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Vol. 14, no. 5
October/November 2011


School for Sound 

Story by Samson Reiny

Photos by Kyle Rothenborg


MELE's program coordinator Keala Chock in the recording booth.
A musician stands
in a small booth in a Kalihi music studio, waiting to begin a recording session. When the cue comes, he launches into a Hawaiian melody, strumming and plucking at his ‘ukulele and crooning spiritedly. In the adjoining booth Eric Kelekolio sits behind the recording console; it’s a state-of-the-art, tricked-out board the length of a Cadillac. Kelekolio taps his foot to the quiet rhythm of a metronome, entranced as the musician’s creation begins to be transformed into digital readings on a jumbo-size computer screen. But it’s not long before he’s springing from his chair to work the board’s controls.


“Give him two bars into the verse,” John Vierra instructs Kelekolio. Vierra’s sitting in the back with arms crossed, forehead creased, and he wants a redo after hearing a buzz coming off the ‘ukulele. “Adjust the limiter,” he directs not a half a minute later. “He’s coming in too strong.”


The musician has his own directions. “A little more volume in the headphones,” he mutters as he flips through his sheet music during a break. He coughs. “Hand him a glass of water,” Vierra directs Kelekolio.


Hours of recording ensue, and by the time they’re done Kelekolio has probably walked a mile moving about the console and tracking back and forth from booth to booth. He’s got his reward, though: a session of clean tracks and a satisfied performer. “Good day today,” says the musician as he’s shuffling out the door. “We got a lot done.”


Kelekolio breathes a sigh of relief. “The heat was on,” he says with a smile.


The heat was on: It’s not every day you have your professor watching your every move. But that’s just what was happening in the studio. Kelekolio is a student in the University of Hawai‘i’s Music Entertainment and Learning Experience (MELE) program, and Vierra is his teacher. And MELE? It’s a new and novel program designed to train Hawai‘i’s students in all aspects of the music business, from engineering to marketing to distribution. Kelekolio was in training in this session, learning to run a real recording session by doing just that with an expert looking on. It’s opportunities like that, enthusiasts say, that set MELE apart from any other music program in the Islands. “It’s a safe place for him because this is, first and foremost, educational,” says Vierra of Kelekolio. “Sessions like this bridge the gap between here and what happens in the real world.”