They say music is the language of the soul, and if that’s the case, it’s safe to say that Bob Wills is more than well-versed—he’s fluent. Wills, a Realtor®-Broker with Coldwell Banker Island Properties, is the founder and music director of the Maui Chamber Orchestra, the Maui Masterworks Chorale and the Maui Masterworks Festival.

Looking back on it now, Wills says his foray into music began somewhat serendipitously. As a pre-med student at the University of Saint Thomas in his home state of Minnesota, Wills, who had dabbled in music in his formative years, decided to join the university’s choir. As he stood on the choral risers belting out Mendelsohn and Brahms, Wills says he realized he’d found his true passion. Soon after, he enrolled in voice, conducting and—to the bewilderment of many of his classmates—music theory courses, just for fun.  

Wills eventually abandoned his plans to pursue a medical career and pivoted to music. Since then, he’s racked up his fair share of acclaim as a conductor, soloist and actor (yes, he’s a triple threat). Among his many achievements—a list too long to include here—he has conducted two concerts at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, as well as concerts in Dublin, Rome, Assisi, Venice, Vienna, Munich, Lucerne and Jerusalem.

When Wills moved to Maui in 2007, he didn’t waste any time joining a choral group. It wasn’t long before people took note of his talent—especially when he accomplished the impressive feat of singing both the tenor and bass solo roles in Handel’s “Messiah” in 2009. In 2010, Wills and his wife, Beth, started the Maui Masterworks Chorale; an inaugural performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” was held at the Kihei Baptist Church. Wills says he was expecting 150 people to show up that day—and was astonished when close to 600 arrived. “It was standing room only,” he said. “That’s when we knew we had something that Maui really needed.”

That was the catalyst for the creation of the Maui Chamber Orchestra (MCO) and its vocal counterpart, the Maui Chamber Orchestra Chorus. In 2014, and under Wills’ direction, the newly minted MCO kicked off its first multi-program season at the Historic Iao Theater. Since then, MCO, now a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, has grown by leaps and bounds—and not just in terms of players, concerts and ticket sales. Last year, MCO introduced a program called CHIMES (Communities Helping in Music Education for Students) to raise funds to pay for lessons and purchase instruments and other equipment for Maui youth, with the goal of nurturing a lifelong love of music.

Earlier this month, Wills, along with several MCO musicians, visited Kindergarteners and first graders at Kahului Elementary School and Kihei Elementary School as part of a free, curriculum-based program through CHIMES. In the first of four sessions scheduled this academic year, the group delivered percussion instruments (which the schools get to keep, and at no charge) to both schools and taught students the fundamentals of playing non-pitched percussion in accordance with a class reading assignment. The program will follow the students until they reach the sixth grade; they will learn how to play different instrument groups—from pitched percussion to strings to woodwinds to brass—every year.

Wills encourages others to support the fledgling program so it can expand to other schools, noting that the intrinsic and extrinsic benefits of music education are immeasurable. And with that in mind, he is planning a series of family concerts modeled after American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein’s ever-popular Young People’s Concerts; Wills is seeking a title sponsor to underwrite the concert series. He would also like to see Maui become a destination for musicians and music lovers alike—and judging from the extraordinary talent on display at each MCO concert, it’s clearly not a far-fetched idea.

The Maui Chamber Orchestra and Chorus will perform its “A Classical Christmas” concert at the Historic Iao Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16, and 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17. Tickets are on sale now; call 242-6969 or visit www.mauionstage.com to reserve your seat. The first-ever Youth Concerto Competition will be held next month; the winners will take the stage Saturday, Feb. 3 and Sunday, Feb. 4, during Maui Chamber Orchestra’s Young Artists Showcase at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets will be on sale soon. 

To learn more about the Maui Chamber Orchestra, for more information about upcoming concerts, or to inquire about donor, sponsorship or volunteer opportunities, visit www.mauichamberorchestra.org, email info@mauichamberorchestra.org or call 214-6371.

Written by Sarah Ruppenthal

Published in The Maui News – November 25, 2017

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