Editor's Page: Factories and Symphonies

Behind the scenes of art and industry in Honolulu.

Photo: Linny Morris

Not long ago, you could tell by the machinery on someone’s desk if they were an accountant, magazine writer or architect. Not anymore. Computers have homogenized our workspaces so that, no matter what you do all day, chances are you do it while staring at a screen, clicking away on your mouse.

There are people in Hawaii, however, who get to work with machines. Complex, glorious machines that only do the one thing for which they were designed. Not many people, of course—out of a civilian workforce of nearly 600,000, only about 22,000 people are employed by manufacturers in Hawaii.

What they, and their machines, lack in numbers, they make up for in impact, as you’ll see in this month’s photo essay, “Machine Age,” page 56.  The H-Power plant burns residential garbage to electrify 40,000 homes on Oahu; the Tesoro refinery produces the fuel for pretty much everything else, from our cars to our lights. Food factories such as Love’s Bakery, Aloha Tofu and the Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory mass-produce staples we eat every day. We also visited Hagadone Printing Co. for a shot of the press that produces this magazine, the Goss M-600 Web Press, a press so big, it has catwalks.

These are the places where thousands of your neighbors make things that are physical and real. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into their world.

We also give you a glimpse into the disintegration of the 110-year-old Honolulu Symphony. Associate editor Tiffany Hill started covering the story in the late fall, when the symphony was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and it seemed that some new plan for its survival might emerge.

As we report here, there was a plan, called The Way Forward, that symphony insiders assured us would keep the organization alive, albeit in a radically different form. But that, too, abruptly came to an end when the symphony switched to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, dissolving the organization entirely.

This does not mean the end of classical music in Hawaii. Former symphony musicians will continue to perform with such groups as Chamber Music Hawaii, Hawaii Opera Theatre, Ballet Hawaii. But it is the end of an era. Who killed the Symphony? I’ll refer you to Hill’s article, “The Day the Music Died,” page 48, for that analysis.

I will say this: when arts organizations plead for public support, they often tout the ennobling virtue of their art. Exposure to classical music, theater or fine art will magically make us better people. If that were true, you’d think that those most exposed to an art form as elevated as classical music would be the most ennobled. Instead, what we saw in the symphony meltdown was enough rumor-mongering, leaking, finger-pointing and spin to fill a political campaign—from all sides. The contest of wills between the musicians’ union and the symphony board played out like a messy, protracted public divorce. Consequently, the feeling at the demise of the symphony is less, “How sad for all concerned” and more, “Thank goodness that’s over.”

What a sorry way to go.