A legacy 31 years in the making: KSK Childrenʻs Chorus wins first Hōkū Award

Dec. 15, 2020

Contributed by Communication Group Staff

For more than 30 years, Lynell Bright has nurtured the voices and talent of countless haumāna as the director of the Kamehameha Schools Children’s Chorus. Made up of 100 students ages 9 through 12, the choir performs classic and original mele in English and ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i with aloha, big smiles, and signature dance moves.

This year, the musical group was recognized with a prestigious Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for the Christmas album “Ho‘onani Kākou Iā Ia.” As a five-time nominee for previous albums, the children’s chorus brought home their first win to Kapālama in the Religious Album of the Year category.

“I am really proud to be a part of the children’s chorus and win such an awesome award for our music,” said Jaden Nakamaejo, a choir member and KS Kāpalama sixth grader. “This award means so much to me and my friends because we worked so hard to learn the songs.”

Though the choir can’t sing together due to the pandemic, this award is a bright spot not only for the students but also for all involved. Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award-winning musical trio Keauhou harmonized alongside the haumāna in the recording studio to create the mele “Christmas Love.”

“This specific award serves to remind Hawai‘i’s music community that the voices of our keiki are right up there with the rest of Hawaiʻi’s musical stars,” said Zachary Lum KSK’10 of Keauhou, whose members also include Jonah Solatorio KSK’10, and Nicholas Lum KSK’12.

The win is also a testament to Bright, whose lessons go beyond vocal scales and harmonies, instilling discipline in her haumāna that carries over into all aspects of their lives.

“We expect the haumāna to kūlia i ka nuʻu (strive to reach the summit); to give their very best,” Bright said. “We also want them to succeed and feel good about themselves and their efforts. Most of all, I hope that the members know how much they are loved, and I think that goes a long way in motivating them.”

For Crystal Nakamaejo KSK’01, a performing arts assistant at KS Kapālama Elementary School, bringing this album to life with Bright and the children’s chorus was a dream come true.

“My favorite part of working on this album was having the privilege to work with someone who has always been a role model for me,” Nakamaejo said about Bright. “I was able to witness her faithfulness in prayer, stellar musicianship and amazing kumu qualities throughout the entire process.”

Nakamaejo and Bright collaborated with producers, guest artists, songwriters and music engineers to record and release this album in a matter of months and just in time for the holidays last year. One of the most memorable experiences for the young musicians was bringing the joy of Christmas to a “real-life studio” in the middle of summer.

“Bringing the haumāna into the studio is always such a meaningful experience for them,” Nakamaejo said. “We made lots of mistakes, sang tracks over and over again, but all while building pilina together, as they shared their gifts of singing for this project.”

Among the classic ballads of “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World,” the album also features original songs like “The Kamehameha 12 Days of Christmas” and more.

“I can’t pick a favorite song because each one has something special about it that I love,” Bright said. “With original arrangements, exceptional guest artists, or heartwarming meanings – each song has distinct elements that make it one of a kind.”

This project gave haumāna the unique opportunity to learn from and sing alongside talented local groups and musicians like Keauhou, Jana Alcain, Blayne Asing KSK’08, Maila Gibson-Bandmann, Malia Ka‘ai-Barrett KSK’85, Kimie MinerKSK’03, Cory Oliveros, and Chelsey Sagon KSK’20.

Many of these gifted guest artists are alumni of KS and the children’s chorus, including the members of Keauhou, who consider the choir to be a vital part of their musical journey.

“Looking back, I reflect on the fact that learning songs and performing them with our classmates not only taught us about the importance of knowing your lyrics, knowing your voice part and performing them well – but also, making sure that we enjoyed it all,” Lum added.

The creation of this album was truly a kākou effort and wouldn’t be possible without music programmer and engineer David Kauahikaua KSK’73, music assistant Rachel Justice KSK'07, songwriter Timothy Bright KSK’13, and many more.

Sing along with the children’s chorus by streaming Ho‘onani Kākou Iā Ia on Spotify or Apple Music. The album is also available for purchase on iTunes and through other music providers, and all proceeds will benefit the choir.