A Conversation with Zachary Lum

The following is a “Da Kine-style” interview with Zachary Alaka’i Lum (Kamehameha Schools 2010, who served as a Song Contest Director for his class, and David Bandy, a Ph.D. student in Music Education at the University of Hawai’i Mānoa. Zachary Alakaʻi Lum was born and raised in Kāneʻohe, Hawaiʻi.  Zach has always loved his music.  He sings beautifully, plays a number of musical instruments, and has a natural sense of self when performing for people.  He exudes his love for his Hawaiian music through his ease and comfort on stage and the light in his eyes as he sings and plays the songs he feels within his heart.  He attended public school through the third grade when he was admitted to the Kamehameha Schools, and remained there for the next eight years of his life.  He is now attending the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa where the two of us had a chance to sit down and talk story.


Photo courtesy Hawaii News Now, used with permission

Da Kine Dave: Zach, you seem to come from a musical family with both you and your brother Nic are very talented.  Tell us about your family history and music.

Zachary: A couple years before I was born, my dad was in a band called Oheo. It was actually because I was born that he had to stop.  But prior to him I can’t think of anyone that played music. I’m sure someone sang or something like that but my dad would probably be the only one in my mind of somebody in my family, and of course it’s me and my brother now.  We play Hawaiian music a lot.

Da Kine Dave: As you were growing up through your school years and even before school – what kind of musical activities did you experience and learn, and at what part of your life did you learn them?

Zachary: I think my first musical memory would be going on the trolley during Christmas. My auntie on my moms’ Japanese side used to play a lot. They would bring their instruments and we’d all sing on the trolley as we went through Honolulu. That’s what I really loved, and I always looked forward to that.  From there, one of my uncles suggested that I join the Honolulu Boy Choir. Then I got into the Kamehameha Schools Elementary Choir.  When I went on to middle school I went into Alan Akaka’s Hawaiian Ensemble.  I had already learned how to play ʻukulele, guitar, and slack key from my dad.  In middle school (7th and 8th grade), Kumu Akaka had a bass so I just figured it out.  It wasn’t that bad.  It was simple.  And I started to play the piano. I was always really interested in Hawaiian stuff, so I started to do that too.  And the steel guitar I took a couple lessons for maybe one or two years under Alan Akaka. I really want to get back into that eventually.

Da Kine Dave: Let’s talk about your high school years at Kamehameha Schools. What roles did you play and what experiences came your way because of those roles?

Zachary: When I got into high school I was a song contest director for the chorus for four years, and during high school as well I played saxophone in band for my freshman year then I switched over to drum line for the remaining three years. Now I’m in college at University of Hawai‘i (at Mānoa) pursuing a music degree, with a double major in Hawaiian language.

Da Kine Dave: Are you finding any new challenges at the university level?

Zachary: No, not at all.  I really think it’s way easier.  I’m actually feeling that I wish I was challenged a little bit more.

Da Kine Dave:  But you will be eventually.

Zachary: I know. I know it’s gonna get harder, but right now it’s a lot of fundamental stuff that we’re learning. On the other side, Iʻm really enjoying my Hawaiian language stuff, because I never got the opportunity to do that at Kamehameha.

Da Kine Dave: So Zach, recently you were prominently featured in the new documentary film titled “One Voice” that officially premiered at the Honolulu Film Festival [in October 2010].  Tell us what the film was about, and please also share your thoughts about what it was like to go through the process of filmmaking. Also, what responses or comments have you gotten from folks since the film premiered here in Honolulu?

Zachary:  The movie “One Voice” was a documentary by Lisette Kaualena Flanary, produced by Pacific Islanders in Communications and Juniroa Productions, that documented the Kamehameha Schools Song Contest through the eyes of ten student directors. I was fortunate enough to be one of those directors, during my sophomore year of high school.  We had a film crew follow us around for about a year in the whole process, from class elections for the director all the way to the night of Song Context in Neal Blaisdell Center, in front of thousands of people and the whole T.V. audience.  Just the ability to be a director in that competition was – is such an honor and is such a privilege, but in, to put this whole filming thing on top of that was such a big experience and I know it’s something that I’ll never get to experience again, and for that I’m really grateful, for all that I was able to go through because of Song Contest at Kamehameha Schools and because of my being a director there.  But when it premiered in Honolulu at the Honolulu Film Festival, [it] I really think it was well received there.  I believe it did receive some kind of award – audience choice award for a documentary.  And it was just really nice to see finally our story, the back story, the story that, you know, the locals don’t know and maybe mainland audience has no idea what, what Song Contest is.  But to see the back story, to see what really goes through, it’s not just a student waving his or her hands in front of a bunch of students, it’s, it’s way more than that.  It’s about learning your song and it’s about learning the meaning in.  Going through that experience with your class, as a class, that’s what really binds us together at Kamehameha Schools.  It’s the experience of singing in, the experience of – it’s that camaraderie between all of us.  But I think all-in-all the film really was successful in what it was set out to do and that was to tell the story of Song Contest and to tell the story more largely of the Hawaiian people through, as Song Contest, as the vehicle of that telling, and I just think that it was really successful and I was really fortunate enough to be a part of it and [um] – – yeah, it was just really good!

Da Kine Dave: And just one more question – What are your future plans after you complete your undergraduate degrees?

Zachary: As far as beyond undergraduate education, I’m not too sure what I want to do . We were actually just talking about this.  I want to get a super Ed degree so I can do like music, or if I wanted to teach Hawaiian language, eventually I could do that too. And then after that, who knows, but I know that if I get that teaching credential then I’ll have something to rely on.

Da Kine Dave: Thank you, Zach.  It’s been great!

Zachary: Cool!! Very cool!


Photo courtesy Hawaii News Now, used with permission

It was a pleasure having a chance to sit down and speak with Zachary and to observe his sincere modest behavior. Those who follow the Kamehameha Schools Song Contest know that Zach is perhaps the “winning-est” conductor ever, throughout the history of that long-running event.  Keep your eye on this young man.  I suspect he will positively change many, many lives in the future.

– Da Kine Dave “Bandy”

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