Courtesy Taimane Gardner

Taimane debuts 'Elements' at Hawaii Theatre

Place Chinatown
Text Will Caron

Just over a year ago, Summit talked with Taimane Gardner about a suite of music she had been working on at Chinatown arts venue Ong King. The music focused on various planets and represented a gradually developing shift in Gardner's career from the surf and pop rock standards of her teenage years to a focus on bringing original compositions to the stage.

After successfully releasing her planets suite as part of the concept album We Are Made of Stars (Gardner also produced the record) in the spring of 2015, Gardner will debut a second suite that represents the very elements themselves at Hawaii Theatre Center this Friday. The new show will feature a preliminary set of Taimane ʻukulele favorites before venturing off into the unknown to provide audience members with this latest creative outpouring from the young composer.

Summit (S): What made you want to focus on planets and elements; kind of a natural and celestial theme?

Taimane Gardner (TG): After the planets I decided to do the elements because I feel like they're all connected somehow; I felt like this would be the next step. I love working on things that could become different concept albums, you know?

I've always been interested in the planets. Even in grade school, my projects were always about the planets and the solar system. I find it all very interesting; I think I might have been an astronomer if it weren't for the math [laughs]. I also really love the Greek mythology behind the different planets. I really delved into the weird and interesting fantasy stories. I like imagining a personality to each planet, and same thing with the elements too.

S: There's lots of examples of classical composers drawing on seasons and planets and these kind of cosmically important variables in human existence, like Holst's Planets or Vivaldi's Four Seasons, but you're doing it on an ʻukulele. What kind of inspirations do you draw from and how has the ʻukulele made your process different?

TG: Well, I grew up playing the ʻukulele since I was 5 so it just feels like an extension of myself. Music is a way to express myself, and the ʻukulele just happens to be the instrument. I do love classical music as well, so there's definitely some inspiration pulled there. I don't actually listen to very much Holst; more so Vivaldi; but there is a lot of other classical music that is inspiring to me, and then the ʻukulele is just what I'm most comfortable on. I play a little guitar, but the ʻukulele is smaller and easier to move around with too. And this kind of thing hasn't been done on an ʻukulele yet, so why not give it a try?

S: So you've got the elements: earth, fire, water, air?

TG: There's a fifth element as well, but I'm choosing not to tell anyone what it is until after they've seen the show. There's a whole narration that I wrote up so it will be revealed at the right time.

S: OK, that's an interesting idea; sort of let the audience guess what it is while they listen. Can you go into the other four though and talk a bit about how you composed music on the ʻukulele to evoke wind or water?

TG: The first piece in my elements suite is actually not an element; the first one is Atlantis—like I said, I wanted to really dive into the Greek mythology. I thought the fantasy Greek world would be a good place to grab people's attention. When I started writing Water, I wrote it the way water actually sounds; when it rains and you hear the “plink, plink, plink.” So I started with that and went into the sounds water makes in a waterfall; the music very much reflects the sounds water makes in nature.

Fire is about passion. I use passionate, fiery, Latin-sounding music, some flamenco strumming, lots of theatrics; so that's kind of the expressive side that, I think, most people know me for doing. Air, on the other hand, is like a Sunday beach day. It's very mellow, but it takes you on a little story. Earth was kind of inspired by the whole organic versus GMO (genetically modified organism) debate, so there's some messages in that one.

And then I do a planet that I didn't write music for last year, and that's Pluto. But I draw from what Pluto represents in Greek mythology, which is king of the underworld. So that one will be a little darker.

S: Is Pluto a little upset that NASA no longer considers it a planet?

TG: Yes, he is a little rebellious. In my mind, Hades (Pluto) is the Disney Hades from Hercules (1997), so I basically wrote his theme song [laughs]. And then after Pluto comes the mysterious fifth element. The fun thing about that piece is that it comes from a dream I had, and the dream was of me playing at Hawaii Theatre.

S: Wow, that's incredible. How long ago did you have that dream?

TG: Last year; it was before we were even talking about having me perform there. The dream was of me and my guitarist singing the piece on stage and the audience was very clearly in Hawaii Theatre. And then I woke up, and what I normally do is I make myself record the melodies that I remember from my dream—I hum it into a recorder—and then I work on it over the next couple weeks until I've got a song.

S: What are you thinking going on to such a different stage?

TG: I'm thinking that it's a way bigger stage than Ong King's. So I'm going to have to learn how to deal with that. There will be a lot more dancers involved, there's lighting and sound considerations, and I'm going to have to learn how to work with everyone to make this happen. I'll have to do it quickly too, because we do not have a whole lot of rehearsal time in the actual space.

S: What was the transition like for you going from playing the surf and pop rock standards in Waikīkī to the last several years where you've really been developing as a composer of your own music?

TG: It's funny you bring that up. I was actually thinking of quitting playing—I was 18 at the time. I never knew about Chinatown in terms of a musical venue. I was doing the Waikīkī thing and it was burning me out. I was thinking of just going to college and studying psychology or something like that. And then a girlfriend of mine took me to Ong King for the first time, and I thought the place was amazing. So I think that kind of sparked my interest, again, in this whole other side of me. Because what they want at Ong King is original music, they don't want covers. And then, of course, I met all these other artists that I could collaborate with, which was also really fun.

S: Had you written much music before that, but just kind of kept it to yourself?

TG: Yeah, I didn't like doing originals in Waikīkī. It doesn't really work there. It's more about the crowd response there. But I wrote my first song when I was 5. It was called “I'm a Ducky, Ducky, Ducky” and it was about being a duck and living in a pond. Maybe I should bring it back one of these days [laughs]. Maybe as a hana hou.

S: The experience of writing a song at that age might be something interesting to maybe take to a classroom and share with current 5-year-olds. Have you ever thought about doing something like that?

TG: No, but I think that would be a really interesting idea.

S: Most people don't write songs at the age of 5, so I think that would be a valuable perspective to expose young kids to.

TG: I remember in Kindergarten our teacher would play music and we were supposed to dance according to the music. Music is definitely a really valuable thing in teaching kids and it would be great to have more kids writing music from a young age.

S: Is there anything else you want to make sure people know about the show?

TG: Yes. I want people to know that there are two distinct sets to the performance. The first half is greatest hits; things people know me for. Then there will be an intermission—go drink a lot—and then the second half is the theatrical, elements set.

Taimane; A Theatrical Odyssey, The Elements
Hawaii Theatre Center, 1130 Bethel St., Honolulu
Fri., March 25, 8pm
(808) 528-5535


Summit is Hawaii's magazine of ideas and style for the global citizen. We're named for Queen Kapiolani's motto, "kulia i ka nuu," strive for the summit. Summit is available on fine newsstands throughout North America and the Asia-Pacific region.

2017 S King Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96826
Ikaika Hussey
Creative Director
Mae Ariola
Will Caron
Copy Editor
Karen Shishido
Assistant Editor
James Charisma