Aloha dear readers!!
Itʻs been nearly a month since my last post. You must have surmised by now that I am back in Michigan, having completed an eventful year as a visiting prof at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. My silence here can also be blamed on getting through the first two weeks of a new semester at University of Michigan. Go Blue.
When I returned to Michigan in midsummer, I immersed myself in digitizing my LPs so that I could actually consult and study the music being produced, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. And goodness, have I ever learned so so so very much. Many of my presumptions were blown out of the water. Many!! Like, uku paila !!
As I worked through my LP collection, of course I began with the LPs that were part of my soundscape growing up that have not appeared on CD reissues. And guess what I avoided like the plague? Those cheesy budget LPs. I knew it was something I needed to face, but . . . I thought, “ugh.” When I could finally avoid them no longer, I figured might as well bite the bullet.
What a humbling and eye-opening experience I had no idea I was in for. The biggest lesson, which I learned long ago as a student, came back to me full force: There is absolutely no substitution for actually engaging with the material–also known as getting oneʻs hands dirty, or getting dirt under the fingernails. Handling the physical objects, examining the jackets front & back for little telltale signs that make “connecting-the-dots” exercises possible, like which budget labels are divisions of major labels, and which budget labels are proliferating a very small set of tracks under different titles. Finding LPs whose track lists on the disc label do not match the track lists on the jackets.
The biggest find for me came in having to listen to each and every LP as they were being digitized. [Putting the track markers in on the fly is much easier than trying to find them out of one 20-minute track. Surface noise on the LPs pretty much guarantees that automatic tracking features in software will not work correctly 99% of the time.]
Because this is what I discovered: quite a few budget LPs contain the work of first-rate musicians who ARE seasoned professional Hawaiian players, but who are being marketed under pseudonymns like “National Hawaiian Orchestra” or “Harry Hoomele and His Hawaiians.”
Make no mistake, there is a lot of gawdawful rubbish in the lot of what has been marketed in the past as “Hawaiian music.” But there are also lots of gems and the work of revered Hawaiian musicians going unacknowledged. And we would be depriving ourselves of a valuable opportunity to refine our understanding of a much-maligned period of Hawaiian music production if we simply dismiss all budget LPs as garbage.
© 2011 Amy Ku‘uleialoha Stillman