© 2024 Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
News and voices from Hawai‘i Island, Maui, Lana‘i, Moloka‘i and Kaua‘i.

Hawai‘i Youth Symphony Serenades Kaua‘i

noe tanigawa
noe tanigawa

  Many former youth symphony members remember the neighbor island tours they did with the Hawai‘iYouth Symphony, HYS.  An annual highlight, this year, the members of HYS’ top orchestra went to Kaua‘i  for a series of concerts.  HPR’sNoeTanigawa accompanied them to the Garden Island for this report.


We left O‘ahu in the dark!  Blinking and a little bleary, ninety-seven teens and 26 adults boarded that early 

noe tanigawa
Credit noe tanigawa
Hawai‘i Youth Symphony concerts were held at Kaua'i Community College.

  plane for Kaua‘I.  We were greeted by light rain in L?hu‘e, with clouds nestling along the ridges behind Kaua‘i Community College. 

Hawaii Youth Symphony has just completed a new strategic plan, one that builds on its first 50 years of student success.  HYS Executive Director, Randy Wong, hopes to combine the openness of a community music school with the rigor of a first class conservatory.

“Music is really the great social equalizer.  Because it doesn’t matter where students come from, it doesn’t matter their economic background, doesn’t matter who their parents are or what grades they’re getting in school.  Music gives kids of all backgrounds the opportunity to achieve.  I don’t’ believe in talent.  At all.  Oftentimes when I hear people speak of talent it’s usually something like this.  “Oh so-and-so is so talented,., they’re so talented they don’t need to practice.”  And I think that does incredible disservice both to the person they’re speaking about and to the support system that has helped that person to become who they are.  Anybody who has had any kind of success in anything, has had to work for it.  We highly prize the work ethic.  Any child can achieve through music.  You just have to practice, and be ambitious, and work for it.

noe tanigawa
Credit noe tanigawa
Backstage at Kaua'i Community College Theatre, (l-r) Taiga Benito, Chris Yick, and Avery Farm unpack and begin to warm up.

  Backstage, behind KCC’s beautiful theatre, there’s already a lot going on.  I ran into bassist Christopher Yick, who had just completed his Concerto Concert at ‘Iolani School the night before.  He whipped out a short snippet from Kol Nidrei, testing out the bass he would be using on Kaua‘i.  The bass players were pretty glad they could borrow instruments on island.

Taiga Benito, another bassist, had an extender on his bass---whoa, the notes he hit sounded off the scales!  Taiga:  “People are getting really innovative with the bass.  You see a bass in almost every type of music now, so jazz, rock, even in EDM you hear that bass kick in sometimes.”

Boy, basses here, drums over there—xylophones, tympani, dozens of music stands---a lot of this was brought in by the advance team, with Jerry Kushiyama here, there’s also Gary Hirokane, Tom Shigeta, Delbert Nakaoka, David Yee,  and Lloyd Nakamaejo.

None of them have children in HYS now!  Their kids are all graduated but the crew keeps coming back because they say, they like the organization.  For the Kaua‘i tour, the crew transported and set up all the larger instruments that can be borrowed on island, and prepped backstage with chairs, tables, food, then they transferred all the students, backpacks, luggage and instruments. 

This crew, with Gavin Hirokane on O‘ahu, do all the set up for Hawai‘i Youth Symphony—4 orchestras, a summer institute, lotsa concerts.   They’re Les’ crew.  Les Murata has been helping  out for decades.  Everyone says he knows Hawai‘i Youth Symphony’s conductor, Henry Miyamura very well.

Murata says, “He’s a perfectionist.  I’ve seen him where he’ll be conducting, and when there’s an error he will stop, and address a student to say you were playing that note wrong.”

noe tanigawa
Credit noe tanigawa
Maestro Henry Miyamura tuning with the clarinets (l-r) Julianne Matsumoto, Mat Arakaki, Michael Chen, and Chelsea Tanaka

That’s one of the skills that has gained Miyamura a rather fearsome reputation among young musicians.

“Every year at the first rehearsal he knows every student’s name.  Even the new ones.   He calls them by their first name.”

“Mr. Miyamura is very detail oriented,”  says trombonist Julia Lee  “I think that’s the whole thing with music, it’s all about perfection and practicing and always trying to get it right.  It definitely is a higher level, but it’s more fun.  It’s not as intense as I thought it would be, like scarey kind of thing.  I was kinda nervous coming in, but it was definitely a good step up.”  This is Julia’s first year in Youth Symphony I, HYS’s top orchestra.

Onstage, Mr. Miyamura is pressing through a rehearsal for tonight’s program.  They’ll be doing Thomas’ Mignon Overture, J. S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, and Respighi’s Belkis.  After intermission, they’ll power through  Rachmaninoff, Puccini, John Williams and The Lord of the Dance.  These are not abridged arrangements.  I can see the musicians keying to Mr. Miyamura’s every expression.

