Kaui Hart Hemmings and Jeff Peterson

Mission Memorial Auditorium
Saturday, May 5, 1:30 pm
Kaui Hart Hemmings, author of the critically acclaimed best-seller-turned-movie The Descendants, and Jeff Peterson, a Na Hōkū Hanohano Award-winning guitarist featured on the movie’s soundtrack (done exclusively with Hawaiian music) will present together about the way the passages in her novel and his music came together in the film that earned four Oscar nominations and won for Best Screenplay.

Book genre: Fiction; Hawaii
Random House; April 8, 2008
Paperback; $15.00; 320 pages; not illustrated
Kindle, Nook, iTunes: $11.99

Soundtrack:
SONY MASTERWORKS; November 21, 2011
List price: $11.99; iTunes: $10.99

The Descendants won an Oscar for Best Screenplay and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing and Best Actor (for George Clooney’s leading role as Matt King.) The soundtrack is done exclusively with Hawaiian music, slack-key guitar in particular, and is the “perfect complement to the story’s setting and complicated emotions.”

The Descendants motion picture: From Alexander Payne, the creator of the Oscar-winning Sideways, set in Hawaii, The Descendants is a sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic journey for Matt King an indifferent husband and father of two girls, who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident off Waikiki. The event leads to a rapprochement with his young daughters while Matt wrestles with a decision to sell the family’s land handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries.

The soundtrack: The Descendants is the first mainstream American movie scored exclusively with Hawaiian music, most of it created by acknowledged masters of the genre, both modern and classical Gabby Pahinui, Ray Kane, Keola Beamer, Lena Machado, Sonny Chillingworth, Jeff Peterson, and Rev. Dennis Kamakahi, among others. The filmmakers sought to make a movie with a distinctly Hawaiian flavor, and the music was a crucial component. As well as echoing the experience of watching the film, The Descendants soundtrack will reveal to listeners the soulful and emotional spectrum of Hawaiian music over the decades and serve as an eye-opening introduction to some of Hawaiian music’s greatest and most essential artists.

The Descendants novel: Fortunes have changed for the King family, descendants of Hawaiian royalty and one of the state’s largest landowners. Matthew King’s daughters—Scottie, a feisty ten-year-old, and Alex, a seventeen-year-old recovering drug addict—are out of control, and their charismatic, thrill-seeking mother, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident. She will soon be taken off life support. As Matt gathers his wife’s friends and family to say their final goodbyes, a difficult situation is made worse by the sudden discovery that there’s one person who hasn’t been told: the man with whom Joanie had been having an affair. Forced to examine what they owe not only to the living but to the dead, Matt, Scottie, and Alex take to the road to find Joanie’s lover, on a memorable journey that leads to unforeseen humor, growth, and profound revelations.

Reviews for the soundtrack:

Beamer and another slack key guitarist, Jeff Peterson, were the only artists director Alexander Payne asked to record specifically for the soundtrack.

“At first I was a little nervous,” says Peterson. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, I have to go to the studio, and write two pieces on the spot. How’s this gonna go?’ As soon as I got there, [Payne] had the warmest most positive outlook. And his support was incredible. But what really moved me was how much he cared about the music. He knew the music. He had really spent time getting it deep into his soul. And so when he explained to me what he wanted, I knew exactly how to express it. I found a tuning that would work, and just played from the heart.”

The soundtrack showcases a wide variety of Hawaii artists, from the ’30s to today. But because it’s not a full, new score composed for the film, it’s not eligible for an Oscar.

The Descendants‘ music supervisor, Dondi Bastone, says he and Payne plan to submit the CD next year for a Grammy — for best soundtrack compilation.

“You know, we had fantasized early on that this film would perhaps do for Hawaiian music what Oh Brother Where Art Thou did for bluegrass,” Bastone says. “And it’s really gratifying that the music is resonating that way now.”

That’s good news, especially considering that this year, the Grammys eliminated the stand-alone Hawaiian music category.”

— NPR

“The Descendants is the first mainstream American movie scored exclusively with Hawaiian music, most of it created by acknowledged masters of the genre, both modern and classical Gabby Pahinui, Ray Kane, Keola Beamer, Lena Machado, Sonny Chillingworth, Jeff Peterson, and Rev. Dennis Kamakahi, among others. The filmmakers sought to make a movie with a distinctly Hawaiian flavor, and the music was a crucial component. As well as echoing the experience of watching the film, The Descendants soundtrack will reveal to listeners the soulful and emotional spectrum of Hawaiian music over the decades and serve as an eye-opening introduction to some of Hawaiian music s greatest and most essential artists.”

