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Solo Harp and Orchestra

3(1,2,p)222/4331/timp+1/solo hp/str
23 minutes

The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, José-Luis Novo Artistic Director and Conductor

and the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music with gracious support from Justus and Elizabeth Schlichting


May 5-7, 2023

Annapolis Symphony Orchestra

Charles Overton, harp

José-Luis Novo, conductor

Maryland Hall and Music Center at Strathmore, Annapolis, MD


Living Pono is a work based in the idea that music can serve a role to combat the climate crisis. By the end of the century, scientific consensus projects a global temperature rise that is either dangerous or catastrophic for human life. Mirroring the health and biological circuitry of our human bodies, the symptoms of elevated carbon emissions in our environment come with record-high temperatures in Antarctica, devastating wildfires, coral bleaching, and sea level rise. Prolonged and unchecked emissions significantly impact other human systems, the inflammation of social and cultural mechanisms, elevated violent crimes, political turmoil, class and racial divides, food supply shortages, chronic human diseases from poor diet, unemployment, domestic abuse, education deficiencies, homelessness, crime, and death. The window to effect positive change in carbon emissions is fast approaching a point of no return, an earthly insulin resistance when any positive change becomes ineffective.


Indigenous knowledge offers humanity a simple and elegant solution to the crisis, to live in balance. The Ancient Hawaiians sustained themselves, isolated in the Pacific Ocean, without contact with the known world for over a thousand years. Yet, they were incredibly versatile, with the skill and knowledge to sail thousands of miles of deep ocean without modern technology. They survived and thrived with limited means and resources, enacting practices and laws that conserved the environment (an extension of the human body and ancestors, a deity). With commercial and foreign interests taking root in the Kingdom of Hawai'i, a struggle to maintain political power led to the overthrow in 1893, paving the path to an industry boom in sugar cane imports and statehood. Today, imports make up 90 percent of the food supply in the Hawaiian Islands. The appetite to consume corrupts and is unsustainable. 


The Hawaiian word "pono" has many definitions but generally refers to being balanced and doing what is right. On July 31, 1842, King Kamehameha III spoke what would become the State Moto for the State of Hawai'i: Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono (the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness). The call to live "pono," rings strongly today; Living Pono speaks to the act of living righteously, to live in balance with the environment. 


The work mirrors my journey to finding purpose to advocate environmental awareness through music and the lens of indigenous knowledge. Featuring harp as the main protagonist, the work is in one continuous dramatic narrative, a musical journey that illustrates the search to live pono in the climate crisis. Informed by my studies through the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music Composing Earth Initiative, the work traverses many emotional states. Exploring fear, dread, optimism, and empowerment, I strived to capture music illustrating the beauty of mother earth with warnings of an uninhabitable planet. Three large harp cadenzas divide the work with sermons calling to live pono amongst a turbulent sea of political and social oppositions.


05/05/2023: Annapolis Symphony Orchestra; Charles Overton, harp; José-Luis Novo, conductor; Maryland Hall

05/06/2023: Annapolis Symphony Orchestra; Charles Overton, harp; José-Luis Novo, conductor; Maryland Hall

05/07/2023: Annapolis Symphony Orchestra; Charles Overton, harp; José-Luis Novo, conductor; Music Center At Strathmore

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