PRINTING KAPA

 

YEAR

2020

 

INSTRUMENTATION

Violin and Harp

 

DURATION

7 minutes

 

CO-COMMISSIONED BY

Lucia Lin and the

Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy for Music

PREMIERE

1/29/2021 (Digital)

Lucia Lin, violin

Charles Overton, harp

PROGRAM NOTE

Printing Kapa belongs to a category of work inspired by indigenous knowledge. Since returning to Hawaiʻi in 2015, much of my work has touched upon issues and themes of living in Hawaii, her history, people and the propagation of indigenous knowledge as a way to connect with the past, present and future. Bridging and translating the Hawaiian elements into the concert music world is a difficult task. So much of the Hawaiian aesthetic, both traditional and popular, are informed by the presence of the language and timbre of the instruments and vocals. And so with these works inspired by Hawaiʻi, I’ve strived to best capture the spirit of the Hawaiian elements while combining them with my own voice and the aesthetics in which I feel, creatively capture the spirit of Hawaiʻi.  

Kapa (bark cloth) is a native Hawaiian fabric made from the bark of trees and combines linear elements that cross and converge to form geometric patterns of triangles, chevrons and diagonal forms in design. Kapa making is an art that once spanned the Pacific and reached perfection in Polynesia. 

In old Hawai'i, kapa was used in nearly every aspect of life. It swaddled newborns and was fashioned for men and women. Several layers of kapa stitched together made sleeping blankets, small plain strips might be wrapped around an individual's arms and legs for decoration and orange strips of kapa were used to adorn the hair. In religious practices, tall towers called 'anu'u, which were thought to house the gods, were draped with sheets of white kapa. Idols were also decorated with kapa to show that the gods lived inside the wooden figures. Fine kapa was dyed with a variety of patterns according to the maker's whim and creative talent.

Printing Kapa is inspired by the kapa prints of contemporary Hawaiian artist Manaola.  His designs are hand-carved onto bamboo laths using the traditional ‘ohe kāpala (bamboo stamp) technique known for kapa adornment. In ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, the artist’s name, “manaola” means “life force.” One particular design that caught my imagination was his ‘ūwila, or lightning bolt, a physical representation of the life force, embodying the strength and raw power of nature. 

When printed in repetition, the ‘Ūwila print serves as a Hawaiian take on the houndstooth motif. Manaola created the ‘Ūwila design as a symbol of protection for the wearer. In Hawaiian folklore, the goddess Pele possessed a magic pāʻū ‘ūwila (lightning skirt), which could shield the wearer from dark or negative forces, and leant the skirt to her sister, Hi‘iakaikapoliopele, so that she might journey safely. The designer intended this print to provide the wearer with symbolic protection and the strength to face life’s challenges.

The jagged nature of the ‘Ūwila print immediately provided ample inspiration in creating jagged and lightning like melodic ideas, while the process of printing and stamping the pattern in repetitions, describes how the musical material unfolds over time; a kapa printing of music.

Notes are taken from the composer, Manola and Betty Fullard-Leo