Music Man

Though he doesn't play an instrument himself, as president of the Kaua'i Concert Association board Jim Bray helps make it possible for Garden Isle residents to hear and be inspired by great musicians from around the world. Music, he says, is the international language. Coco Zickos photo

Not a musician himself, Jim Bray happily serves as president of the Kaua’i Concert Association board, promoting great music for island residents

Music is the world’s universal language, says Kaua’i Concert Association’s board president Jim Bray.

“There has never been a culture that hasn’t had an expressive outlet, and the one that rides beyond language and color is sound,” he says. “That manipulation of sound to carry that communication is part of the fascination of music to me.”

Bray has been bringing melodies to the island for eight years by serving in various capacities on KCA’s board.

He credits much of his enthusiasm for music to his world travels.

“I’ve had an opportunity to see music in many different functions around the world, and to see both the solemnity of music and the joy that it’s treated with … it’s very attractive,” he says.

The gravitational force of music that pulls people together is what Bray likes to present to the island each season with performers from around the globe.

Under the direction of Bray, the line-up for this year’s season is impressive with artists such as singer Lea Salonga, chamber group El Mundo and pianist Haochen Zhang.

Bray is personally excited about Hawai’i Youth Symphony’s performance in February because of its “outstanding” young players from around the state.

The Wailua resident also suspects there will be quite an interest in Salonga’s performance in February. Originally from the Philippines, she transcended the world of song by becoming the first Asian to perform the roles of Eponine and Fantine in the musical Lés Misérables, in London. She is also known for her role as Kim in the musical Miss. Saigon and for providing the singing voices in Disney movies including Jasmine in Aladdin and Fa Mulan in Mulan.

Jim Bray wife Diane and pooches Augustus and Gwendoline. Coco Zickos photos

Choosing artists each season is one of the many tasks Bray participates in on the KCA board. The number of performances can range from three to 10 in any given year, depending on finances. This year, there are a total of eight.

The KCA’s 10 board members bring their individual suggestions to the table each season. Their ideas may also align with two state organizations with which KCA is affiliated, Hawai’i Association of Music Societies and the Performing Arts Presenters of Hawai’i.

Bray, who also serves on the board of each of these associations, helps arrange statewide tours with other islands so that artists can book more gigs and costs can be split among the groups.

“So it’s a real practical thing for us to create the tours,” he says.

While Bray has a continued interest in classical music, he has a willingness to work with a variety of interests on the board.

“My wife (Diane) says I’m diplomatic, yet if you use the term, some may disagree,” he jokes.

Bray teaching philosophy at Island School. Coco Zickos photos

Selection of artists does not always have to be a statewide unification process. KCA has also brought people to Kaua’i on its own.

Among the many artists presented by KCA, international pianists have been among Bray’s favorite performances, especially Chinese musician Joyce Yang.

“She was just over the top remarkable,” he says. Yang has the ability to connect the technicality of her music with an emotion that can transform an audience.

“People can be incredibly good technically, and at some point that level is transcended, and it has to do with the relationship of the artist to the music,” says Bray.

One of the remarkable things he says about Yang is that she senses music in color.

“It’s very interesting to hear her talk about her music,” he says. “The product is just technically superb, and that emotional level that goes beyond it is pretty clearly there. People remarked quite a bit about her performances here.”

KCA, which dates back to the 1970s, does not always have the ability to book artists.

Concert tickets account for only about 40 percent of the costs, so the other 60 percent comes from donations and sponsors.

Soyean Lee performing in concert. KCA photo

“It’s not easy,” says Bray. Since 2008, individual donors, sponsorships and grants have declined. This season, KCA applied for three grants and did not receive any.

“And that’s unusual,” he says. “So we’re concerned, as all of the state organizations are.”

Though there is no KCA staff and the organization has not incurred debt, when money is sparse, so are performances.

One of the reasons for the decline in finances is because of people viewing the arts as superfluous, he says.

“It’s so sad how the arts have been a second-class citizen in the educational population and it shouldn’t be,” he says, noting the decline in funding for the performing arts in schools across the nation.

“When you start backing off and you start to try to determine what things are important (financially), I think we make a mistake to think that the arts aren’t one of those things that’s important,” says Bray. “The arts are a way that we look at ourselves. That image should always be there.”

Performing arts offer not only a means of communication among many different cultures, they develop creativity.

The Doric String Quarter rehearses prior to their Kauai‘ concert. KCA photo

“Several philosophers have pointed out that music is the purest form of creative work, and that may be true,” says Bray, who teaches philosophy at Island School.

Though he hasn’t picked up an instrument in decades, Bray has an eclectic background in the arts.

Born in Indiana, Bray spent many years traveling abroad. His most recent trip was to Nepal where he assisted Kaua’i doctors and nurses in tending to almost 700 people in need.

He has also been heavily involved in theatre over the years and still directs productions at Island School. He has even performed on-stage in many different venues, including in Lebanon where he once lived and studied.

Not only is Bray well-versed in the arts, he is also a former tennis pro and once studied Chinese at Indiana University.

But his main talent resides in teaching.

Outside the KCC Performing Arts Center. Coco Zickos photo

Bray, who has a degree in English Literature from DePauw University and a Master’s from Ball State, spent 30 years teaching high school in Indiana.

“Annually, in their graduation speeches, Island School students mention Jim more than any other teacher, often poking fun at him while expressing deep appreciation and gratitude,” says Island School’s Robert Springer.

When Bray isn’t organizing jazz festivals or helping provide scholarships for Kaua’i’s musically-inclined keiki, he enjoys spending time with his artist wife and their two dogs, Augustus and Gwendoline, reading or watching movies.

“Jim Bray is an amazing individual, full of energy and good humor,” says Springer. “Island School and Kaua’i are fortunate to have Jim’s talents, imagination and industry working on their behalf.”

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