July 17, 2022
The ‘apapane are known for their cheerful songs. Walk around in the ohi’a forests of Hawai’i Island and you will hear them. They produce all kinds of sounds, combining them together into a range of calls and melodies that make the forest ring.
But there was one ‘apapane that never learned to sing, and it happened in this way.
As young human beings, you learn a lot of things in schools, right? It’s somewhat the same for many kinds of fish, of course. A lot of them spend nearly their entire lifetime in schools, so they’re probably the best educated of the world’s creatures, don’t you think?
The ‘apapane don’t have schools. They have flocks, of course, and they have families. They learn to sing in choruses.
The year’s fledgling singers came together with one of the senior singers to form a new ‘apapane chorus and learn the basic melodies and sounds of ‘apapane song. They were excited and they were enthusiastic. Many of them had learned things from their parents and older family members, and they wanted to sing more and better and louder songs.
One ‘apapane turned up with so much eagerness that it just went running over. “Aren’t you excited?” he asked his fellow youngsters. “I’m really excited. What do you think they’ll teach us?”
The ‘apapane he asked opened her beak to answer the question, but he went right on to say something else to another bird that had just joined them. “I think singing is just the best part of being an ‘apapane. It’s like flying, but with your voice. Don’t you think so?”
The new ‘apapane started to reply, but before he got out a peep the excited ‘apapane had turned back to the first bird and continued, “I’m really looking forward to those really high sweeping calls. You know the ones? I’m sure you do. Do you think the instructor will know them? How could she not? Do you know who she is? Has she arrived yet?”
And it went on.
The instructor turned up and, for a moment, there was silence as she spoke to the new choristers. “Welcome, friends,” she said. “We’re here to learn the art of ‘apapane music. I hope you’ll all enjoy this. Let’s start with…”
“Oh, I will definitely enjoy this!” piped up our eager fledgling. “And so will he. And her. And that one over there. Are you going to teach us with the Kilauea method or do you use the Maui variant? Are there any specialty classes? How about song composition? And what about…?”
And it went on.
The instructor and the other students waited for a while to see if he would stop on his own. And… he didn’t. He just went on. Eventually the chorus teacher shrugged her feathers and went on to demonstrate some basic calls, and then some trills, and then some melodies. As the chorus grew in strength and confidence, there was this constant undercurrent of… well.
“I’ve been really interested in flycatching technique, you know? Sometimes that can improve the voice, right? And the different nectars produce different songs, I’m sure. I’d volunteer for that experiment. But really it’s the classic songs that impress me. Do they impress you? Of course they do, you’re here to teach them. Which one will you start with? I think it would be the Pali song, but perhaps you like the rising notes of the Pu’u Trill.”
And it went on. He never stopped. As a result, he never actually learned to sing.
Now, I know that not everyone is always interested in learning new things. I know that not everyone gets excited about learning to sing, or fly, or skip, or cook, or do any one of the many things that make up our lives. But there is something to learn from the ‘apapane that never learned to sing. The first step in learning is to stop talking for a moment and listen.
by Eric Anderson
Watch the Recorded Story
The story as told is different from the story as written. You’ll probably notice that if you listen.
Photo of an ‘apapane – one who learned to sing, as much as we can tell – by Eric Anderson.