“When a person plays one note, there are lots of overtones in it.  You can change the color of that sound by emphasizing different overtones.  I know when the students initially were told to do some of those things, they thought I was a little bit off.  Because they say they can’t hear it.  But I said, you have to really tune your ear to that, when they hit a tone, you’re going to hear some resonance.  As we change the resonance, you’re going to start to hear more overtones.”

From a hundred instruments?  “The way to get the overtones when you have a group is that they have to tune as perfect as possible so that it will start to resonate.  Then when the overtones are resonant and present, the color of the sound changes.”

Mr. Miyamura is tuning the wind instruments.  Since they come in parts, he’s basically telling them to shorten or lengthen the middle tube by minute fractions to alter the pitch…and other nuances. 

Ryan Hirokawa knows a lot more than I do about oboes.  “ I really like how musical it can be.  Because the oboe actually I learned is the instrument closest to how the human voice, the human vocal chords work.  When I play the oboe, it’s like my own voice almost, it’s how I can express myself in a musical way.  That’s what I really like about it.”

noe tanigawa
Credit noe tanigawa
A selection of reeds Max Arakaki uses for his clarinets.

  Bassist Darryl Miyasato grew up on Kaua‘I, studied at the Manhattan School of Music, and played in the Spokane Symphony for five years before moving back to teach music at his alma mater, Kaua‘i High.  Are people looking forward to this concert?

“Kids are excited because this is kinda rare, to have an orchestra here.”

Miyasato teaches chorus, ‘ukulele, piano, and marching and jazz band.  “But to have a strings program would require a feeder program that could start in fifth grade maybe or middle school.”

“We’re blessed with being so small, because everybody will come out to support whatever we do.”

Sarah Tochiki is band director at Chiefess Kamakahele Middle School in L?hu‘e.  She says anyone who is interested can participate.  She makes me wonder if in all our busyness there’s less music in our lives in Honolulu.  People get so attached to their music experiences. 

“It’s something that is so personal, yet it’s so social at the same time, it kind of defines kids as they grow up.”

What do you think accounts for the respect Henry Miyamura gets from these kids?

“He just has a presence and a level of expectation all of these musicians are aspiring to please him.  And so for him as a conductor, he has to do very little to get them to respond.  That left hand, for most conductors is the one that creates the music, it cues in the musicians, it stretches notes when it’ s supposed to.   The right hand is more for keeping the tempo.  The left hand is the one where the nuances come through.”   

What amazes me is the respect they have for each other.  Prima donnas could not make it here!

“Students learn that is part of the process.  It’s not about yourself, it’s about the collective good, so if you have to sit there while the conductor works with the cellos on something, then it’s not about you, it’s about you it’s about helping each other to be our very best.  Ultimately when the ensemble shines, they shine.”

“It’s camaraderie, it’s bonding, she absolutely adores playing with groups.”

Audrey Cline says her daughter Chelsea, a violinist, started in HYS Concert Orchestra, worked through Youth Symphony II, and is now with YS I.  “My husband has come to learn to appreciate classical music, so we’ve all grown from the experience as well.”

noe tanigawa
Credit noe tanigawa
Practicing behind the scenes (l-r) Chelsea Cline, Katherine Sewell, and Elisabeth Sewell

  Which is good because Chelsea has decided to make her career in music.  As people return to the stage, I ran across percussionist Shayn Toothman.

“Most people usually only know the xylophone, that’s what this one is, but there’s a bunch of mallet instruments like this one, a glockenspiel.  It’s kind of the same thing, except it’s made out of metal bars, you know, like bells.”

The sounds of the metal and wood are so different!  Every wooden slat has its own little metal amplifier below!  Okay, you may never have seen this, it’s Ethan Murakami’s euphonium, or baritone.  It’s got metal tubes of different sizes arcing around and ending with a flare.  You tuck it under your arm to play.  Ethan gave me a vivid explanation of how sounds are made through the euphonium, you have to hear it!

Parents experience some trepidation, not knowing what instrument might tickle their child’s fancy.  Laura Yamamoto said, anything but a tuba.  But, of course, “David loved the tube from day one.  When David first started, he could hardly, because he has asthma, so it’s kind of amazing after those 5, 6 years in tuba, the force he has to do it.”  

Backstage parent volunteers are scurrying around, tuxedoes appear, black dresses, stockings, bow ties.

Les Murata, HYS volunteer for 30 years, explains how it works.

“I make it easy for everyone, I make it enjoyable for everyone i deal with, and after that’s all done, the next time I deal with them, whoa, he’s happy.  Anything you need, we got it for you.”

This is local style, this whole organization is relationships.  “Yes.  Relationships.”

