A class act

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

David Kuraya can teach a trick or two as Iao Intermediate School’s band director and a close-up magician. Photos courtesy of David Kuraya

It’s clear David Kuraya has a few tricks up his sleeve.

As if by magic, the Iao Intermediate School band director can capture and hold the attention of a room full of middle-schoolers — all while inspiring a love of music.

“It’s not just a job,” he said. “It’s a responsibility given to me.”

And it’s a responsibility that runs in the family: Kuraya’s paternal grandfather was a band director at a high school on Oahu; his maternal great uncle was a band director at an Oahu intermediate school; and his father, Noel, was the director of the Iao School Band for nearly three decades. So, when Kuraya stepped into the role of band director six years ago, he knew the rigors of the job — and his way around Iao School’s band room.

“I grew up in this room,” he said. “My dad established a culture and created a sense of community here; there was so much excitement and enthusiasm. I remember what that felt like.”

How does he do it? A natural-born performer, Kuraya amazes audiences with his mind-bending magic acts.

And now he’s re-creating that experience for his own students. “I show them what can happen when you work hard and give your fullest effort,” he said. “I want them to leave this program with five words: ‘Do the best you can.’ “

When he was in the 6th grade, Kuraya signed up for band class and starting belting out his first notes on a trumpet. “I grew up watching my dad’s (school) band play, so I couldn’t wait for it to be my turn,” he said.

Kuraya played the instrument throughout intermediate and high school and went on to study trumpet performance at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash. There, he also played in the university’s jazz band, wind symphony and brass quintet.

After graduation, he moved to Oahu to study conducting under Hawaii Youth Symphony conductor Henry Miyamura and pursue a graduate diploma in music education from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

In a serendipitous turn of events, Kuraya learned Iao School was looking for a new band director not long after he returned home to Maui. “It hits me every once in a while — how the stars lined up so perfectly,” he said. “It’s a huge blessing.”

Since then, he’s taught hundreds of students the fundamentals of band instruments — from the saxophone to the flute to the tuba to the drums — and has watched them shine as they perform on stage. He credits the program’s success to the school’s assistant band director, Tessie Suyama, and to his students and their families. “I work with so many great kids who come from great families that do so much to support this program,” he said.

On any given day, you’ll find Kuraya wielding a conductor’s baton — or a magic wand. He’s also a magician; it’s a talent he discovered during his freshman year of college. “It was never a life goal. I didn’t have a magic kit as a kid and aspire to be a magician,” Kuraya said. In fact, he says it all began by mistake.

That “mistake” was a simple card trick — the only one he knew at the time — performed for a group of friends. “When I finished, they said, ‘Do another one!’ But I didn’t know any other tricks. So I decided to learn more,” Kuraya said.

In the weeks that followed, he added more tricks to his repertoire, caught the performing bug, and quickly earned a reputation as the campus magic man. It wasn’t long before he was booking gigs at residence halls, board meetings, faculty retreats and, eventually, corporate shows in downtown Spokane.

Today, he continues to astound and mystify audiences with mind-bending acts of magic; he’s a familiar face at a number of local venues and performs close-up magic at private parties and corporate events. And magic is in his bag of teaching tricks, too. To the delight of his students, he routinely incorporates sleight-of-hand into his lesson plans.

Whether he’s wearing his magician’s hat or teacher’s hat (or both at the same time), Kuraya is clearly in his element. “I really enjoy what I do,” he said. “It’s hard work, but when you enjoy it, it doesn’t feel like work.”

To learn more about David Kuraya’s magic, visit www.davidkuraya.com.

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.