Keola and Moana Beamer: Slack Key Guitar and Hula

(Keola and Moana Beamer will perform on Sunday, February 20, 2011 at the Camp Hill UM Church. Information on sfmsfolk.org) 

Some of the sweetest, most melodious guitar music can be found in Hawaii, and Keola Beamer is considered to be the foremost master of the style of guitar playing called Slack Key.   He has been exploring this beautiful traditional music, which uses open tunings and loosened strings, for the past 35 years.

 It is only in Beamer’s lifetime that Slack Key guitar music has been played outside of the home. “It used to be that a dad would come home from work, take off his boots and pick up his guitar. It was really a back door kind of thing.” Beamer said in a recent interview. “Families would be very secretive about the songs that they knew and the tunings they used. If you weren’t a member of the family and wanted to learn the music, well just forget it.”

All this changed when pianist George Winston fell in love with Slack Key guitar music and decided to record Slack Key musicians for his record company Dancing Cat. “He’s a very able musicologist and preservation was his object “said Keola’s wife Moana. “He especially wanted to be sure to record the older musicians.  He wanted a chance to meet with them and talk to them before they weren’t here anymore.” 

It was through these Slack-Key guitar compilations that Slack-Key guitar music began to gain popularity outside of Hawaii. “We never could have toured before the records were released” said Beamer.  “We tried, but we just couldn’t get out of Hawaii. Nobody knew what it was, nobody sold it. And all of a sudden the music was in Borders. And then the whole touring thing opened up for us.” 

Slack Key guitar music can be played on any standard guitar, although the magnificent guitars that Beamer tours with were built by a German luthier and designed to be able to project more sound. There are approximately 46 different tunings, and each one conveys a different feeling or tonal pallet. “The true art of the Stack Key guitar is to match the tuning with song. It has to elevate the piece” says Beamer.

Between February 20 and 22 Keola and Moana Beamer will travel to the Harrisburg area to give several programs on Hawaiian music, dance and culture. Moana Beamer, an experienced hula dancer who began her training at age four, will lead a hula dance workshop during which she hopes to show people “how varied,  rich and wonderful hula is.” During a concert Keola will play guitar and sing in Hawaiian and English while Moana plays traditional percussion instruments, recites poetry and dances. The couple will also go in to the Harrisburg City Schools to give students there a taste of Hawaiian culture as well as give a lecture at Messiah College where they plan to discuss the history of Slack Key in more depth.

 These events are sponsored by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society and are funded, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts’ American Masterpiece program; an initiative that brings the very best American art into communities.

 Keola and Moana Beamer appear on Sunday, Feb 20 at the at Camp Hill United Methodist Church;

Hula Workshop 4:30 pm, Potluck 6:00 pm and Concert 7:30 pm and on Mon, Feb. 21 at 12:40 pm at Messiah College’s Climenhaga Fine Arts Center. Information at http://www.sfmsfolk.org

By Folkmama. Reprinted from The Burg Magazine, Feb 2011

Keola and Moana Beamer

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Kevin Neidig, Henry Koretzky, Bruce Campbell & Ken Gehret in concert, Harrisburg, Jan 29

By John Hope

The Greater Harrisburg area is home to many fine musicians and four of the best—Kevin Neidig, Henry Koretzky, Ken Gehret, and Bruce Campbell—are coming together for a very special Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Saturday, January 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg. The concert will be preceded by a free 6 p.m. potluck dinner. A similar concert with three of the four performers played to a full-house last year and drew such acclaim that the decision was made to bring them back again this year with the addition of another fine area performer.

Kevin Neidig excels at singing, instrumental prowess, and songwriting. Whether playing guitar, mandolin, or banjo, his nimble fingers extract magic from the strings. The arrangements he writes are dizzyingly technical, with ingenious chordwork and melodic lines balancing the lyrics and vocals. In addition to his solo work, Kevin is part of the duo Voxology. He teaches guitar in Mechanicsburg and online at guitar-yoga.com, where he challenges guitarists with fresh ideas that exercise the body, the mind, and the spirit.Harrisburg native Henry Koretzky came to playing music late in life and has spent the past few decades trying to make up for that lost time. Since the early 1980s he has been a regular on the local roots music scene, playing bluegrass, contra dance music, Klezmer, swing, contemporary folk/Americana, and a bit of Celtic. He has played with High Strung, Medicinal Purpose, The Contra Rebels, The Gnu Tones, Sweetwater Reunion, Ithaca (NY)-based bluegrass band Cornerstone, Rootbound, KJ & Henry, the Sweet Nothings, Shades of Green and Blue, the Old World Folk Band, and Sink or Swing.

Ken Gehret has been performing as a musician for more than 30 years, primarily as a guitarist and violinist. He performs, teaches, composes and arranges for more than 17 instruments including voice, woodwinds, reeds, strings and keyboards. Coming from a primarily country music background, he has performed with well known stars including Roy Clark and Mel Tillis, and has performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Ken plays with several local bands, in genres ranging from Irish Traditional to bluegrass to jazz.

Sideman-for-hire Bruce Campbell plays string bass in nearly any style imaginable. He has played with anyone who’s anyone in the area, including The Contra Rebels, The Canal Street Hot 6, Not Your Father’s Bluegrass Band, the Gadjo Playboys, Octavia Blues Band and with jazz pianists Mark Huber, Trixi Greiner, Tom Pontz and occasionally Steve Rudolph if he gets lucky. Even those who haven’t seen him onstage may have found him behind the scenes, helping other performers sound good through his role as a sound engineer for many performers.

The potluck dinner is free; bring a covered dish to share. Place settings and beverages will be provided. Concert tickets are $18 General Admission, $14 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society web site at http://www.sfmsfolk.org