Blind Ward Organist Uses Musical Abilities to Inspire Others
By Marianne Holman, Church News staff writer
Members of the Waimea First Ward, Kona Hawaii Stake, on the Big Island of Hawaii often make it a point to arrive early to sacrament meeting on Sunday. As they come in and find a seat, the sounds coming from the chapel invite the Spirit, and they enjoy the prelude music and talent of Kuha’o Kawaauhau-Case, a 15-year-old organist.
“He is so unique and marvelous. ... I have such a love for Kuha’o and his enthusiasm for life and dedication to the Church,” said Barbara Townsend, a member of his ward. “I feel blessed to live in the same ward and listen each week to his awesome renditions of the hymns.”
Although Kahu’o’s musical ability alone causes him to stand out among his peers, it is his story that really illustrates his “extraordinary gift.” In fact, with a name that means “extraordinary gift, one who stands alone,” Kuha’o has been playing the organ and piano for a short time and is self-taught.
Born two months premature and weighing only two pounds, two ounces, Kuha’o was flown to the hospital, where he stayed for three months. It is believed that a complication during surgery may have resulted in his blindness, and his recovery was considered a miracle.
Although he plays like he has been taking lessons for much longer, Kuha’o has been playing the piano, keyboard, and organ for only two and a half years.
“When I am at home and I want to learn something, I listen to a song on a CD two or three times or more, and get on the piano and then play it,” he said. “That is how I picked it up.”
It was around the time he joined the Church—he was baptized the day after Christmas in 2009—that Kuha’o began playing the organ. Now he holds the office of teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood.
“My responsibility now is to prepare and set up the table for the sacrament,“ he said. ”As a deacon I passed the sacrament. It’s great—I love it.”
Recently a goal of Kuha’o’s was fulfilled as he traveled to Utah with his grandparents, Donald and Iwalani Case. During his visit, he attended some of the April general conference sessions and met Richard Elliott, one of the Tabernacle organists.
“It was a dream for me to meet the principal organist, Richard Elliott,” he said. “But then to play in the Tabernacle and Conference Center ... it was wonderful.”
His grandparents, whom Kuha’o stays with on the weekends, encourage the young man’s talent and try to provide as many opportunities as they can for him to share it with others. They fill their home with the sounds of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and stacks of the hymns in braille make it possible for Kuha’o to learn the words. He likes to get up at 5:00 a.m. on Sundays to hear the Tabernacle Choir’s broadcast, Music and the Spoken Word.
It is usually while Brother Case is fulfilling his calling—maintenance for their ward building—that Kuha’o practices on the organ in the meetinghouse.
“I do like to practice on the organ while others are doing their jobs, because we need music—music will help them get the focus to try to do the responsibility the right way,” Kuha’o said. “I get on the organ and play. Every Saturday I do organ practice, and every Sunday I prepare for sacrament. ... That is what [music] is for—you get to bring people closer to the Lord, to come unto Him.”
In 2010 Kuha’o participated in the statewide “Hawaii Stars Concert of Extraordinary Abilities,” and won the first place prize of $10,000. He donated the money to the Hawaii Association for the Blind.
“He always brings tears to our eyes,” Sister Case said. “He plays pretty music, and Saints come to listen because they know he will play. It brings Heavenly Father’s Spirit.”
It is his personal testimony that Kuha’o likes to share—whether through music or words from the pulpit—and hopes it will bring others closer to Christ.
“I hope people feel even more inspired by the words expressed to the Lord when I play the organ at church,” he said. “I am bearing my testimony through words and songs. … I love that.”
Kuha’o is looking forward to serving a full-time mission someday. “When I grow up I want to be a missionary, to serve the Lord,” he said. But until that time, he continues to play the prelude music in church each week, sings in the ward choir, and participates in his priesthood duties.
“This is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” he said. “I know that this Church is true, that God lives and hears our prayers, that Thomas S. Monson is a true prophet, and that Joseph Smith is the one who restored the gospel in these latter days.”