Making music this ‘merrie’ month of May

During a recent gathering where musicians, younger and older, came together, it was gratifying to hear from middle school students how they’re already factoring in music education as a career.

One teen told me how much she enjoyed playing an instrument in her music classes, traveling with other young musicians when the opportunity arises, and playing in the Kauai Community College (KCC) Wind Symphony and the Kauai Honor Band, too. This girl won’t have time to be bored or get into trouble hanging around with future drop-outs, I thought. Another youngster piped up how she’d like to study music direction and return home to teach, much as the current music directors at our middle and high schools have done in the past.

“What a good plan,” I told her. “I hope you follow through.”

I was thinking of the scholarships and awards that are offered on island and elsewhere. Several young friends of mine are treading the music path, sometimes combining it with music therapy and other disciplines that will keep them playing and enjoying their music, if not purely performance, composing and conducting.

“Maybe, if you practice hard, you can apply for a music scholarship,” I said to the young hopefuls, and was rewarded by shy nods and wide smiles.

We talked a bit about their teacher/director Sarah Tochiki, who followed a similar route from her involvement in band while growing up. I have met “Ms. Tochiki” with her students around island at various classical concerts and music events, widening their horizons. I applaud the energy she and supportive parents expend to fundraise for their travels — spaghetti dinners, concerts, car washes, making tons of peppermint bark for sale, and more. The bonding between her Kauai youth and their teacher/director is strengthened by the bond all musicians feel when they join together as a team to make music.

And there are many other music “teams” on island, for choral music, for hula and chant, for playing jazz and swing and rock, and more. I thank all their teachers and leaders for the dedication this takes, coaching music.

I know of what I speak, having been involved with music since age 10, both solo and in group playing via elementary through high school, as well as offshoot music groups. The reason I know of Chiefess Kamakahelei’s Ms. Tochiki is that she is also “my” orchestra director. I’m very proud, along with the other members of the KCC Orchestra, Wind Symphony and Jazz Ensembles, I’m sure, to know that KCC is the only junior college in the UH system that supports a live group music program such as we have. This, along with the fact that we encourage youth musicians and blend them with experienced musicians, is worth noting and supporting. Right now, we have players from 10-year- olds to silver-locks. Our ethnic mix also sings out the fact that playing classical music is not just for the white and the wealthy.

Any one of you, Dear Readers, can join to strengthen the ranks. There are but two requirements: that you can read music, and that you have played an instrument for a year. Registration through KCC is for college credit or through the Continuing Education program. The challenge: drag that alto-sax, flute or cello out of the closet, dust off its case, and give its voice life again.

No need to worry about being “good enough.” The music rehearsals are practice sessions leading to the winter and spring concerts. Practice-practice-practice — that’s what teams are all about, in music, sports and all disciplines.

Gratification comes from being on such a team as I experience with the KCC Orchestra. When the flute leads us into the loveliest, haunting melody of mourning in a Grieg number, when the cello passionately resonates, when the trumpets punch out exciting, brassy tones … I could ramble on, praising all the instruments. I do love hearing the soprano voice of my violin and the other violins and violas, but what would they be without the blend that occurs on our team, tossing the leads back and forth, as with a fluid volleyball team?

Here’s an invitation to attend the two free KCC concerts on the horizon (the Jazz Ensemble played on April 16). Bring friends and family, all ages, and enjoy a night without iPads or cellphones: on this coming Friday, May 6, the KCC Wind Symphony and Kauai Youth Honor Band; and the following Thursday, May 12, the KCC Symphony Orchestra. Both concerts will take the stage at the KCC Performing Arts Center and begin at 7 p.m. Donations will be gladly accepted at the door to benefit the unique ensembles.

Who knows? You may possibly be opening a door to music, inspiring a new young Yo Yo Ma, Anat Cohen, Paganini.

KCC’s combined music groups are providing live music once again this year for Commencement, May 13. And check out ticket information and scheduling on the weekend, May 14-15, for the Kauai Chorale with special guests including the Kauai Chorale Instrumental Ensemble and St. Theresa’s School Chorus.

Ah, the music of May on the Garden Island!


Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, instructs for visitors to Kauai through Hawaii Pacific University’s “Road Scholar” program through Pacific Islands Institute. Her second memoir, Burma Banyan, will be published this year, following up “Jackals’ Wedding, A Memoir of a Childhood in British India.” She continues to run her TropicBird Press and TropicBird Weddings & Celebrations-Kauai under DAWN Enterprises.


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