“A Dickens of a Christmas” with the Kalaheo Elementary School Sunshine Express opens Tuesday with performances for the kupuna at the Wilcox Adult Day Care in Lihue and the Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital in Kapaa.
Directed and produced by Laine Griffith, Kalaheo Elementary’s band and music director, the show schedule continues with appearances at the Kauai Coffee Open House, a fully staged version Friday at the Kalaheo school cafeteria, and a final appearance at the Kukui Grove Center.
Musical portions of the production were performed by the Kalaheo Elementary School Sunshine Express during their appearances at the recent Kauai Christmas Parade, where they topped the marching, vehicle and talent judging divisions, and the Lights on Rice parade in Lihue.
What is “A Dickens of a Christmas?”
The show itself is a rendition of the famous short story by Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol,” whose main character is the irracible Scroogeah Humbug. We are putting a bit of a twist on the show, however, as Aubrey Bechard will be playing Scrooge as a woman. I really think it works, but I would be interested in what others say after watching the show.
How different is “A Dickens of a Christmas” compared with other Sunshine Express productions?
This is the first time Sunshine Express has put on a full-scale musical incorporating stage lights, a projector, stage crew and props. In short, fully making use of the fantastic theater available at the Kalaheo School Cafeteria.
In the past, we have focused on a lean mobile show — one that would be able to be presented at various venues, that would not have any lights, backstage areas or even a stage itself.
We are still doing a mobile version of our show which will be presented at the Kauai Cofee Open House, the Kukui Grove center stage and care homes Wilcox Adult Day Care in Lihue and Mahelona Hospital in Kapaa. What is different is that we are presenting a beautiful fully staged version at Kalaheo School on Dec. 9, starting at 7 p.m., at the Kalaheo School cafeteria.
During rehearsal, a parent said you have been working with Kalaheo school keiki for 21 years. How did you get started at Kalaheo school?
I am so lucky to work at Kalaheo school. The parents and staff are so amazing.
I have wonderful head parent Cherisse Rita, who coordinates and liaisons with other parents. In any production like this there is so much to do — costuming, set design and construction, parade float decorations and transporting — so many talented and dedicated parents.
Beside Cherisse I have to mention the amazing Pamela Saunders, who is head of costuming, a gigantic task; Dan and Lei Lynn Hirata, set design and construction; Hilary Johnson, choreographer; Cheryl Bechard, publicity; Duane Carveiro and David Murray, float transport. The list goes on and on!
In October of 1996, I was a substitute teacher and happened to have to be assigned as a long-term substitute teacher at Kalaheo School in my area of expertise, music.
I was amazed that the elementary school had a music position and happy to take the assignment. I was approached by Diane Nitta, the Kalaheo School principal at the time, and asked to take the position permanently.
I was overjoyed at the prospect. I have always had an affinity for both kids and music, and felt that elementary school is exactly the right place to expose our keiki to it. My idea is get them to get turned on to performing and exploring music before the teenage years when many students become self-conscious and not willing to take a chance on music. Teaching music at Kalaheo School has been one of the great blessings in my life.
Are there any obstacles to overcome with music and singing programs?
Luckily, at Kalaheo school, we have always had supportive principals in my tenure. First with Diane Nitta, then Erik Burkman, our leadership has been 100 percent behind the performing arts. This is amazing to me.
Long before I came to Kauai, I graduated from the University of Washington with a music education degree. I planned to get a job right away in the Seattle area, but, unfortunately, music education positions in the public schools were absolutely nonexistent for new teachers.
I spent several years working outside my area of expertise before, finally landing a job teaching elementary band at several elementary Catholic schools in the metropolitan Seattle area. Still, I had to teach this band program outside of the actual school day, either before school, after school, or during recess breaks. It was never a part of the actual school curriculum.
Kalaheo school is the only public elementary school that has integrated music as a part of the actual curriculum, in my teaching experience.
How did you get the band formed? How well are they doing? Are there any other bands at Kauai elementary schools?
First, I should make a distinction between the band and the regular music classes. The band program is separate from the regular music classes which allows every student at Kalaheo school to have music once every week.
The band program is a separate program open to fourth- and fifth-grade students requiring participating students to come and play instruments at 7 a.m. daily. It is a big commitment and the students involved take it seriously. We work hard, and cooperate with one another. The more experienced players help the beginners and we have fun making music.
How well are they doing? I try to get students grounded in the basics of band pedagogy so that they are able to be successful if they choose to continue. I am always so pleased at the progress students make each year.
It is the only elementary band program on Kauai to my knowledge, though I know there are other Hawaii public and private schools which do have band programs.
Are you involved with the Marly Madayag productions at Kalaheo school?
Marly Madayag, a protege of the great Arnold Meister, a legend and Kauai Museum Living Treasure in Kauai Theater, is the most talented, creative, ferociously and deeply committed children’s drama director I have ever known. She requires much from the children and volunteers and staff and they love her for it. Her productions are absolutely amazing.
This year’s Marley Madayag production, coming out in spring 2017, is going to be “Honk! Jr.” and promises to be great. Everyone should come and check it out this spring.
The wonderful Kalaheo school theater has become the great venue it is because of her hard work.
What kind of benefits do students get by participating in music and song?
I think that students gain much from the music and the other performing arts. By becoming skilled at singing and at performing, they gain public speaking skills and greater self confidence that will stead them well in whatever career they choose. Performing arts allow a form of self expression that is different that speaking or writing that is nonetheless amazingly persuasive and penetrating. Some students who have gone on to be successful — there are so many alums who have gone on to become successful students and productive citizens, professional and otherwise — include Erik Rita, Lorinda Sasan, Alisa Nishihira, Kaitlyn Townes, Lyndee Emoto, Nicole Morris, Leighlee Caveriero, Amber Fujimoto, Helena Huffman, Zachary Silva, Kerri Silva, to name only a few.
We had Ethan Shell who was a rising star the New York Theater, who tragically and suddenly died at the age of 21.
Last night, I saw a production of “School of Rock” by HCT, featuring one Kalaheo fifth-grader, Cole Diamond, as well as some Kalaheo School alums, Charles O’Neil, Jacob Lester, Fiona Godsill, Mackenzie Franks Francesca and Isabela Bivens and, in the lead role, Pierce Bivens. What a great show!
How did you get involved in music and becoming a music teacher?
I was interested in music early on.
Where I lived in Eugene, Oregon, there were not many opportunities for music other than with the classroom teacher. I moved to Denver, Colorado, in the seventh-grade and joined the band playing clarinet in eighth-grade. I found that it was something that I could, with a lot of hard work, learn do to.
My early years in middle school were pretty rough and I lacked focus and self-confidence. Playing music, being in a school band was one of those things that really helped me turn my life around.
My grades improved and I grew socially as well. My family moved again, this time to Pittsburgh when I was in high school (Baldwin High School). I became part of one of those really big marching band units, where we would play and learn marching routines for weeks before the school year even started, drilling for eight hours a day.
In college (Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington) and grad school (University of Washington) I continued in music, I had strict and demanding teachers who trained me well. In grad school, I decided early on not to major in clarinet which was my original intent.
Instead, I decided to become a music education major. Jobs were more plentiful in that area and the kids that took the music ed classes seemed to be a happier lot than the “performance majors.” Also, even though I was pretty good at my instrument, I was not phenomenal. I realized I was not going to land an choice job in a major orchestra as principal clarinetist!
I have never regretted that decision. I am one of the luckiest people I know. I get to do something I love and get paid for it!