Did you know that “The White Lotus” featured a band from Twin Cities?

The Hawaiian setting of HBO’s “The White Lotus”

Screenshot, HBO Max

In January 2021, Jordan Sramek, The artistic director of the singers of the Rose Ensemble of Twin Cities, received a phone call from the music coordinator of HBO The white lotus inquire about the use of the group’s 2007 album Nā Mele Hawai’i in an upcoming project.

It wasn’t entirely unprecedented, as the work of the Rose Ensemble had been featured in shows like Hawaii 5-0. But Sramek says he was blown away by the amount of music HBO’s creative team was asking for. What started out as a request for a song became a decision to use nine separate tracks, adding up to almost 15 minutes of airtime in what later became a hit TV show.

The white lotus, located in Hawaii, is about the hotel’s affluent guests: a grieving family, newlywed couple, and heiress, all seeking connection and happiness, but finding themselves living up to their personal shortcomings. The wealthy hotel guests contrast with the staff at the White Lotus resort, who have to deal with their own issues, in addition to their needy guests. The result is a spectacle that invites conversation about the layers and intersections of privilege.

Prior to the broadcast, the Rose Ensemble team had no knowledge of these show details, as usual with licensing discussions, Sramek says.

As such, without knowing precisely how our music would be used, I worked diligently to educate the show’s creative team and provide as much context as possible, such as translations, songwriter biographies and, more importantly, perspectives on the culture, spiritual, political and historical significance of the music they had chosen, ”Sramek told me in an email.

The album in question, Nā Mele Hawai’i, was the result of more than two years of intensive research which originally did not aim at all to inform an album.

The Rose Ensemble, under the direction of Sramek, has strived to create music from cultures and languages ​​that are not generally taught in global institutions of higher education, such as French or Arabic.

“So we rely on native speakers for advice and coaching,” Sramek says. “In the case of Hawaiian, this was key, as the language is not only highly nuanced and rich in a vital cultural context, but it is also a language that is both historical and contemporary.”

To undertake this scholarly journey and present it to the public, the Rose Ensemble collaborated with a number of people and relied on them, notably linguists, musicologists, ethnomusicologists, librarians, archivists, native Hawaiian culture practitioners, ancestral knowledge elders and keepers, cultural protocol experts and advisers, and others.

Sramek says the Rose Ensemble was helped by Dr. Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman, a native of Hawaii, associate professor of American music and culture and director of Asian / Pacific American studies at the University of Michigan. Dr Ku’uleialoha Stillman made the necessary translations and edited the texts to help the musical ensemble have a precise (and historical) approach to pronunciation, according to Sramek.

As of February 2006, Queen Lili’uokalani diary entries, biographical information on Kings Kalākaua and Kamehameha IV, and more.

Sramek was shocked by the surge of support and interest in the project.

“People who have traveled [Hawaii] year after year – some of whom had even lived there – expressed feelings of guilt, shame and sadness at not knowing more about the painful history of the plight of the Hawaiian people, and how the Hawaiian language, their spiritual practices, their ancient chanting and hula were almost wiped out after the arrival of the sailors and Christian missionaries, ”Sramek says (actually summarizing the underlying themes in The white lotus). “As an organization, we not only promised to invest more in disseminating this performance to the general public, but we also launched extensive fundraising activities to provide free educational activities to schools, libraries, churches, retirement homes and community centers. ”

Today, the work of the Rose Ensemble has reached an even wider audience.

The show’s finale in August drew 1.9 million viewers, and a keen interest in his soundtrack emerged. The score by sound designer Cristobal Tapia de Veer received praise from the Los Angeles Times, Vulture and other media.

The music, or the lack of it, in a TV show transports us through the emotions of a scene. It’s an integral part of good storytelling as it fills in the natural gaps of miscommunication and silence, immersing us deeper into the characters’ heads and adding another meaning to the setting.

In the case of The white lotus, Tapia de Veer told NPR he wanted to do “some sort of Hawaiian Hitchcock,” and it seems to have achieved its goal. Critics and viewers describe the sound as haunting, a cacophony of primitive percussion combined with unintelligible vocals.

This eerie soundtrack contrasts considerably with Rose Enemble’s contribution to the show. Instead of, Nā Mele Hawai’iThe nine tracks are a respite from the anxiety-provoking sounds created by Tapia de Veer. Their voices echo against the backdrop of rare moments of serenity in the midst of the devastation that the privileged guests of the hotel are gradually inflicting on the employees of the White Lotus and among themselves.

After the series aired, responding to inquiries, handling social media comments, and filling CD orders became a second full-time job for Sramek.

“Of course our organization is pleased with all of the exhibit, and I’m especially happy that Hawaiian hymns and artistic songs are receiving well-deserved international attention,” Sramek said. “The compositions of Queen Liliʻuokalani, for example, are exquisite and should be more widely appreciated. ”

The Rose Ensemble’s research and concern for the integrity of the Rose Ensemble’s musical storytelling adds an underlying stream of sincerity to a performance whose central conflicts revolve around ignorance and privilege.

What happened to the Ensemble Rose?

While The white lotus reminded us of the success of the Rose Ensemble, it is also a sobering reminder of the recent disappearance of the organization.

It was in May 2018 when the Rose Ensemble board of directors announced its intention to dissolve the organization, Sramek says. The news sent shockwaves through the community, he recalls, noting a “remarkable response” from individuals and institutions who are committed to helping give The Rose Ensemble a final season of performances.

This season, which ended in June 2019, has been such a success that the board for a short time considered trying to resuscitate the group, Sramek said, although the organization ultimately shut down its operations. doors.

“The musicians and I still had national representation obligations to fulfill until March 2020, but of course COVID canceled everything,” Sramek said. “Since then, our main focus has been on archiving my research and our nearly 25 years of performance footage, which will soon be donated to the Minnesota Historical Society. “

William N. Fernandez