Aloha, Grammys: Award nominee talks about studying music at CMU, Hawaiian heritage

Award nominee talks about studying music at CMU, Hawaiian heritage

Photo credit: Antonio J. Agosto, Visionize Media Kalani Pe’a

Photo By: Antonio J. Agosto, Visionize Media Kalani Pe’a

Photo credit: Adam Palumo, Vision Horse Media Kalani Pe’a Photo take during the making of a music video.

Photo By: Antonio J. Agosto, Visionize Media KALANI PE’A

Even the way Kalani Pe’a shouts “Gooooo Mavericks!” is melodic and crescendoes with a contagious joy.

Just smile, love, because sooner but never later, you won’t be able to help yourself.

Then you will want to dig out all your warm-weather clothes and buy a ticket straight to Hawaii.

Call it the Pe’a effect, and it was in full force a week ago as the Hawaiian prepared to sing at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 8, and attend parties and ceremonies for the Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 12.

His 2016 album, “E Walea,” is up for a Grammy in the Regional Roots Album category, vying with four other finalists with Cajun, Zydeco and Native American music.

Hawaii and family clearly have the biggest claim to Pe’a and his success, but Grand Junction also played a key part.

In 2001, Pe’a began attending Colorado Mesa University, then Mesa State College. He wanted to experience a new lifestyle, to be able to understand the four seasons and study vocal performance.

“I loved singing, and I started singing at 4 ... my mom introduced me to music,” Pe’a said.

She did it to use music to help him overcome stuttering, and it worked. As a college student, Pe’a wanted to learn more: how to read music, ear training, music theory, classical music, improved vibrato, everything.

While he was at Mesa State in name, he was actually studying at the — add a booming voice and laugh here — “Music Institute of Jack Delmore.”

Pe’a, 33, likes to jokingly say he isn’t a “true opera singer” like the great tenor Delmore, with whom Pe’a studied for two years and who is currently emeriti professor of voice and former head of vocal studies at CMU.

“He’s a difficult teacher,” Pe’a said. “I knew he was compassionate with me.”

Delmore had Pe’a sing in Spanish and encouraged him to compete in the annual Colorado/Wyoming Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing competition.

“Compete against all these opera singers? You’re kidding me!” was Pe’a reaction. But Delmore said, “You can do it. You’re a singer.”

So Pe’a put on his tuxedo — “it was cold as heck” at the competition in the University of Colorado in Boulder — and he took first place, winning both the classical and music theater divisions.

“I am proud I got to learn from Jack Delmore,” he said.

For all Pe’a's praise of Delmore, the professor would have you know Pe’a's talent shouldn’t be downplayed.

Pe’a's voice “wraps around you,” Delmore said. “You know you’re in the presence of a singer.”

“He’s kind of a bigger tenor voice. It’s a very full tenor voice,” Delmore said. “He has a nice extension where he can go into his falsetto” and in popular music it is “very advantageous to be able to slip into that voice.”

“I think part of his personality comes out in his singing,” Delmore said of Pe’a's positive outlook and joy.

While Pe’a moved away from a music degree — he graduated in 2006 with a degree in mass communications from Mesa State, was an assignment editor at KJCT News 8 before returning in 2007 to Hawaii where he is now is a curriculum developer for Kamehameha Schools Maui — music never moved away from him.

With “E Walea,” Pe’a blended music with his cultural identity as a “Millennial Hawaiian.”

“He’s made a really strong statement about Hawaiian language, people and music,” Delmore said.

Pe’a is fluent in Hawaiian and attended a Hawaiian language school while growing up.

The 12 tracks on his album include two Hawaiian chants, traditional and contemporary Hawaiian language songs and covers of “You Are So Beautiful” and “Always And Forever” sung in a mix of English and Hawaiian.

“Those songs mean a lot to me,” Pe’a said of the two covers. “I’ve been singing these songs since I was a kid. It takes me back home. My mom introduced me to these songs.”

It also shows who he is culturally to be able to “belt these songs in Hawaiian and English.”

The two chants he wrote to honor his birthplace, Pana’ewa, Hilo, and the place where he lives now, Maui, and to carry on the legacy of his forefathers.

His students are now learning his chants, which are “very melodic and soothing to the ear because that is how I am,” he said.

“E Walea” is “an album that defines who I am,” and the title means “to be exuberant, to be elated and to be happy,” kind of like a flock of chirping birds, he said.

The title also is part of his nephew’s name, which has made his nephew feel like a celebrity, Pe’a said with a laugh.

For those wanting to know the how Pe’a does at the Grammys, the results may be shown during online preshow live streaming, which can be found at

A results montage that includes Pe’a's category also might be shown during the Grammy Awards to be aired at 6 p.m. Sunday on CBS.

Pe’a said he will to update his social media accounts as soon as he finds out the results, so Delmore plans to keep an eye on Pe’a's Facebook page on Sunday.

“We’re all tickled about this,” Delmore said of the university’s music department. “It was an honor for us to help along his road.”


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