Grammy Award-Winning Composer Helps with Virtual Commencement

Eric Whitacre’s orchestral work, “Deep Field,” featuring Virtual Choir 5 became the foundation for a pioneering audiovisual collaborations. 

Grammy Award-winning composer and conductor Eric Whitacre has stepped up to help Punahou produce its musical program for this year’s virtual Baccalaureate and Commencement, thanks to the efforts of alumna Roslyn Freitas ’82 Catracchia.

Catracchia, who has led Punahou’s Senior Sing since 2004, reached out to Whitacre after realizing this year’s Commencement would be online. Catracchia wanted to produce something special for seniors, and had seen Whitacre’s videos, where he virtually brought together singers from more than 120 different countries. He is considered one of the world’s virtual choir masters. See examples of his work.

Catracchia had met Whitacre briefly at a workshop in Los Angeles in 2006, when he was a guest speaker alongside famed musical theatre composer Stephen Schwartz. “I knew there was no way Eric would remember me from that day,” Catracchia said. “However, because of that initial workshop, I met Stephen Schwartz and another amazing man named Michael Kerker, who is the Director of Musical Theatre for the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. A few years ago, I began actually working with Stephen on a project I’m working on with Kealiʻi Reichel and Patrick Makuakāne. So I called both Stephen and Michael Kerker and asked both of them if they could get in touch with Eric, and ask him if he could help us here at Punahou to do what at the time I thought was the impossible.”

Roslyn Catracchia
Roslyn Freitas ’82 Catracchia wanted to produce something special for this year’s graduating seniors.

A few days later, Catracchia and Whitacre met on Zoom, and she asked him for advice. “Eric gave me so many ideas and tools to work with that I felt we had a fighting chance to do something beautiful,” she said. “It would be different from everything we had ever had done before, but it would be a different kind of beautiful. Then I couldn’t believe it … Eric offered to talk to the entire class! This man is so generous with his time and talents.”

During that meeting with seniors, Whitacre spoke with them for almost an hour, answering questions, sharing what he has learned over the years and offering new ideas. One of the most interesting things he mentioned was the sense of connection that the people in the choirs felt after each project was done, Catracchia said.

Seniors will be singing four songs for Commencement. “I can’t give away all the surprises for graduation, but I can say that three of the songs the seniors sing each year will be in the mix – “Hawaiian Doxology,” “O‘ahu a” and “The Queen’s Prayer.” For the finale, you’re gonna have to wait and see…”

This year’s Senior Sing has been a collaborative effort, facilitated by Punahou’s video crew, headed by Andrew Ryan ’03; Lynn Kimura ’81 Kunishige, a math teacher at Punahou and student activities coordinator; sound engineer David Kauahikaua, who’s been mixing hundreds of vocal tracks for the four songs; and Lauren Chang ‘01 Williams, who has been helping with the harmonies.

“One of the biggest pieces of advice Eric gave us was to get a good team together, and I’d say we’ve got just about the best team on the Island,” Catracchia said. “We’re nearing the end now, and I can’t wait to see and hear it all at Baccalaureate and Graduation. Eric and Michael have both asked for links for the ceremonies so they can both watch.”

Catracchia said one of the big takeaways for her is to never underestimate the power of connection. “Because of one memorable workshop in 2006, I built relationships with some very special people,” she said. “They’re the ones who got me in touch with Eric. I don’t think I would have had any idea of how to get in touch with him without them. We never know how something we do at one time can come into play years down the line. And when Eric virtually met with the Punahou seniors weeks ago, he invited them all to participate in his Virtual Choir 6 coming up this summer. The meaningful connections keep growing and the world gets a little smaller, in the most beautiful ways.”

Be sure to watch this year’s virtual Baccalaureate on Sunday, May 24, and Commencement on Saturday, May 30. For more information, see of lineup of senior events.

Roslyn Freitas ’82 Catracchia attended Punahou starting in the ninth grade. She found sanctuary and inspiration at the Chapel, where her mother, Beebe Freitas, was the organist. She began composing while at Punahou, and in her senior year, she and classmate Maura Lynch ’82 co-wrote their class graduation song. She began composing professionally for the Honolulu Theatre for Youth in 1990, then became a lyricist/composer for Lisa Matsumoto for her “Once Upon One Time Trilogy.” Since then, she wrote the music and lyrics for a number of musicals, including “On Dragonfly Wings,” “The Princess and the Iso Peanut” and “Noah: Come Hell or High Water.” She also wrote songs for more than 30 educational road shows and school productions, receiving seven Po‘okela Awards and two Hoku nominations. In 2016, she wrote Punahou’s 175th Anniversary song. 

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