Poetry of music is unleashed

Hawaii Youth Symphony gives Maui students a glimpse of future possibilities

Raiatea Helm, who joins Hawaii Youth Symphony at its Maui show, joined HYS at its annual November gala, Na Mele. -- Photo courtesy Hawaii Youth Symphony

A wise Englishman by the name of Keith Richards (yes, that Keith Richards) once said, “Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it’s in the bones, it’s in the bones.”

When speaking to professional musicians, they can rarely explain why they chose that profession without fumbling for words, until, smiling, they sheepishly admit it wasn’t a choice they made so much as a predestined fate. Whether they become one of the lucky few to find careers as part of well-funded paying orchestras, or they pursue music as school band instructors, community band members, playing at local bars and night spots — musicians must create and get music out.

Here on Maui, we are fortunate to have talented and dedicated music teachers available to guide those young students. Private lessons by conservatory-trained string, woodwind, brass and percussion musicians are available to many. Devoted teachers instruct our keiki in public and private schools.

While the schools present wonderful concerts that should be experienced by all the Maui community, the opportunity of playing with a full orchestra — filled with like-minded serious music students — should not be undervalued.

Students here will have an opportunity to witness the Hawaii Youth Symphony, accompanied by Hawaiian musician Raiatea Helm, at a free President’s Day concert at 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18 in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater in Kahului.

Maui’s own Darius Soo Hoo has the honor of being concertmaster on several pieces at the HYS performance at Castle Theater on President’s Day. -- Photo courtesy Hawaii Youth Symphony

Under the direction of its new Music Director Dr. John Devlin, the orchestra brings its entire 110-member Youth Symphony I to Maui thanks to the generous support of Maui Waena Intermediate School and Kamehameha Schools Maui.

“A lot of people have the misconception that I moved here because of the weather and the beaches,” laughed Devlin. “It was actually because the mission of HYS is not only in training the next generation of young musicians, but also in ‘growing citizens.’ Hawaii cares passionately about access to the arts in the state — and not just for those with access to the most resources.”

HYS, currently under the leadership of President Randy Wong, was founded in 1964 as a project of the Honolulu Jaycees by Punahou School Orchestra Director Peter Mesrobian. He had a vision of creating an orchestra comprising students from many schools.

“HYS had humble origins with one orchestra; now 54 years later, we have seven orchestras, a band and jazz program, and a community program at the Boys and Girls Club,” noted Wong proudly.

Additionally, HYS has made it its mission “to help youth develop to their fullest potential through orchestral music, in the setting of our Islands’ unique culture.” To do this, they encourage students from all islands to apply to the symphony program and to the summer program, Pacific Music Institute, and pride themselves on serving more than 700 students from over 100 schools statewide.

Music Director Dr. John Devlin conducts the symphony. -- Photo courtesy Hawaii Youth Symphony

“No matter where a student lives in Hawaii, we want to make sure they have an opportunity, if music is a passion for them, to have access,” explained Devlin.

One student who auditioned for HYS from Maui is H.P. Baldwin senior Darius Soo Hoo. This gifted young man played flute for years under the tutelage of renowned Upcountry flautist Peggy Schecter, and is currently pursuing violin studies with Hawaii Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Ignace Jang. Soo Hoo earned the honor to act as concertmaster for several selections during the President’s Day concert.

Other notable past HYS members from Maui include violinist Kisa Uradomo. This former student from King Kekaulike High School in Makawao graduated in 2015 and performed at Carnegie Hall that same year as part of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. Uradomo is currently enrolled at the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.

Professor of Music at Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, famous bass player Kurt Muroki, originally from Maui, was the first bassist to win the HYS Young Artist competition. A 1989 graduate of HYS, he attended Julliard School of Music in New York City.

“HYS has a robust financial aid and travel reimbursement program specifically for Neighbor Island students,” noted Wong. “We really encourage students from the Neighbor Islands to participate in our programs.”

Members of the Hawaii Youth Symphony -- Photo courtesy Hawaii Youth Symphony

With generous tuition and travel subsidies, HYS makes every attempt to reach students who have the desire to learn music and present them with opportunities not readily available to students who don’t live on Oahu. All Youth

Symphony rehearsals occur during the weekends, and HYS accommodates Neighbor Island students so they don’t have to come every weekend each month.

