The gentle sound carried above the din of merriment, attracting an audience of all ages, during the Valentine’s Day celebration at Kukui Grove Center.
This scene is a repetition of art walks, farmers market and even fashion catwalks where Kimberly Hope McDonough teases her violin to life.
“I first saw her at the Hanapepe Friday Night,” said lunchtime diner Suzette Momohara. “My friend asked if I wanted to go hear her play, and when we got there, we found out it was my friend’s cousin. It’s so good that we have places like this where we can enjoy free quality performances.”
McDonough, playing a wide range of music from “grandma’s favorite” to emotion-evoking children and young people numbers, said music has healing power and the ability to draw people together.
How does music help heal and bring people together?
When I moved to Kauai, I was very lucky to start taking violin lessons from a wonderful teacher named Helen Sina. She showed me that music is not just about getting the right notes and playing well technically, but also about expressing yourself.
She taught me to tap into the emotions of music and use them to connect with whoever is listening. Now that I have more experience in performing, I’ve found that music is a universal language that can non-verbally communicate to people all over the world.
Because of this, it helps bring people together from all different countries, ethnic backgrounds, religions, political affiliations, etc. It transcends the boundaries and walls between people, and that’s why I find it so beautiful.
My experience has also shown me that music has the power to heal people from mental, emotional and physical pain. I’ve performed at several nursing homes and hospitals on the island, and each time, music has positively impacted many patients.
One of my most memorable performances was when I played Christmas music for the residents at The Regency at Puakea. As I played, a lady sitting in the front row sang and clapped along joyfully.
I was very happy to see that she was enjoying herself; however, I was touched even more deeply when one of the visitors came up to me afterwards and told me that the woman had barely spoken two words to anyone for the past couple of years.
The music moved her to be able to express herself!
When I play at funerals and celebrations of life, my music helps families to heal and grieve their loved ones. I recently played for a celebration of life for a girl who died of cancer, and her family was moved to tears when I played some of her favorite songs for them.
Your skill on the electric violin seems to always draw people to your performances. How and when did you get introduced to the violin, and what was it about the violin that attracted you?
I started playing the violin when I was 10 years old.
I was living in St. Louis, Missouri at the time, and my elementary school orchestra offered to teach violin, viola or cello to all the fifth-grade students. I chose the violin, not for any particular reason, but mainly out of curiosity, and it seemed like a really pretty instrument.
I went home and asked my parents if I could join the orchestra. It kind of took them by surprise that I wanted to learn; I had never really shown much interest in music before that, and no one else in my family played violin. However, they decided to give me a chance (thinking it would only be a phase).
I’m very grateful that they allowed me to try it, because as soon as I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down! I fell in love with it and continued playing in the orchestra for two years and taking private lessons for one year before moving to Kauai in 2008.
When you graduated from high school, you majored in Music Therapy but later changed to Music Performance. What are the differences, and why did you switch?
I graduated from Island School in 2013.
It wasn’t until late in my senior year when I began to perform at art walks and other public events. This is when I realized that I truly loved performing.
I really enjoyed seeing how my music could connect with strangers on the street, no matter where they came from. I also loved how my playing could touch people’s hearts and move some of them to tears of joy. Seeing the power of music in action inspired me to look into majoring in Music Therapy, which is all about how music can be used in a therapeutic, one-on-one (or small group) setting to help heal people physically, mentally and emotionally.
I decided to go to The College of Wooster in Ohio because it was one of the only schools that offered an undergraduate Music Therapy program. During my freshman year, I took the introductory classes and found that some of the logistics of the program were not right for me. I decided to major in Violin Performance instead, because I still wanted to help people through music.
I feel that performing for large groups of people can be just as healing as working with them one-on-one in a therapy setting.
What were your feelings when you performed at your first Art Night?
I performed at my first Kapaa Art Walk (known as First Saturday hosted by the Kapaa Business Association) during the summer of 2013 before going to college. It was actually a life-changing experience for me.
Before then, I had never really played on the streets. I had always performed at recitals or concerts. I was a little nervous because it was new territory for me, but when I started playing, I had a lot of fun!
The coolest thing about it for me was seeing how I could connect with strangers on the street and even help brighten up their day for a little while. Back then, I would usually just play covers, soundtrack music and Lindsey Stirling dubstep violin music, and I would hardly talk to the audience because I was shy.
I have really worked on my stage presence since then. Now, five years later, I can see the improvement I’ve made as far as playing more musical styles, being comfortable talking to the audience, and getting the crowd to participate more.
I now play my own originals, and I use a looping pedal to make loops of harmonies and beats in order to create songs on the fly. My dad even joins me in the performance of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia!”
I have definitely added to my repertoire since my first Art Walk. I’m really glad that I started playing on the streets because it has not only been a really fun way to connect with others, but has helped me grow into the performing artist that I am today.