— Amazon.com

“There’s something to be said for the fact that the soundtrack to director Alexander Payne’s deft and moving new film “The Descendants” is one of the more compelling collections of Hawaiian music in recent memory — and the CD has nothing to do with surfing or hula. Like the film, it operates on the premise that life is messy, even in paradise…

“For such a small area, there’s an intimidating amount to learn about their tremendous musical heritage,” Payne said in an email interview.

Music supervisor Dondi Bastone listened to “mountains of music” to find things fitting the film’s needs, he explains, and Jay Junker, a professor in the University of Hawaii’s ethnomusicology program, was brought in to tutor Payne, Bastone and music editor Richard Ford. Junker gave insights into the hard-to-translate nuances of the songs’ “references, metaphors and double-entendres,” Payne says. Junker also stressed how much the meanings of the songs were tied to specific locations in the islands.”

— The Los Angeles Times

Reviews for the novel:

“This novel is like the surf: glinting and bubbly on the surface, and then it smacks you in the face and knocks you over and suddenly you’re sputtering on the shore wondering what powerful force just worked you over.”

— Daniel Handler (Adverbs, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events)

“With beautiful and blunt prose, Hemmings explores the emotional terrain of grief, promising something far more fulfilling than paradise at its end.”

— San Francisco Chronicle

“Hemmings is a determinedly unsentimental writer, and she manages her hazardous subject matter — all of it ripe for strenuous melodrama — in a dry, understated way, subverting her characters without reducing them utterly.”

— The New York Times

“Kaui Hart Hemmings eschews conventional wisdom to craft a panoramic tragicomedy about the transience of life, the painful business of being a father and husband, and the over-reaching power of history.”

— The Telegraph

Kaui Hart Hemmings is the author of the critically acclaimed short-story collection House of Thieves. The Descendants is her first novel and has (or will be) published in over a dozen other countries. It was adapted into film that won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Her work has been published in Zoetrope, Best American New Voices, and Best American Nonrequired Reading. A former Wallace Stegner fellow, Hemmings grew up in Hawaii and has degrees from Colorado College and Sarah Lawrence College.

Recognized as one of Hawaii’s most versatile musicians, Jeff Peterson is at the heart of the Hawaiian music scene today. His focus on Slack Key guitar, classical, and jazz music has allowed him to develop a unique and transcendent voice on the guitar while being deeply rooted in the traditions of his Hawaiian heritage. Peterson has performed with Eric Clapton, James Galway, Michael Feinstein, the Honolulu Symphony, Ledward Kaapana, Dennis Kamakahi, Hawaii Opera Theatre, jazz bassist Rufus Reid, shakuhachi master Riley Lee, and soprano Dana Hanchard. He has appeared in Europe, Asia, Australia and the US at countless venues, including the Symphony Space in New York City, and has also performed privately for Bill and Hilary Clinton. Jeff Peterson has studied with David Russell, Carlos Barbosa Lima, Benjamin Verdery, Ozzie Kotani, Larry Koonse, and Joe Diorio, and has performed in master classes for Scott Tennant, Antigoni Goni, Ricardo Cobo, and Dusan Bogdonovic. He has participated in the island-wide Annual Slack Key Guitar Festivals with many other slack key artists including Raymond Kane, Keola Beamer, Ledward Kaapana, and Cyril Pahinui.

He has contributed to two Grammy Award-winning recordings, “Slack Key Guitar, Volume 2” being the first Grammy Award winner for best Hawaiian recording. Peterson has been honored with three Na Hōkū Hanohano Awards in Hawaii. His latest solo CD Maui on My Mind was recognized as the Slack Key Album of the Year in 2010. His latest release features his songwriting, performing, and producing on Amy Hanaiali‘i and Slack Key Masters of Hawaii. The groundbreaking recording features a collaboration between Jeff, Amy Hanaiali‘i, Cyril Pahinui, Dennis Kamakahi, Sonny Lim, and Chino Montero. Hawaiian Skies, a track from Maui On My Mind, was featured in The Descendants soundtrack, which topped Billboard’s World Albums chart for three weeks in December and is currently in Amazon.com’s top ten rankings for soundtracks.

Hemmings’ other books:

House of Thieves; Penguin Group; 2005

Peterson’s other albums:

Maui Morning; Hula Records; 2000

Haiku; Hula Records; 2002

Bamboo Slack Key; Hula Records; 2002

Kahealani; Peterson Productions; 2003

Slack Key Jazz; Peterson Productions; 2005

The Artistry of Jeff Peterson; Palm Records; 2006

Pure Slack Key; Peterson Productions; 2007

Haleakalā; Peterson Productions; 2008

Amy Hanaiali‘i and Slack Key Masters of Hawai‘i; Peterson Productions; 2010

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