The Hakuoh University Handbell Choir from Oyama City in Japan’s Tochigi Prefecture presented its 24th concert series in Honolulu last month. The 12 students, plus a violinist and a pianist, shared their talent with audiences in four free concerts — at Central Union Church, Ala Moana Center, and Leeward Community College and Windward Community College. The choir, which once consisted only of women, included three men this year. They were led by Professor Hirotaka Arai, Hakuoh University’s music director. Arai established the choir in 1988.

The handbell choir’s visits to Hawaii began during Dr. Joyce Tsunoda’s tenure as chancellor of the University of Hawai‘i Community Colleges. The now-chancellor emeritus teaches part-time at Hakuoh University and serves as a liaison between Hakuoh and the UH Community Colleges.

Surprisingly, most of the students in the handbell choir are elementary education majors, not music majors, so their participation is an extracurricular activity. You would never know it from watching them. They pour heart and soul into every handbell performance.

“Their talent is extraordinary. They rehearse for hours and hours, and they do the most complex things and make it look easy,” said Tom Holowach, manager of the Paliku Theatre at Windward Community College, who emcees many of the choir’s performances.

Hakuoh University is a private university owned and operated by the Kamioka family. Joji Kamioka, the school’s vice president and chairman of the board, hosted a private luncheon concert for invited guests on Feb. 13 at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i.

The students performed a variety of tunes, including a composition titled “Flora No. 2,” made up of variations of the time-honored Japanese folk song, “Sakura,” which was sung by Professor Arai, who was trained in opera singing. They also performed Edwin R. Hawkins’ “Oh Happy Day”; a Glenn Miller medley of tunes — “Moonlight Serenade,” “Little Brown Jug,” “American Patrol” and “In the Mood”; a solo performance of “Amazing Grace” by choir member Masataka Ushiku; “Let It Go,” the popular tune from the Disney film, “Frozen”; and “Carmen” from Georges Bizet’s opera. The students also performed “Hawai‘i Aloha,” as they do every year.

The Hakuoh Handbell Choir has performed on the U.S. mainland, in Canada, England, Australia and South Korea. They also performed for Japan’s imperial couple and for the king and queen of Belgium.


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