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Students Join Forces for Benefit Concert to Support Maui Wildfire Recovery

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A Hawaiian-born SFCM musician and his peers gave back with a student-led performance and fundraiser for those in need in Maui

November 17, 2023 by Alex Heigl

“Hawai'i loves San Francisco and San Francisco loves Hawai'i," Christopher Yick, the founder of the Hawaiian Chamber Music Festival, said earlier this year, and nowhere was that love more evident than in early November, when students organized a benefit concert to support the recovery efforts after the devastating wildfires that occurred in Maui wildfires in August. 

"When the devastating wildfires occurred in August, I was immensely moved by how quickly people had come together to support and mourn for the victims of Lahaina," student Justin Park said. Currently a Technology and Applied Composition student, Park is a native of the state. "Since leaving the islands, I have always wanted to share my native Hawaiian identity with the community to showcase the rich history and culture of Hawaiʻi. Traditionally, we utilize music to recite our history, to celebrate, and to lament. It is a universal art form that binds all of us from across the world."

SFCM students perform at a benefit concert for Maui.

SFCM students perform at a benefit concert for Maui.

The evening's programming was far-ranging, encompassing everything from a Mendelssohn string quartet to Bay Area icon Pauline Oliveros' "Tuning Meditation," alongside traditional Hawaiian music; students performed in handmade leis

"We had traditional Hawaiian chant, Hawaiian music, interpretive dance, and music from around the world, like Irish and Celtic tunes," Meli Everson, who organized the concert alongside Park, said. "We wanted to make sure our program highlighted the theme of the concert, which was Pūpūkahi i holomua—United We Move Forward. We had compositions from SFCM students as well as compositions from Hawaiian figures such as Queen Liliʻuokalani." 

Justin Park and Meli Everson.

Justin Park and Meli Everson.

Though the benefit concert was free—a decision made based on the organizers' belief that "access to music and Hawaiian culture should be free for all"—volunteers ran a donation table that collected funds for the Hawaii Community Foundation's Maui Strong Fund. Donations to this organization provide financial resources to support the immediate and long-term recovery needs for the people and places affected by the Maui wildfires.

Park and Everson's activism came from a deeply personal place. "Giving back is a deeply ingrained value in Hawaiian culture, and one way individuals express their appreciation is through artistic endeavors," Everson said. 

Students perform at SFCM's Maui benefit concert.

Students perform at SFCM's Maui benefit concert.

"I have been fortunate enough to grow up in Hawaii, surrounded by a history of kupuna (ancestors) giving back," Park added. "Now that I am venturing off on new journeys away from home, it is only natural that we carry that legacy of Aloha." 

The wildfires in Maui claimed the lives of over 100 people—with hundreds still missing—and consumed 2,170 acres, while state officials have put the economic cost of recovery at a staggering $6 billion. 

Learn how you can help donate to the Hawaii Community Foundation's Maui Strong Fund.