Noe Valley Voice December-January 2004

This 'n' That

By Laura McHale Holland

The grisly news flowing daily from Iraq. The long hours of work that leave many too exhausted at day's end to pick up the phone to call a friend. The footnote in a magazine stating that mussels now grow 800 miles from the North Pole. A man laid off from his engineering job and then rehired as a temporary contractor to train his replacement--in India.

There are many stressors in our 21st-century world that induce longing for a peaceful haven, however temporary. Some of us are finding that haven in the soothing music of Jersey Street resident Kevin Kern.

"I've had the good fortune to enjoy the support of a growing audience worldwide," says Kern, a New Age pianist, composer, and recording artist who recently returned from a sold-out concert tour in Asia. "My music has a certain relaxing quality for the listener, and you know in our fast-paced world, that quality is in short supply."

Legally blind since birth, Kern has been playing piano since he was 18 months old. Since 1993, he has produced seven albums of music, including the best-selling In the Enchanted Garden, which spent 26 weeks on the Billboard charts.

He attributes his unique musical voice to a process he calls "sound-painting." "Though my vision lacks the crisp detail that others may have, I have learned to describe what I see through my music," says Kern. The first time his music took on cinematic qualities was when he was 9, he says. That's when he used the piano to capture the essence of a baseball game for his father. He now composes his melodic scenes using a Steinway and a laptop computer, and often records with synthesizers, reproducing the sounds of a full orchestra.

It's likely you have heard Kern's music without actually knowing it. His soundscapes were used in the 2000 Summer Olympics telecasts. They also have been featured on National Public Radio, PBS, and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in commercials for Mitsubishi and Blue Shield of California.

But his biggest exposure has been in the Far East, where his music helps provide the romantic setting for a popular TV series, Autumn in My Heart. The show, which debuted in 2000, is broadcast in Korea and Japan, but shown via cable in many other countries, including the United States.

Though he's thrilled his music is floating around the globe, Kern is most moved by the impact his work has had on individuals. "Over the years, people have written me saying 'we used your music in our wedding' or 'we just used your music to get through a very difficult time'.... That's a very touching, powerful thing."

These days, Kern is working on his eighth album while also preparing sheet music for his previous one, a feat that was impossible until recent advances in computer technology. "All my life, blindness has been defined on a practical level by the inability to hear my music played by others because I couldn't write the sheet music," he says. Now his fans can buy the piano songbooks and play his hits.

Kern looks upon more than a decade of success with extreme gratitude.

"We all know people who are tremendously talented and deserving practitioners of every stripe imaginable--actors, artists, musicians, authors--and for whatever reasons, opportunity didn't knock, and they didn't get the chance to show their greatness before the world, and that's sad. To the extent that I've had that opportunity, I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart."

You can hear audio samples of his work and find out where to get CDs (plus see beautiful nature photography) at his web site:


Opportunity has finally knocked for visual artist Barry Swyers. After 31 years of living out of the limelight on Castro Street, Swyers is having his first show. And it's not just any show. American Conservatory Theatre is introducing him to San Francisco's art community by presenting 28 of his collages at its Gallery at the Geary (the Geary Theater at 415 Geary Street).

The opening is Jan. 6, and the show runs through March 1. The artist's reception will be Thursday, Feb. 3.

"It's enormously exciting and quite a revelation to be doing something that I've always felt I would be doing, and to have it be in the Geary Theater," Swyers says.

He also sees this as an opportunity to reintroduce collage as an art form. Spurning computer-generated art, his pieces are all handcrafted, and convey stories that are influenced by myth, religious icons, legend, and literature. They're also very colorful and complicated.

"I cut out as many as 400 pieces for a collage, and it's important that they're not reproductions. It's the only time I'm recycling that individual piece," he says.

His work "Poseidon," for example, is made from shells, water, sea creatures, and coral, and looks like the god Poseidon--the brother of Zeus and lord of the oceans--rising out of the sea.

You may wonder what has kept Swyers working for decades without public recognition. Much like a composer, he listens to the "creative harmonic music of the muses," and his muses have their own tempo. "Whenever I'm working, I hear music when the work is right. I know when the music stops, I'm off track. So I always am assured of being inspired because I can hear the music."

For more details about the show or Swyers' artwork, contact his representative, Jerry Walker, at 826-1507.


Sometimes it's a loss that motivates us. For Isa Muhawieh, owner of Isa's Salon & Spa on Castro Street, it was the death due to cancer of someone he loved. This inspired him to join the Locks of Love program, where participating salons offer free cuts to people who then donate their hair to make wigs for cancer patients.

"I thought this was something small I could do to help those people going through chemotherapy," Muhawieh says.

In April, CBS Evening Magazine did a show about the Locks of Love program, and featured a young woman having a makeover at Isa's. Oprah Winfrey also featured Locks of Love on her show, and mentioned Isa's as one of the participating salons.

"Ever since then, we've been getting bombarded with people wanting to donate their hair. In fact, we're completely full for Locks of Love through January 27, doing one person a day. The people who actually make the wigs are in Florida, and they say I'm one of their biggest accounts in California," says Muhawieh.

He's definitely in the media spotlight. The nationwide reality TV show Ambush Makeover shot a show at Isa's in July which aired in September. "It shows that Noe Valley is considered one of the top areas in San Francisco, and that we're a top salon," Muhawieh says. "It was a lot of hard work, though.... They started around noon and were here until after 10 p.m., filming for a half-hour series show."

When not making TV appearances, Muhawieh is busy running a hair salon that has expanded in recent years to include facials, manicures, and massage. But he has even more ambitious plans. Muhawieh hopes to offer periodic, on-site consultations with a plastic surgeon sometime next year. His eventual goal is to create a "medical spa," where procedures like Botox injections and facelifts could be performed. The main hurdle would be zoning approval from the city. "If Noe Valley is up for it and serious about business development, I think it can happen," he predicts.


There is something that won't happen again, dear readers. This is my last column for the Noe Valley Voice. Already the view of traffic whizzing by my little Sanchez Street home is only a memory. And that traffic is part of what dislodged my family from our nest of 18 years.

Remember when Sanchez Street was so sleepy you could meander across it anytime, day or night? When you stood in line at the community store at 29th Street and didn't mind the wait? When the biggest irritation in Upper Noe Valley was the "Pigeon Lady"? Remember when you didn't have to be affluent to take root within Noe Valley's borders?... Yes, there's the rub.

Now I'm settled into a quiet home in Sonoma County. I often drive down country roads, feasting my eyes on horses, cattle, barns, wide-open fields. I enjoy this. But I'll miss you and the many rich conversations we've had about your inspiring endeavors. What a pleasure it has been to hear about your joys and challenges--in crafting films, cooking crepes, writing books, having children, composing music, attaining long-sought dreams and then making plans to reach for the next one. I know that you will continue to strive for the wonderful satisfaction of achievement. And I'm looking forward to reading all about it in future issues of your neighborhood rag.

The Voice is still in denial about Laura McHale Holland's move. And we hope that she, husband Jim, and daughter Moira will wake up tomorrow and say, "What were we thinking?!" So, let's just pretend for a little while longer. (The next issue isn't until February, anyway.) Please continue to send news of your personal milestones. You can e-mail, leave a message at 415-821-3324, or write the Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114.