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A Music Camp Just for 'Ukers' and 'Slackers'

September 07, 2003|Ron Staton | Associated Press Writer

PAHOA, Hawaii — There's 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 German politician, a Japanese guitar player and a North Carolina nurse who leads a band called the Hapa Haole Hula Cats.

Although 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 underway for next year's camp 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, a songwriter, hula teacher and authority on Hawaiian culture.

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

"I felt lousy about that," he said.

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 weeklong program is an expansion of the methods and techniques included in a slack key instructional book that 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 (adopted) brother, Kaliko Beamer-Trapp, who shares his expertise in Hawaiian language.

Some of the most popular classes are the "talk story" sessions where Nona shares her knowledge of Hawaiian culture and regales students with 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 student concerts.

The camp this year drew 87 students.

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

"I usually play a mainland jazz style," she said. "I wanted to learn a more Hawaiian style." She said she wanted to go home and teach her band, the Hapa Haole Hula Cats.

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

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

Lappe 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. Although 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," her husband said.

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