In addition to admitting students who have a desire to join the youth symphony, as part of its service to the state HYS conducts a series of community concerts (such as the one here at the MACC on President’s Day).

“We like to make sure our students have an opportunity to serve through their passion for music in every community,” explained Wong. “Each year we choose a different island — this year, we chose to come back to Maui.”

“We went to Molokai two weeks ago and brought a string program there,” added Devlin. “We have a lot of programs going that don’t just focus on Oahu.”

Raiatea Helm (left) and Dr. John Devlin perform at Na Mele in November. -- Photo courtesy Hawaii Youth Symphony

Along with the free concert, which is open to the public, HYS provides two educational concerts while they are on island called “Listen and Learn.” These concerts are designed for a Kindergarten through third grade group, followed by a fourth through sixth grade class. These concerts are already sold out.

As cultural arbiters, HYS takes its responsibilities seriously — especially due to the diverse cultural “quilt” of contemporary Hawaiian life.

“We decide what type of music education these kids will carry with them the rest of their life,” explained Devlin. “In the unique culture of Hawaii, we want to represent Hawaiian music, Hawaiian artists and, in fact, Hawaiian language in a serious way.

“Every year for our gala in November, Na Mele, we team up with a guest artist. This past year we teamed with Raiatea — and the project with her was really rewarding. She carries such a deep legacy of Hawaiian music, ukulele playing, slack key guitar — things that really represent the culture of Hawaii. Three of the five songs she sings with us, she sings in the Hawaiian language.”

“She’s had a great professional career as a Hawaiian musician, but she’s decided to go back to University of Hawaii to study music, which is really interesting for our kids, because many want to go there as well,” added Wong.

“Not only did Raiatea do rehearsals with the kids and perform, but she took the time to do a seminar with them and answer their questions about what her journey representing Hawaiian music has been like, and how it reflects into the broader cultural world that she inhabits,” noted Devlin.

“Initially it wasn’t the plan to have her come [to Maui], but the project went so well, and we were so happy with it, that we extended her time and residence with the orchestra through our trip here to Maui.”

“Randy Wong and Dr. Devlin approached me last year with the invitation to participate in their annual benefit concert in Honolulu,” explained Helm.

Having performed alongside the Hololulu Pops Symphony with Conductor Matt Catingub in 2005, Helm was thrilled to work with HYS.

“I have always been fascinated with the quality of music, and to be able to collaborate with such great talents. It was quite an experience at the very first rehearsal,” complimented Helm.

The music program for this visit will include “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copland, the final movement from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor in its entirety, as well as “Raise Hawaiki” written by Michael-Thomas Foumai and other selections by Helm. Another successful alumnus of HYS and current University of Hawaii-Manoa professor of music, Foumai has written a score about the Hokulea, which will be performed by Helm.

“It’s important to give the context of the music,” explained Devlin. “The joy for me is that for many students, this may be the first Beethoven symphony they’ve played, or they’ve never heard of Shostakovich — yet these are titans in the classical music world.”

HYS believes by teaching the students about the composers and the place of that piece of music in history, it inspires many to pursue a classical music career — much as Wong did. He, too, played for HYS as a student before furthering his studies at the New England Conservatory in Boston and then earning his Masters in Arts & Education from Harvard University.

“For the most part, we’re trying to ‘build’ citizens that will contribute to our community in a better way,” noted Devlin. “There’s not too many things where you have 110 young people come together with the goal of creating beauty with one another.

“So much of what they do is competitive — with and against each other — with rankings and scores and admissions to different programs. So we believe we occupy a very special place within the culture.

“I think what we do is very important, but it’s broader than just music — we’re building humans that care about the world around them.”

Helm concurs and noted the dedication she has seen from both HYS and the students involved.

“I admire the examples [HYS] set for these students to help them prepare for the real world,” admitted Helm. “When they go out to experience other cultures, they will always take something special with them. You can feel a sense of place when you perform with these kids; they are proud to be from Hawaii.

“These students work extremely hard with the music, which helps to elevate my role and my appreciation for what I do. I am beyond grateful.”

Devlin and Wong concur. HYS provides ample opportunity for its students to perform, touting between 40 and 50 concerts a year.

“We’re so excited to share our love and passion with this community, and are eager to see where the music can take us,” concluded Wong.

For more information about HYS, visit www.hiyouthsymphony.org or call (808) 941-9706.

* Catherine Kenar can be reached at ckenar@ mauinews.com.

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