Keola Beamer, center, reviewed a few music keys during a slack-key guitar class that he taught during the Aloha Music Camp at Kalani Oceanside Retreat in Kalapana, Hawaii.

Program teaches
isle harmony

The Aloha Music Camp run
by Keola Beamer offers a range
of Hawaiian cultural activities

PAHOA, Hawaii >> There are the "ukers " and the "slackers." Throw in some hula dancers and Hawaiian language and crafts, and you have the Aloha Music Camp.

This year's retreat attracted a hula-dancing Germany politician, a Japanese guitar player and a North Carolina nurse who leads a band called the Hapa Haole Hula Cats.

While the camp's main attraction is instruction in ukulele and slack-key guitar, it provides a range of cultural activities under the palms. The one thing most participants share: They're not Hawaiian.

Aloha Music Camp recently completed its third annual weeklong run at the Kalani Oceanside Retreat, an eco-resort on the Big Island, and preparations are under way for next year's camp June 20-26 at a beachfront eco-resort on the island of Molokai.

"We needed a place where the world would recede," said Keola Beamer, a slack-key artist who operates the camp with his mother Nona, who is a leading songwriter, hula teacher and one of the world's foremost authorities on Hawaiian culture.

Beamer said the idea for the camp grew out of his frustration a few years ago when he arrived at a mainland workshop, "talked a little and gave them music without context."

"I felt lousy about that," he said.

Kaliko Beamer-Trapp went over a book on Hawaiian hula rituals and chants during a class he taught on Hawaiian language and culture during the Aloha Music Camp.

Returning to Hawaii, he talked to his mother about the experience, and they came up with the idea of bringing people together from around the world for a range of Hawaiian cultural activities.

The program is an expansion of the methods and techniques included in a slack-key instructional book Beamer wrote with Mark Nelson, another slack-key artist. The slack-key method involves loosening the strings to get a characteristic Hawaiian sound.

Nelson, of Jacksonville, Ore., is the camp administrator, along with his wife, Annie, while Beamer is the artistic director.

"The two families work together; it's a harmonious partnership," Nelson said.

Beamer, who teachers guitar classes, is joined by his wife, Moana, who teaches hula, and hanai brother, Kaliko Beamer-Trapp, who shares his expertise in Hawaiian language.

Some of the most popular classes are the "talk story" sessions where mother Nona shares her knowledge of Hawaiian culture and regales students with her tales of growing up in old Hawaii.

The teaching staff also includes other guitar and ukulele instructors and an expert in lauhala weaving, lei making and other Hawaiian crafts.

"This isn't just a music camp," Beamer said. "The cultural aspects are very important. Here we can show them the flower we sing about."

Beamer and his wife coordinate their classes, with his guitar class providing live music for her hula class at the Friday night student concert.

The camp this year drew 87 students.

Lin Llewellyn, a nurse from Asheville, N.C., brought two ukuleles to camp with her.

"I usually play a mainland jazz style," she said. "I wanted to learn a more Hawaiian style."

She described her classes as "very, very helpful" and said she wanted to go back to Asheville and teach her band, the Hapa Haole Hula Cats, a more Hawaiian style.

Angela Goebel, a radio station employee, and Verena Lappe, a politician, both of Hamburg, Germany, participated in the camp for the second time this year.

"I like the way of Hawaiian openness and the respect for nature and other people, especially the elderly," said Goebel, a guitarist.

Lappe, a member of the Hamburg Parliament, took hula classes.

"It connects the body with what is around me," she said. "You lose that in Germany. We have to regenerate here."

Guitarist Aki Shimura and wife Tomoko, of Tokyo, met as graduate students at the University of Hawaii. While they come back to Hawaii once a year, the main purpose of this year's trip was to attend the camp.

"We didn't get involved in Hawaiian culture while we were going to school," said Tomoko Shimura, who studies hula. "We were too busy."

"Moana's hula makes me smile," she said.

"Keola's slack key makes me smile," said her husband.


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