What are some memorable performance experiences — good or bad — and how did they impact your drive to perform on the violin?
One of my most memorable performances was when I got to play the world-famous Red Violin, a multi-million-dollar Stradivarius made in 1720. It was the summer before my senior year of high school when Elizabeth Pitcairn, the owner of the Red Violin, came to visit Kauai.
She was somehow connected with one of the founding mothers of Island School, and together, they wanted to set up a concert to raise money to send a musician to Elizabeth’s summer music camp in upstate New York.
They knew that I was a violinist, so they asked me if I would be interested. I was, of course, and we went ahead with the plans for the fundraiser.
In addition to meeting Elizabeth and listening to her play the Red Violin, she actually allowed me to play it!
This was one of the most surreal moments of my life; when I played, it was as if I could feel the spirits of all the people who had played this violin in the past. Needless to say, the sound was extremely resonant and beautiful. I was honored to have been selected by Elizabeth to play at this fundraiser and be sent to her amazing summer music camp. Meeting her, as well as the other musicians at the camp, made me realize that I wanted to pursue a career in music.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I struggle with self-doubt.
Sometimes, I get frustrated when I feel like no one is listening to or caring about my music. There are times when people tell me that music is not a real career. Every so often, I have a hard time writing my original music because I don’t think it’s good enough, or that no one will like it.
But in times like these, I try to remember the performances in which I DO feel like my music makes a difference. I recall the people who come up to me after gigs and say how much they enjoyed my performance, or were inspired by my playing.
I envision seeing the smiles on their faces as I am playing my original songs. I am grateful for the people who message me on social media and tell me that they want to collaborate with me, or can’t wait to see my next performance. It’s moments like these that help motivate me to keep following my passion as a professional violinist and teacher.
Do you have any thoughts on inspiring other young musicians?
I hope to inspire other people — young and old — to pick up any instrument (not just the violin), because music can enrich your life in many ways!
So many people have told me that they regret not having learned an instrument when they were growing up. It’s never too late to start!
If you’re passionate about music and really want to learn, go for it! There are plenty of resources online to help teach yourself any instrument. Also, I have just recently started working at Bandwagon Music Center and teaching private violin lessons and I hope to inspire my students to not only learn how to play well, but do so with passion and heart.
If you’re a young musician and you love music, one piece of advice I can give you is to be open to trying out different styles and genres of playing. You never know if you’re going to stumble upon something that you’re really passionate about. I was classically trained, but I have found that I really love playing styles like pop, rock, fiddle and Lindsey Stirling, and have even started writing original music in my own style!
The best advice I could give anyone is to keep following your passion, keep practicing, and never give up!
What’s next for Kimberly Hope McDonough?
I just started a business called “Kimberly Hope Music LLC,” which encompasses services such as my music gigs and violin lessons. I am also now going by the stage name “Kimberly Hope.”
Besides continuing to teach violin and perform at various gigs all over the island, I am working on a CD of original music. So far, I have released three singles on digital retail outlets such as iTunes, CD Baby, Spotify and Amazon Music. “Find Yourself,” “Haunted” and “Shine” are all currently available for purchase, but I am working on a full CD of about 10 songs that I hope to release soon.
I never thought about writing my own music until several people at various gigs asked me if I had recorded a CD. This inspired me to think about composing and coming up with my own musical style.
My biggest influence is Lindsey Stirling, but my style is a mix between pop and electronic instrumental violin.
I create my own backtracks with instruments like piano, drums and synth sounds on music software. Even though they don’t have lyrics, each one of my songs has a positive and uplifting message that I hope the music itself conveys.
In addition to completing my CD, I hope to continue to collaborate with other musicians through social media and create music videos to help expose my music all over the world. I already have music videos for “Find Yourself” and “Haunted” on my YouTube channel.
I am currently shooting the footage for “Shine.” All of my videos showcase beautiful locations here on Kauai, because I want to show the world how amazing this island is!
My dream is to be able to eventually go on tour. I want to travel and perform all over the world, help to heal people, bring people together, and connect with others through music.
I am so grateful to have people who believe in me and encourage me to follow my passion. I want to thank my parents, grandparents, family, friends and people all over the world for their support. I also want to thank all of my teachers, especially Helen Sina and Philip Steinbacher, my chorus teacher at Island School, for being so encouraging from the start.
It is because of you that I’m going to continue to do this for as long as I can. Making people happy through music is my calling; I can’t think of any else I would rather be doing for the rest of my life.
If you’re interested in following me on social media, search “Kimberly Hope Music” on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Periscope. If you would like me to play at any events such as weddings, parties, funerals, festivals, art walks, farmers markets, etc., please email me at email@example.com.
I appreciate all the love and support!