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Maui Intermediate School Band Festival

April 16, 2008
By EDWIN TANJI, City Editor

When the 38th edition of the Maui District Intermediate School Band Festival opens Thursday, the music will be for the angels.

It’s not that the festival wouldn’t have gone on, but there would have been 66 empty chairs in the Parade of Bands and Massed Band performances, but for one special angel and dozens of others who offered to rescue the band trip for the Stevenson Middle School band on Oahu.

Stevenson Band Director Ross Nakamura said he already had canceled the trip two weeks ago, after the Aloha Airlines shutdown left them without their scheduled flight to Maui this week.

When Aloha announced its shutdown on March 30, Nakamura said he and parents in his Band Boosters club began scrambling for options, and found seats on Hawaiian Airlines — but it would cost every student, chaperone and teacher another $110 after they already put up $435 apiece to go to the Maui festival.

Nakamura said he imposed one edict on the decision — that if any student went to the Maui band festival every one of the 66 students would go.

“The parents voted that they would not be able to come up with the extra money,” he said.

That was on Wednesday, April 2. He called the hotel to cancel his reservations and told the Intermediate School Band Festival organizers on Maui that his band would not be coming.

That’s when he got a call from KITV, the ABC affiliate in Hawaii, which wanted to do a story about how the Aloha shutdown affected his band.

“I didn’t feel like I wanted to go on TV to beg for people to give me a hand,” he said. “We have compassion for the Aloha Airlines employees. We have to feel for the families who have lost their jobs. That’s worse than not making a band festival.

“Two of our band members have family members who work for Aloha. You have to feel for them.”

He told the television news crew that he already had canceled and there really was nothing to add, but the TV crew persisted, came to the school and did a news report as part of the coverage of the Aloha and ATA failures.

“I guess a lot of people saw that,” he said.

He said he received a number of calls offering help, but the main one came at 10 o’clock that night from a woman who he said wishes to remain unnamed.

It would cost $9,300 to cover the extra costs, including for teachers and chaperons, to get to Maui.

“She wrote me a check that night and the next day was a mad scramble to get back on. We had released the Hawaiian flights. We had released our hotel rooms. It wasn’t until another day that I could tell the kids we are going.”

He said he never met the donor before, but she told him she felt for the kids who had been practicing hard for the festival and she wanted to make a difference in their lives.

Nakamura emphasized there were many others offers of help, including one from Hawaii Superferry to take the whole band at a discount. Band parents on Maui offered to cover their meals, and Iao Intermediate School offered its facilities if the Stevenson students could find no other accommodations. There were offers from Lions clubs and other service groups.

In his 18 years as a band teacher, Nakamura said he had not witnessed a similar outpouring of public support for his students.

It will be in addition to the experience of the performance, which Maui coordinator Noel Kuraya said will include a special performance with a jazz ensemble and world premiere arrangement of “I Got Rhythm” by guest conductor Siuai Laufou.

For all of the band directors, the festival is a reward for students who are being squeezed for time by the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind mandate demanding continuous improvements in academic scores to the exclusion of arts education, Kuraya said.

He is a retired band director for Iao School, host school for the festival, and teaches music at Doris Todd Memorial Christian School.

The festival showcases the pursuit of excellence in music and the value of music education in the schools, he said

“To have a public display of this nature is important to re-emphasize to all the importance of the arts and the non-core curriculum in our schools,” he said.

This year’s will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Nakamura said.

“I hope so. We have enough stress taking the kids over to a Neighbor Island once a year. We don’t need all this other stuff.”

• Edwin Tanji can be reached at


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