Most families sit around a table after a good meal and tell stories. This one stands up and sings. "Once the music starts, it just goes," says Candy Aluli, who has witnessed many spontaneous music sessions since she married into this Hawaii family five years ago.
An aura of harmony surrounds her husband Nane's clan. His mother, legendary singer Irmgard Farden Aluli, left a legacy carried on by Nane's sisters and other relatives. His Auntie Edna, Irmgard's sister and the last of her generation, still writes songs, and today is her day. "Edna's a composer, and she's famous in a quiet way," Candy explains. This morning, Maui's Kapalua Bay Hotel will adopt one of her songs―"Come to Kapalua"―as its official anthem. After the ceremony, Edna's music-loving family will share a meal on site and, likely, break out the ukuleles.
Edna Farden Bekeart is the youngest of seven sisters and six brothers who grew up on this isle. "My parents taught us to sing in the backyard, right on the ocean," she says. Her mom also taught her Farden recipes, now bound in a well-worn cookbook, with accompanying notes on authentic Hawaiian dishes. Today's luncheon is just as genuine. "A true Hawaiian family doesn't do a luau," says Candy. "Luaus have become a touristy thing. We're doing a family gathering with foods we love." The menu combines family favorites with hotel specialties and has won Edna's approval.
A former teacher who first composed Hawaiian songs as part of the school curriculum, Edna claims that her true love is history, and that music is just a hobby. Though her songs honor the past, Edna lives fully in the present. "I'm having such a wonderful life," she says. This subtly glamorous woman orders her martinis straight up, but she's still girlish, bringing her hands to her face when she tells of her first love. She's wistful when she talks of meeting her husband, Robert, now deceased, and of their years living in New Jersey―when an island girl first saw snow. Such nostalgia underlies today's romantic melody and lyrics celebrating Kapalua, where Edna hung out as a teen.
Under palms slick with sunshine, the hotel manager welcomes the family for the dedication. Staffers, who have been coached by Edna, perform while she mouths the words under the shade of a heliotrope tree. A steel guitar wavers. A hula dancer sways with motions that match the song's sentiments. After applause, family members say alohas, kissing cheeks. "Auntie, I love your song!" exclaims Mihana, Nane's sister. She's one of the vivacious members of the acclaimed family trio Puamana, and a solo artist, too. "We were raised with music," she says later. Her mother, the famous Irmgard, taught her to share her spirit, her aloha, through song. "It's a legacy we need to pass on. There's too much passion not to," Mihana says.
The family circles up to bless the food and to sing a song that compares their love to a fragrant flower. After lunch, they sing some more, the Puamana trio leading the way. Nane shyly joins the women. Not a public performer, he adds his lovely voice to the mix, flicking his fingers across the ukulele as Mihana hulas.
Under Edna's satisfied eye, the melodies finally fade, and she says, "This is what we do. We enjoy food. We dance. We sing."
Marriott International's Kapalua Bay Hotel, Kapalua, Maui; 808/669-5656 or renaissancehotels.com.