Garden Island Singers bound into spring

Like walking through a blossoming field of wild flowers, Greg Shepard, KCC’s Garden Island Singers, and special guest Aloha Africa present a program of warm compositions celebrating the inauguration of springtime this weekend. At Tuesday’s dress rehearsal, the 18-year-old choral group, composed of 22 vocalists from wide-ranging ages and backgrounds attended to the tidying up of their concert, worthy of any audience that appreciates uplifting and harmonious music.

Shepard, a full-time faculty member of KCC’s music department is proud to be completing his 18th year of directing the Garden Island Singers. Originally from New Jersey, Shepard’s education and career have taken him to the University of Pennsylvania, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and Tokyo University before settling in Kaua‘i nearly two decades ago. Enjoying his work at KCC, Shepard explains that teaching everything from music theory to dramatic arts has afforded him a freedom in work that might otherwise become “pidgeon-holed,” he said.

The KCC Garden Island Singers perform twice each year, at the end of the fall and spring semesters at KCC. “The spring concert is a bit more secular because the winter concert falls near Christmas. We have an opportunity to present a wide range of choral music at this time of year,” Shepard explained.

The program for this weekend’s concert ranges from medieval melodies to a Nigerian folk song, Beethoven to Dave Brubeck.

Aloha Africa, Kaua‘i’s unique West African performance group directed by Isa-Maria and currently hosting three artists from Accra, Ghana, are special guests at the Songs of Spring Concert. Akiko Conquest, member of both Aloha Africa and Garden Island Singers, arranged the collaboration. Ernest Borketey, master drummer, performs a wonderfully unique Afro-Brazilian “rhythmic fantasy” with recorder player, Donn Forbes. While Forbes trades varying sized recorders for each musical segment, Borketey uses the djembe to ignite the room with bright and brilliant sounds, capable only through expert and calloused drumming hands.

Early in the program the chorus sings “Three songs from the plays of William Shakespeare,” written by Matthew Harris. Celebrated lines from “The Merchant of Venice” such as “Tell Me Where Fancy is Bred,” sets the scene for a musical stroll through Elizabethan rose gardens and lavender fields. “May Day Carol,” another English folk song, includes cello, violin and recorder accompaniment, by Jane Albrecht, Dennis Haack and Forbes, respectively.

The program also features an African dance piece performed with Aloha Africa and danced by Isaac Allotey and Michael Osenda. Jill Simonsen plays the piano for the choral group and solos throughout the concert are performed by Ralph Guest, Alan Van Zee and Edd Cook on bass. Karen Firl designed the festive program for the concert.

This spring marks the 18th anniversary for eight of the 22 members, who have been under the direction of Shepard for 36 concerts; they include Carol West, Dottie Bekeart, Margaret Padilla, Fran Nestel, Alan Van Zee, Dana Bekeart, Gregg Kiaha and Gerald McKenna. Always welcoming interested residents in auditioning for the Garden Island Singers, Shepard encourages vocalists of any age to join. While the numbers of the group have fluctuated over the years, explained Shepard, this year’s group is average in number, but extraordinary in sound.

With May Day earlier this week, experiencing “Songs of Spring” in the stunning KCC Performing Arts Center is another way to celebrate the transition from one season to the next. As they sing in the medieval melody “miri it is”: “Merry it is when the summer comes in with blossom and sun … now sweet spring is out.”

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