“A Journey to the Source of Strings”: Unraveling the Pacific Origins of the World’s Most Iconic Stringed Instruments

Panel 1: Community Archiving Projects
A Journey to the Source of Strings”: Unraveling the Pacific Origins of the World’s Most Iconic Stringed Instruments

Presenter: Ki-Lin Reece is Hawai’iʻs premier restoration specialist for vintage acoustic string instruments. A Grammy-nominated musician, Kilin (pronounced KY-lin) for over a decade was the lead singer and guitarist in Hawai‘i’s longest-running bluegrass band, the Saloon Pilots. In 2019, he founded the Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the study of Hawai’i and the Pacific region as the Western Hemispheres epicenter of innovation, influence and excellence in Luthiery and popular string driven musical styles.  His research has led to The Honolulu Students—Royal Hawaiian Troubadours Historic Recordings circa 1904, a collaborative release with American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. He has produced the acclaimed concert series A Night of Sovereign Strings—Celebrating the Musical Legacy of Mekia Kealakai, which traces the music of Hawaiʻi from the monarchy period through WWII and features an award-winning ensemble led by Maestro Aaron Mahi and joined by members of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, Hawaiʻiʻs Opera community and leading members of the Jazz and traditional Hawaiian music worlds. Kilin is currently working with the C.F. Martin Guitar Company on a documentary film illuminating the long running collaborations of Hawaiian musicians and America’s oldest string instrument manufacturer. A historic exhibition, Kaula Piko – The source of Strings, guest curated by Mr. Reece opens April 2020 at the Bishop Museum and runs through Jan 2021, featuring the instruments of Mekia Kealakai, Johnny Cash, HRH Kalākaua, HRH Lili’uokalani, Eddie Kamae, Gabby Pahinui and more.

Presentation Description: Serving the community of Hawai’i for the last two decades building, repairing and restoring fine new and vintage acoustic stringed instruments, Mr. Reece began researching the stories of the instruments and clients that arrived in his workshop. Navigating his way through archives, libraries, historical societies, and digital databases, a story began to emerge with profound implications as to the origins of not only the most famous instruments, but also the contributions of generations of virtuoso musicians, educators, and innovators largely uncredited in popular historical narratives. As a non-academically trained researcher, the learning curves were steep, but the implications profound and vital to the conversations of the current times. The Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings is currently producing a concert series uniting members of the Hawaiian music community with Opera, Jazz, and Classical musicians under the direction of Maestro Aaron Mahi, recreating and re-imagining string ensemble styles of the Hawaiian kingdom and the shared common ground with seemingly disparate musical styles and traditions. 

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