at WCC and co-founder of the institute. "They're heightening the interest and really sharing their kuleana about their respective areas of expertise."

Melveen Leed will show aspiring vocalists how to keep an audience in the palm of their hands.

Loo, who is recognized as a Master of Slack-Key Guitar by the State Foundation of Culture and the Arts, believes the growing interest in the institute's noncredit class offerings is directly related to the involvement and support of local industry professionals. Although legends like Robert and Roland Cazimero, Gabby Pahinui and the original members of Olomana have participated in unofficial workshop-type gatherings over the past 20 years, it's the focus and direction of HMI's steering committee members like Milton Lau, former state Sen. Mike McCartney and William Meyer that have allowed the number of classes and workshops to increase from six in 2001 to 11 this semester.

"We've had a long list of greats who have come to our campus to share their insights and their expertise," Loo said. "As long as I've been here, I've been doing this kind of thing.

"What is new is the grouping of the whole institute and getting some of those industry giants to come and lend their support and provide us with some direction. We feel fortunate to have good representation from the business community."

MELVEEN LEED is one of the well-known local entertainers who have been with the Hawaii Music Institute since it began offering classes in 2001. Although she has a perfume company to run, an autobiography to write and a busy performance schedule, Leed remains enthusiastic about the program and her vocal and performance class that begins early next month.

"A lot of times, our kupuna took their knowledge to their graves -- I'm not a believer of that," she said. "I like to share what was given to me. I've been so busy in my own career, but I make the time to do this."

According to Leed, there were never any opportunities like these when she got her start in entertainment. "I never had any teachers; I never took any lessons or anything. ... I just went on my own and learned," she said. "I just watched everybody, and read, and saw ... and felt."

Individuals who sign up for the local diva's vocal and performance class are in for an intensive six weeks of "everything that has to do with entertaining -- keeping the audience in the palm of your hand, stage presence, vocal training" and more. For aspiring singers willing to spend two nights a week with her for a month and a half, Leed estimates that she can help get them years ahead in terms of direction and knowledge of the business here in Hawaii.

Hawaii Music Institute

Where: Windward Community College, 45-720 Kea'ahala Road, Kaneohe
When: Jan. 27 to March 28
Cost: $25 to $130
Call: 235-7433

"It is a shortcut," says Leed. "But this way, I warn (my students) and tell them, 'Hey, don't do this, don't do that, do it this way.' ... It's faster.

"In other words, I had to go out and do for myself, but nobody told me if I was doing it right or wrong. I tell (my students) straight off ... I'm very, very blunt and I'm very honest. I tell them how to improve on their weak points, which really helps. I don't want them to waste my time, and I don't want to waste theirs."

OTHER CLASSES offered by the Hawaii Music Institute this semester include a "Cool Chords for Keyboard" class with local jazz great Rich Crandall, an "Introduction to Jazz Fingerstyle Guitar" with Mike Kato, "Hula: Fundamentals of the Hawaiian Dance" with Pamai Tenn and "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll: Music Business Overview" with attorney William Meyer.

As long as students continue to show interest, Loo envisions class offerings expanding even more in the future.

"We basically offer the courses based on demand," Loo said. "We're trying to determine the pulse of our community. Over the years we've been asked about steel guitar, so we did offer steel last semester. Then we had a couple inquiries (into) upright bass ... so we're working diligently to bring these course offerings to fruition.

"We try to offer (courses) for individuals at different levels. We're hoping to do more in the coming years, and with the continuing help and support of the leaders in our industry, we'll be here for quite a while."


Spring semester schedule of classes

Here is the current Hawaii Music Institute class schedule:

>> "Cool Chords for Keyboard" with Rich Crandall; 7 to 8:30 p.m. Mondays from Monday to Feb. 24. Cost: $130.

>> "Guitar: Basics and Beyond" with Mike Kato; 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays from next Tuesday to March 11. Cost: $80, includes $10 lab fee.

>> "Introduction to Jazz Fingerstyle Guitar" with Mike Kato; 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. Thursdays from Jan. 30 to March 13. Cost: $80, includes $10 lab fee.

>> "Beginning Ukulele (With Focus on Basic Music Theory)" with Byron Yasui; 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturdays from Feb. 1 to March 1. Cost: $120.

>> "Hula: Fundamentals of the Hawaiian Dance" with Pamai Tenn; 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 4 to 25 and March 4 to 25. Cost: $25.

>> "Beginning Slack Key Guitar" with Ron Loo; 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays from Feb. 4 to March 11. Cost: $50, includes $5 lab fee.

>> "Vocal & Performance I" with Melveen Leed; 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays from Feb. 4 to March 13. Cost: $120.

>> "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll: Music Business Overview" with William Meyer; 9 a.m. to noon Feb. 22. Cost: $60.

>> "The Day the Music Died: Challenges of Digital Technology" with William Meyer; 9 a.m. to noon March 8. Cost: $60.

>> "Intermediate Slack Key Guitar" with Ron Loo; 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays from March 18 to April 22. Cost: $50, includes $5 lab fee.

>> "Ukulele and Slack Key Riffs" with Peter Moon; 2 to 4 p.m. March 28. Cost: $50.

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