Being Mellow on Kauai

It’s no secret that when you get to vacation in Hawaii, chances are your pace will slow down and you will find yourself relaxed.

The last time I was in Kauai was 26 years ago, when my sister Jackie and her husband Doug got married.

But this time it was a “girls’ vacation” with my eldest daughter Alex. Before we left for Kauai, both my sister Jackie and my coworker Terri encouraged us to spend an afternoon at the Hanalei Community Center to hear original slack key guitar music played by Doug and Sandy McMaster.

I was especially interested in hearing them because of the effect they had on Jackie last year. In July 2011, Jackie was diagnosed with breast cancer. With her doctor’s permission, she and Doug spent two weeks vacationing in Kauai in early September celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary before she returned home to have a double mastectomy.

When Jackie came back from Kauai, she was excited to give me a CD from Doug and Sandy. She said the music was relaxing and healing, and she planned to download a few hours of their music onto her iPod and listen to it during her upcoming surgery. She was convinced it would help her recovery. And, interestingly, one of her close friends from high school who has a masters degree in music therapy validated that music can be healing. Multiple studies show listening to pleasant, mellow and familiar music during surgery and recovery can help you mend faster!

This past Sunday afternoon, Alex and I drove to the sleepy town of Hanalei on the north shore of Kauai to listen to Doug and Sandy McMaster. While Doug is the master guitarist, Sandy is the narrator and ukulele accompanist. Slack key guitar was brought to the islands by Mexican Vaqueros in the 1700s who taught Hawaiians how to tend to their cattle herds.

My career as a guitar player lasted about a year when I was a teenager, but I do recall how to tune a guitar and there was a set cadence for written music. But slack key is different. It’s always played in altered guitar tunings and there are extra notes every few bars, which means there’s not a normal pattern.

It was fascinating to watch Doug demonstrate how a slack key guitarist will play one rhythm with the thumb on the lower strings, while his fingertips played a different melody and harmony. This unique rhythm with no vocals is what makes it so healing, relaxing and majestic!

When I called Jackie to tell her we went to see Doug and Sandy, she asked me if I fell asleep while they played?! I told her no, but I did find myself closing my eyes. She told me the music was so relaxing she could not stay awake during their concert.

The McMasters handed out a small flyer listing reasons people purchase their CDs:

1. Feel better instantly
2. Stress relief and relaxation
3. Creativity and problem solving
4. Illness recovery
5. Lower blood pressure
6. Professional practices (doctors, dentists, massage therapists, yoga, psychologists, etc.)

You can check them out on their website

Attending their two-hour concert and listening to their CDs back at our timeshare surely has made for a relaxing vacation. If you ever find yourself in Kauai, I highly recommend you make time to experience old Hawaiian slack key music. And remember, you will take off your shoes when you enter the community center and be prepared for “Bob” the rooster, crowing when they play his favorite song!