The fourth and final destination on talented cellist Tina Guo’s music-inspired tour is the magnificent and mystical island of Maui. There, she embeds herself in local rituals, from sunrise ceremonies and frenetic fire dancing to a rousing impromptu jam session and a final-night luau. Here, Guo recounts the unforgettable moments had during a transcendent three days in Hawaii.
“I’ve been to Hawaii four to five times in the past, and my experiences have been, well, touristy. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I didn’t get as much insight and opportunity to learn about Hawaii and its culture. I knew this trip would be different. After landing in Honolulu, we took a small single-engine plane to Maui. It was just us and the pilot, and the views were magical.”
“I’d never been to Maui and have always wanted to go. I was lucky enough to take a cultural tour of The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua with Clifford Nae’ole, the hotel’s Hawaiian cultural advisor and a really spiritual and knowledgeable being. I learned that there is a vortex at the tip of the property that locals believe the spirits pass through. It's also where they go to communicate with their deceased loved ones."
“Music is such a big part of Hawaiian culture — of most cultures, really — and I knew I wanted to play Hawaiian music while in Maui. We invited a few local musicians to a jam session. We hadn’t rehearsed, but the gentleman with the ukulele started playing and everyone just caught on. The style was the more easy-listening, modern Hawaiian music.”
“The next day, we woke early for what turned out to be something truly special — a sunrise ceremony led by Clifford. He explained the history of the ceremony, which is to welcome the morning and think about an ancestor, or to ask someone who you might have wronged to forgive you. Then he began to chant and clap. It was like an ancient version of a therapy session — thinking about something and letting it go as the sun rises.”
“Hawaiians have a deep connection with the land and the sea, and I wanted to get a little closer to that. We went on a hike to learn more about our surroundings, and snorkeled in the crystal-clear water. It was fascinating to see all the sea creatures, including this turtle, who came right up to us.”
“I love fire dancing and have friends who are fire dancers, so I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to play during a ceremony. Fire dancing is Polynesian, and traditionally it’s only drums and the fire dancers, and the rhythm just gets faster and faster. It was a challenge for me to incorporate the cello, and in the end I tried to make the cello like a percussion instrument — finding one note and playing along with the drummer. I love when music is no longer about playing a bunch of notes, when it’s purely serving the atmosphere.”
“The next morning, we awoke early again to visit the ancient vortex that Clifford introduced me to two days earlier. The vortex is surrounded by a labyrinth. It’s all really mystical and I was honored to play there and to understand the significance of the location.”
“On my final night in Maui, we had a quintessential Hawaiian experience — a luau. I’d been to luaus before, but the one hosted by Old Lahaina Luau was something special. First we were given leis with fresh flowers, and I’ll never forget their amazing smell. Then we took a hula lesson equipped with bamboo sticks.”
“The show during the luau was spectacular, and gave a truly accurate description of the history of Hawaii, which is more complicated than most Americans realize. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to see both sides of Maui during this trip — the ancient spiritual side and the more modern eclectic side.”
“Something about this place — about the vortex, the fire dancing, the spirituality and those mystic mornings by the sea — feels romantic and gothic to me. I love Maui’s primal energy, and it’s exactly what I’ll try to capture in my song.”