“I still see a lot of youth symphony kids from back in the ‘70’s.  They’re downtown, they’re working,  or they’re doctors or lawyers.”  Richard Ing, a violist in high school, chairs the Hawai‘i Youth Symphony board.  “Same type of thing like the kids today.  You build friendships for life.”

Tuition for a season in the top orchestra runs 575 dollars, heavily subsidized because the actual cost of services is estimated around twelve hundred dollars.  Financial aid up to fifty percent is available for tuition, private lessons and instrument rental.  Subsidies are available for neighbor island student travel.

Hawaii Youth Symphony
Credit Hawaii Youth Symphony
Hawai‘i Youth Symphony Executive Director Randy Wong

“Every year Henry goes, I don’t know how I’m going to do this, and at the end, oh yeah, I did it.”

So says Kaua‘i resident, long time HYS board member, Dan Momohara.  His kids commuted to HYS rehearsals on O‘ahu when they were members years ago.

“That’s why I’m still here supporting them.  Because I like the program, they raise the bar so high, and their expectations of the students are so high.  And they meet it.”

Backstage, Les is calm even though it’s ten minutes to four, ten minutes to start time and Miyamura is still tuning people somewhere back in a room.

“He’s fine.”  Les said.  “This is good, he usually doesn’t finish ahead of time and I have to push him.  But he’s very good today.  I’m so happy.  That’s why I shook his hand, thanked him, he wanted a pay raise for that…” 

Oh there’s Joseph Fujinami, YSI’s concertmaster.  HYS was recently awarded a prestigious residency by world-renown violinist, Midori.  She touched as many people as she could, and Joseph and other local students were allowed master classes.  I asked Joseph if she could help him at all in twenty minutes?

“One big thing she talked about which I never considered was really the baroque style.  In Bach especially, it’s all about light playing.  I’ve been listening to some recordings of Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, they play a little heavier.  She told me to hold the bow higher up to create that light sound, which was very insightful, I thought.”

Hawaii Youth Symphony
Credit Hawaii Youth Symphony
Joseph Fujinami and Midori at the Hawai'i Youth Symphony Concert. April 8, 2016.

Despite his skill level, Joseph isn’t thinking about a music career, he plans to be an architect.  As I listened to his solo in Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro,” I thought, I’d like an architect with that sort of sensibility.

I wish I could have included every telling and touching moment in the audio story and here, in text, but it was impossible!  The hotel banquet games, the bed check(!), the violas talking about their clothes, David’s braces bracket emergency, etc.  In the end, this story is about relationships, built and nurtured over fifty years, that serve to knit our community together.  Midori Goto perceived this, in the course of her residency in April 2016:  

“What’s so fantastic about Hawai‘i Youth Symphony is that they have an incredible group of alumni who are really, really dedicated to bringing more opportunities to the younger musicians.  It’s so great to see the Executive Director is an alum, the volunteers, the Board of Directors, you see people in the community that come to support the youth orchestra who are also alumni.  They may not be professional musicians today, but what they’ve gained and the camaraderie, it’s something that I think brings the community together.”

Ninety seven chairs sit expectantly in the golden light onstage.  One by one, tuba, trombones, trumpets, and horns file in.  Clarinets, oboes and flutes join them.  Violas, violins, cellos, and basses  take their seats, adjust their music and begin to fine tune.  The percussionists take their places.  A journey into the world of feeling begins.

Hawaii Youth Symphony
Credit Hawaii Youth Symphony
Maestro Henry Miyamura with members of Hawai'i Youth Symphony.

Auditions for the Hawai‘i Youth Symphony’s top orchestras (YSI, YSII, and Concert Orchestra)  2016-2017 Season will be held the last two weekends in May 2016.

May 21 & 22 (Brass, Woodwinds, Percussion)

May 28 & 29 (Strings)

HYS Summer Strings offers classes for beginning or intermediate violin, viola, cello or bass students.

Students who are 8 years old by June 1 are eligible.

Classes are weekdays from June 6 – July 8, 2016 at Boys and Girls Club Spalding Clubhouse on Waiola Street.   

The HYS Pacific Music Institute happens every summer.  It’s an opportunity for students to participate in ensembles ranging from concert band and string orchestra to chamber music, jazz band, and symphony orchestra. 

Students entering grades 8 through 12 (including graduating seniors) with at least two years of instrumental experience are eligible to enroll. This institute is for serious music students.

PMI holds classes at the UH Music Department, and concerts at Pearl City Cultural Center.

Music lovers!  The Kaua‘i All-Island Band made a splash at the 2005 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.  Now the Band is on its way to Washington D.C. to perform in the 2016 National Memorial Day Parade and Concert Series.  They will also perform at the Visitor’s Center in historic Gettysburg. 

Fundraising is underway now for this great musical experience.  Find out more at the Kaua‘i All-Island Bandwebsite.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
Related Stories