Portrait of ASU Associate Professor Jace Kaholokula Saplan.

ASU welcomes new choral conducting, music learning and teaching faculty member

By

Lynne MacDonald

The Arizona State University School of Music, Dance and Theatre has announced Jace Kaholokula Saplan as associate professor of music learning and teaching and choral conducting, and co-director of choral activities for the school.

“I am inspired by how the School of Music, Dance and Theatre situates arts at the tertiary level as a catalyst for creating culturally responsive solutions that benefit the local and national community,” Saplan said. “I am also very excited to join a community that interweaves world-class pedagogy and performance within a globally inspired interdisciplinary environment.”

They were attracted to the school, Saplan said, because the Music Learning and Teaching program is a national leader in envisioning and implementing an equity-driven, student-centered program that meets the future of the profession with open arms, and the choral conducting program and ASU choirs have a legacy of educating some of the country's finest conductor-educators.

“We are thrilled to have attracted Dr. Saplan to the ASU School of Music, Dance and Theatre,” said Heather Landes, director of the school. “They bring a wealth of artistry and knowledge to our choral conducting and music learning and teaching programs, and their research interests closely align with the mission of our school and programs.”

Known for their work in celebrating the intersection between Hawaiian music and choral performance, Saplan is the artistic director of Nā Wai Chamber Choir, a professional vocal ensemble based in Hawaii dedicated to the preservation and propagation of Hawaiian choral music.

Saplan currently serves as the director of choral activities and assistant professor of music at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Prior to their appointment to the University of Hawai’i and Hamilton College, they served as the chorus master for the Frost Opera Program at the University of Miami and as an instructor of choral music at Florida International University.

Their research focuses on the performance practice of Queen Lili’uokalani’s choral compositions; multicultural perspectives in the choral rehearsal; intersections of choral pedagogy, gender and sexuality in communities of color; and Native Hawaiian agency in music.

Saplan’s work as a festival clinician and in preparing choruses is extensive, resulting in performances at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Hall, The Oregon Bach Festival, Old South Church (Boston), Church of the Holy Trinity (Philadelphia), La Madeleine (France) and the Harrogate Music Festival (United Kingdom). They have also led clinics and adjudicated at the state, regional and national level for the American Choral Directors Association, National Association for Music Educators, National Collegiate Choral Organization and the LGBTQ Studies in Music Education Conference.

They credit their mother for seeing music learning and teaching and choral conducting as art forms that require the individual to regard their identities as an ecosystem of interconnected joy.

According to Saplan, they carry the responsibility of being māhū in their family, which is a Native gender expression passed down and gifted to individuals within the family. Māhū embody both expressions of Kū and Hina, or Native masculinity and femininity, as knowledge bases to serve at the center of their community. The māhū are expected to educate and prepare the next generation of society and pass on the ancestral chants, dances and songs to their community.

“Once I was gifted the responsibility to serve as māhū, I became a facilitator of music, teaching and learning,” Saplan said. “Once my elders passed on our chants, dances and songs so that I may lead and teach our rituals and ceremonies, I became a choral conductor. These roles always existed in me because of my ancestral power, my love for my community and my belief that music is essential to building a beloved community. My becoming was always based on living in decolonial ways and living my ancestral truth as a service to the land I stand on.” 

Saplan also has a background of working in community advocacy, DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility) consulting, policy work and global musicking.

“What I bring to ASU and the community is an embodied lens of decolonization,” Saplan said. “I am planted within the sonic contours of Hawaii and choose to see this upbringing as a strength. I come to this role knowing that choral music and global communal vocal music are the same phenomena. I view ritual — the creation of safe and sacred spaces — and music teaching and learning as interconnected. When we open our artistic purview to the global canon, decolonial practices and critical pedagogies, we form relationships with the body of literature and practice that allow us to embrace all of who we are. We become a global musicking community within an intercultural ocean of reverent possibility.”

According to the American Choral Directors Association, Saplan is the first Native Hawaiian and the first nonbinary individual to hold a director of choral activities post within a choral program that offers a DMA in choral conducting degree. They were also recently named an Obama Asia-Pacific Leader for their work with decolonizing classical music spaces and music teacher training programs.

Saplan was recently announced as the artistic director of The Choral Arts Society of Washington beginning September 2022.