Music classes more than learning to sing, play instruments

LIHUE — It’s 2:04 p.m. on a Monday at Kauai High School. While hundreds of students are being picked up by parents, taking the school bus or walking home from campus, a handful of students are playing instruments and hanging out in the band room.

Bryson Carbonel, a senior, is playing his alto-saxophone while one of his friends plays “Mia & Sebastian’s Theme (Late For The Date)” from the hit movie “La La Land” on the piano. There is no class, nor is there a scheduled rehearsal.

Carbonel is just playing music for the fun of it, even with Darryl Miyasato, the school’s band teacher, sitting in his office.

“There’s the element of self-motivation and practicing on your own. It’s part of the GLOs (General Learner Outcomes) of becoming self-directed learners,” Miyasato said. “There’s tons of research that shows how music can help with you with language acquisition, math, reasoning and multi-tasking. You might not get that experience in other electives.”

For Carbonel, band has become more than a class.

“I’ve had some friends here since sixth-grade band up until now. We’ve all been through the same concerts and trips and it’s a friendship that you cannot get from anything else,” Carbonel said. “Like with sports teams, I don’t have the same bond with my volleyball teammates compared to my band mates.”

Through countless hours of practice, concerts and learning to translate notes on a sheet of paper into melodic tones, Carbonel doesn’t see band as an elective course anymore, as the lessons he learns while playing an instrument translate seamlessly to classes when he has a pencil in his hand.

“I have the same mentality in this class that I now have in my other classes,” he said. “When I take this mentality and use it in my other classes, I can get stuff done in less than a half hour because I can do two or three things at a time compared to other students who aren’t in music, who are just doing one thing at a time.”

Multi-tasking is an essential skill to be in a high school band. Not only is a student reading sheet music, they’re also paying attention to their conductor and keeping rhythm while playing an instrument. These skills weren’t just learned when students like Carbonel reached ninth grade, however.

Band class is unique in the sense that students begin in sixth or seventh grade and continue band until they graduate from high school.

At Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, Sarah Tochiki watches students blossom before her eyes.

“You get to see how much the students progress from day one,” Tochiki said. “A student could’ve been really shy and timid as a sixth grader and by the time they leave, they’re a confident young adult and are ready to face high school and the world.”

When students can’t find their voice, they often find a way to discover their sound in band, said Tochiki.

“It takes every part of the brain to be able to accomplish something with music because not only is it physical to play and instrument, but it’s also mental because you also have to read the sheet music,” she said. “They realize from there the value of their contribution.”

Similar to Kauai High School band students, a handful of middle school students at Chiefess are practicing percussion instruments after class.

Malakai Montgomery, an eighth grader at Chiefess, is already learning the social benefits of being in band.

“Band is really fun, I always hang out in the band room during lunch,” Montgomery said.

Tochiki watched as students spoke with TGI and said she couldn’t help feel reminded of other students she has taught and worked with who had gone on to build lasting relationships centered around music.

“I had one of my alumni come back and speak to my band students who wanted to talk with them and tell them to continue with music,” Tochiki said. “He really stressed to them that being in band and is really the reason why he has the friends that he has.”

At Chiefess, 50 percent of its student body is involved in some sort of music course, said Principal Debra Badua. Elias Gonzales, chorus teacher at Chiefess, is pleased to see so many students curious about learning about music.

“As far as learning music, that’s one thing,” Gonzales said. “But we’re trying to raise these students to be part of a community, to be mature and a reasonable human being.”

As Montgomery warms up on the snare drum, he stops and says “no, that wasn’t it,” and performs the warm up until he gets it right. Perfection is his goal.

“In other classes, quality work is demanded,” Tochiki said. “But in music, even one mistake or slip-up can mess everything up. Music is one of the only things that demand perfection.”

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