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My Secret Life As A Vocal Student, Pt. 1

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Aloha, my name is Joseph Donaghy, better know as Keola though it's not my legal name. I'm from the island of Maui in Hawaii, though have been living and working in Hilo on Hawaii island for the past 15 years. I'm an assistant professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Hilo; I teach Hawaiian and Polynesian music, sometimes Hawaiian language, and coordinate all technology, distance learning and media initiatives for Ka Haka Ula O Keelikalani College of Hawaiian Language.

I've played music since "hanabata days" (small kid time as we call it in Hawaii), and sung almost that long, but very poorly. I remember the first time I heard myself singing after recording some song I heard on the Monkees show back in the late-60s (boy did I ever date myself there). It was terrible. The funny part is I could not figure out how to get the tape recorder to erase the recording, so I threw the tape away out of fear that someone else might actually hear it. Fortunately my technology skills have improved since then. From that point on, I absolutely hated the sound of my own voice, and assumed, like many, that you are either born with a great singing voice or you weren't.

In the 1980s I was part of a duo which performed Hawaiian and contemporary music at the Maui Prince Hotel in Makena, Maui. I took a few voice lessons from a Julliard-trained voice instructor, and whose primary advice I recall being "more support" and "sing at that picture on the wall". Needless to say I didn't get much better. It wasn't just his fault - I was pretty bad at keeping a consistent practice schedule. Scales bored me, I didn't see the quick results I expected, and abandoned the lessons after a few months. The belief that you are either born with a great singing voice or you weren't was reinforced.

Fast-forward twenty years. I'm married with two adult children. I've gotten a BA, MA, am working on my Ph.d., and have a tenure track faculty position. Not bad for someone who didn't start college until he was 30. I've written about 60 Hawaiian language compositions, about half of which have been recorded by prominent Hawaii recording artists. I no longer believe that you are born with or without a gift to sing or to do anything. Like nearly everything else, it is achievable with hard work, right resources, and patience.

So I now refocus on that goal that I had as a child and convinced myself for close to 40 years that I would never achieve - to sing. Not just to sing, but to sing well. To sing GREAT. Who knows about it? My family, who puts up with me doing vocal exercises every night, and a few friends in the recording industry who I can trust to keep their mouths shut (I hope). My neighbor may be suspicious, or just thinks that we're torturing cats for an hour every night. I know that someday soon the secret will be out, but it will be when I'm good and ready.

If I ever get around to writing Part II, I'll talk about discovering some wonderful instruction material and inspiring instructors, and what I've learned from them during my six month secret life as a vocal student, or perhaps as Robert Lunte would prefer, a vocal athlete in training.


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