Stairway to paradise. Damira Feldman at the Wailuku Union Church. "Her love of music and our love of God intertwine," says Pastor Robb Y. Kojima, who hired her after one long phone call.
In her native Kazan, in the Russian republic of Tatarstan, the concert pianist and pedagogue Damira Feldman, familiarly Mira, flew through the conservatory with high honors. But when she moved to Israel as a young wife and mother, friends said not to look back.
"Everyone who emigrates to Israel is a lawyer or a musician," they told her. "Take anything practical."
Wise words. She had mouths to feed.
First, she sewed shoes. "There was a pedal at my worktable," Feldman says. "I put my feet on the pedal and thought, 'Oh, my God!' The tears were streaming down. For 10 years I never touched a piano at all." She was too busy climbing the ladder and learning English — a professional necessity she embraced with enthusiasm.
"It was interesting," she says, in an accent still heavy with exotic spice.
But look at her now. On Saturday, well into her fourth year as music director at Wailuku Union Church, Feldman serves up "Chopin's Two Loves," a banquet of music, commentary and slides, the latest in her series of quarterly solo and chamber music events.
Feldman's comeback began in 2001, when she remarried and moved to Florida. As a wedding present, her second husband (no longer in the picture) gave her a piano, strictly for her own enjoyment. Then, a new acquaintance found out Feldman had been a concert artist, and — presto! — invitations for private recitals in fine homes came pouring in.
Appearances in fancy government and diplomatic salons paved the way to academic appointments, a long-lasting presence on radio and more.
Vacationing in Toronto in 2016 and contemplating emigration to Canada, Feldman suddenly decided to join a daughter who had moved to Maui instead.
"So, I spent five minutes on the internet," Feldman says, "and found a new posting for music director in Wailuku." An email, a phone call — a long phone call — and the job was hers.
But not before "Pastor Robb" — senior minister Robb Y. Kojima — quizzed her on the delicate topic of faith.
The philosophical Damira Feldman at the Wailuku Union Church's Kawai, an instrument not without its challenges.
Call it a match made in heaven. As music director of the Wailuku Union Church, Feldman programs concerts, directs the choir, conducts and plays the organ. On her own time she gives private piano lessons.
"Mira is a force unto herself," Kojima says. "We never had concerts before she came. Our sanctuary is such a beautiful venue for that, with all the stained glass and vaulted ceilings and the ohia floors. It's very intimate, and since the concerts are under the umbrella of church outreach, I can say some prayers. Mira's love of music and our love of God intertwine."
Almost invariably, the concerts attract a full house. "We can seat 250," Kojima says, "that's if we're sardines and unafraid to touch our neighbors. There's not really space for standing room."
To complement the concert series, Feldman runs an annual festival for outstanding amateur pianists — a godsend for eager local devotees like Peggy King of Kula, who ranks herself as "lower advanced."
"People call Mira a fireball," King says. "I'm sure glad she's here."
As a token of their appreciation, King and her husband Bill host a next-day potluck after-party, where participants can play what they like for as long as they like on a superior Steinway B.
Feldman admits she regards the Kings' instrument with a twinge of envy.
"I just said I will stay until I die."