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 

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

By Folkmama. Reprinted from The Burg Magazine, Feb 2011

Keola and Moana Beamer


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