Paka’a Lanakila Comes to Molokai

By Jack Kiyonaga, Reporter 

Photo by Jack Kiyonaga.

Molokai residents were treated to a multisensory art experience last week that blended classical music with Hawaiian legend. 

Composed by Dr. Jon Magnussen, this performance of the Paka’a Lanakila story featured chamber music by the Spring Wind Quintet, part of Chamber Music Hawaii, as well as storytelling by Kalama Cabigon.  The performance combined chamber music with Hawaiian language storytelling and visual art effects to create an experiential form of storytelling. 

“It’s meant to be a theater piece that envelopes everybody,” explained Magnussen. “Multiple elements are telling the story. They all work together in a way that makes it much greater than it ever could be with just one of them.”

The performance, held last Monday, March 20 at St. Damien Catholic Parish Church, was sponsored by the Molokai Arts Center. 

The story itself describes “a young boy’s triumph over adversity” with the main character Paka’a “outsmarting everyone, even his doubting family.”  

Magnussen’s adaptation of the Paka’a story is based on old Hawaiian language newspapers which ran the story as a serial. 

“Hawaiians were the most literate people in the world,” said Magnussen. “Why not bring Hawaiian language into this space to acknowledge that oral history of Hawaiian literacy?”

For Magnussen, telling a story with music is different than simply using words. 

“Music goes where words can’t. I needed spaces where music could actually tell that emotion where the words maybe wouldn’t be able to,” explained Magnussen.  

It is this “fabulous interplay” between the music and words where Magnussen feels he can create a dynamic story telling experience. 

Part of this dynamism is that the performance is done live every time. 

“I love the fact that [the performers] all are learning from each other…It’s never perfect, but every time is different,” said Magnussen. 

For performers alike, telling this particular story in this particular way is “vitally important,” said clarinetist Jim Moffitt. 

The piece was composed back in 2016 with the intention of bringing the performance into schools. 

While the performance has yet to be played at Molokai schools, Magnussen said that it “would be fantastic” to do so.


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