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Business // Entrepreneurs
Christina O’Connor

Local Musician Branches Out

When people ask musician Koa Siu how he is doing, he often responds with, “Living the dream.”

That especially has been the case in the last few months for Siu, who recently has embarked on two business ventures. About a month ago, he took over Kakaako-based performing arts school Branch Studios Hawaii. Things also are picking up at Encounter City Church, which he started with wife Sarah last spring.

Music is the connecting thread between the two businesses. Branch Studios focuses on music and dance lessons, while Encounter’s Sunday morning services kick off with 30 minutes of live music.

When the founders of Branch Studios left last month, they asked Siu – whose kids were enrolled in music classes there – to take over.

“I love to write songs and perform and teach people,” explains Siu, a Hoku Award-winning artist. “And we just really loved the music lessons here. I really believe in this studio and saw the effect that it had on my kids, and even on teenagers and adults who come here.”

Although Siu often would play music for his kids at home, it wasn’t until they started coming to Branch that they really took a genuine interest.

“The teachers are using creative methods to get the kids engaged and try to keep their attention and find, with each student, what is it that drives them,” Siu explains. “Our teachers really take the time to get to know each student in a way that we are really trying to find a key to the students’ interests.

Now that he’s running things, Siu plans to expand Branch’s services to offer a more diverse range of classes. Currently, it offers music lessons that include piano, violin, drums and guitar, as well as dance classes such as jazz and ballet. Hula classes are in the works, and he also is looking into offering songwriting and acting classes.

Siu and his wife were inspired to start Encounter City Church as a way to reach people who may not feel comfortable at other churches.

“In spite of there being many churches, we wanted to find the people that nobody was really reaching,” he explains. “I would hope that anybody would feel welcomed and loved walking into our gatherings.”

In January, Encounter began offering Sunday morning church services in Crossroads at Hawaiian Brian’s. The services, which begin at 11 a.m., are designed to be fun, lively sessions. In a casual setting like this, Siu feels that anybody will be at ease.

“I am hoping that one day we come in and somebody is waking up from behind the bar who forgot to leave the night before,” he jokes.

He aims for the music and sermons to be full of encouragement and hope.

“I want people to be able to leave there more empowered to face their life,” he says.

For Siu, music and spirituality go hand in hand. The son of musical duo Leon & Malia, Siu was constantly surrounded by music growing up. But it wasn’t until he began to discover spirituality in his teens that his love for music grew. Siu released his first album, Thirsty Life, in 1998 in the summer after his sophomore year in college. His second album, Where You Are, won a Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Rock Album of the Year in 2008. Siu says there is one shared goal for his work at both Branch Studios and Encounter: “To enrich people’s lives.”

For more information on Branch Studios, visit branchstudioshawaii.com. For more on Encounter, visit encountercity.org.

coconnor@midweek.com

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