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Sweet voices, sweet musicians, sweet hulas

By Staff | Jul 29, 2010

Irmgard Farden Aluli

LAHAINA — “Voices of Maui,” the book based on these columns, has a related cousin, “Sweet Voices of Lahaina.” Both appear upon typing the words “voices

of Maui” on the search page for Amazon.com books.

Turns out that “Sweet Voices,” published by Island Heritage 20 years ago, is a fascinating book that goes a long way toward capturing West Maui’s fabulous

Farden family.

The sweet voices were those of Charles Keka‘a Farden and Annie Shaw Farden, married in 1897, and their 13 children, some of whom lived into the 1990s.

Irmgard Farden Aluli, college degreed in home economics, taught school, bore and mothered 11 children and penned more than 300 songs in praise of the islands.

The talented composer wrote the song “Puamana,” still popular today, about the place where high chiefs once lived and site of the family home not far from the present Lahaina Shores. Puamana was later used for the development across from the roadside entry sign proclaiming Lahaina Town.

Nane Aluli, Irmgard’s son, who is busy running the Mauian hotel in Napili, remembers his mom writing lyrics when words came to her on napkins during lunch or other spare moments.

Auntie Emma Farden Sharp won renown as one of Lahaina’s greatest kumu hula, bringing an authentic version of the dance in ancient tradition to scores of

students, including a number who dance at resorts and family occasions today.

In a long career, she taught and inspired hundreds of dancers, and during one memorable period during World War II brought her 35-person troupe of singers

and dancers once a week to Kihei and Puunene, performing over four years for 5,000 soldiers and sailors in training or on R&R.

In the late 1890s, a friend of the man who would become a patriarch of musicians and dancers, told Farden, “Charlie, your voice is a gift from God,” author Mary Richards reported. 

“When you marry, you must have lots of children, and you must all sing together.”

In Anne Shaw of Kaanapali, Charles found someone with an equally golden voice. The common bond of song brought the two together in marriage — Charles, who once played football before Queen Liliuokalani at prestigious Punahou School, and Annie on the day she graduated from a missionary school in Makawao.

Charles had landed a job at Paia Sugar Mill, and before long the young couple was off to Lahaina. Farden was chosen to be one of the luna (bosses) at the brand new Pioneer Mill.

Soon, little Fardens began to sing in cane fields, at family gatherings and eventually on stage. The most passionate dancer of hula was Emma, who at 15 dreamed of taking lessons from the renowned Kauhui Likau, a Royal Court dancer for kings who had been trained since infancy.

Emma prayed and prayed, “Sweet Voices” recounts, and a reluctant kumu hula was finally won over by the young girl’s pledge to pass on the ancient hula

techniques to new generations.

And that she did. Some of Emma’s charges are still dancing hula at Kaanapali resorts today.

Until she passed away, Emma never stopped performing with a troupe that danced everywhere from the Maui Palms in Kahului to the Sheraton in Kaanapali. In the 1980s, thousands rode the elevator to the top of the Sheraton Hotel and its old Discovery Room to enjoy authentic Emma hula.

Though Emma and Irmgard were the most famous of the Farden dancers and musicians, their siblings in this most musical of families may have been no

less talented.

First born Margaret, a soprano, played classical piano, ukulele and zither.

Others distinguished by their voices and the number of instruments they played — almost always including ukulele — were Annie, soprano, two instruments; Maude, soprano, three; Edna, soprano, three; Diana, soprano, two; Bernard, baritone, four; Carl, tenor, six; Buddy, baritone, four; and Rudolph, tenor, three instruments.

Mary Richard’s book is filled with interesting details. After Pearl Harbor, Maui expected there might be an invasion. The citizenry built the Ukumehame range to practice their rifle skills. And they even had a plan to blow up Pioneer Mill, as well as the road over the Pali, in event of attack.

“Sweet Voices of Lahaina” is one entertaining book, even though the post World War II review of the Fardens’ illustrious careers is a bit sketchy. 

Columnists Notebook: More on this musical family will appear in a future column. Family members and others are invited to send their recollections on their aunties, uncles and tutu to norm@mauicommunicators.com.