Talk Story with Mary Lardizabal

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Kapaa Middle School student Kamille Anne Laguit of her sixth-period class shows off the double gold awards earned at the 2018 Worldstrides Music Festival in Anaheim, California, the group being led by Mary Lardizabal, at piano, and Loke Sasil during the spring break. On the walls and shelves in the background are more awards earned during previous festivals.

Kapaa Middle School music teacher Mary Lardizabal got help from Loke Sasil to lead the Kapaa Middle School Choir and Ukulele Band to a double gold award showing at the WorldStrides Music Festival in Anaheim, Calif., during the spring break.

The Kapaa Middle School group, including 43 students, competed against the field which included 20 choirs, instrumental bands and orchestras from across the nation. The festival has been re-named from its Heritage Music Festival roots.

“This incredible achievement would not have been possible without the help of our community,” Lardizabal said. “This includes our very generous community sponsors, and the hard work by the Kapaa Middle School Choir Boosters Club, the tour chaperones, and the families of our fabulous students.”

What was your reaction when the announcements were made?

I was very excited about finding out we received not one, but two Gold Awards this year! We were at the awards ceremony, which is held at Disneyland. The directors are sitting in special seating away from our choirs.

The participants from our group were nearby, so I could see them and the excitement they showed at the announcements.

We had a large group attending this year: 43 students and 34 adults. We also had a few family members cheering us on that live in the Anaheim area to support our performances. I was surprised at the announcement and very excited that we were able to bring home our double Gold! Everyone worked very hard and are very deserving of this honor.

How long have you been participating (and winning) at the Heritage Music Festival?

The Worldstrides Music Festival is the same as the Heritage Music Festival. It started out as the Heritage Music Festival. They just changed the name.

I started participating in the Heritage Music Festival in 1999, when I traveled with the former Immaculate Conception Children’s Choir. We traveled to Las Vegas first and then to Anaheim, California.

I was very impressed with this company and shortly after Kapaa Middle School opened, I started traveling to the Honolulu Festival in 2002. During that time, I only had the choir and the ukulele band became a part of my program in 2008.

How have you done?

We have received mostly gold awards, a few silver awards, the Spirit Award for six times, and the Special Award that was given to Jotis Russell-Christian in 2017, Alexxius Cypher in 2015. Myself as an instructor received an award in 2012 which was presented on behalf of the Heritage Festival staff and the Disney family.

My daughter, Tia Lardizabal, also received a Maestro Award in 2013. This award was given to her for her hula solo to “What a Wonderful World.”

Have there been any memorable wins at the Heritage Music Festival?

Every year, there is always something so special that comes with the Heritage Festival. The students bring so much to the festival as they share the culture and island music, the opportunity to travel, and experience the Mainland.

This is the only musical competition that I do with my students.

Each year is different, the festivals are all very special in their own way.

Have you been a music teacher prior to Kapaa Middle School? How did you get started in music?

I was teaching at Kapaa High School for two years when Mrs. Renee Thronas, the school’s choir director, retired in 1996. I was not certified at the time and was in the process of getting my teaching degree.

There was a plan — I was so blessed to be hired to open the Kapaa Middle School. I can’t imagine teaching anywhere else! I love the students and the families of my students — from the very beginning to the current. I am now teaching some of my students’ grandchildren!

Who gets the credit for introducing you to music?

I give my mother the credit for sharing her love of music with me when I was very little. My brother and sister were musical as well, and we had great opportunities to be in band, chorus, and attend music camps growing up.

My first degree was in Mass Communication, but I knew that I always loved teaching, and music was such a big part of my life. I actually taught private piano lessons when I was in high school. Following the hurricane, I went back to college and got my teaching degree and now am a qualified music teacher.

What is ahead for Mary Lardizabal?

What a great question!

I am so blessed to be teaching such incredible groups of students, and I am so grateful for the parents and community members who support our program.

I worry about the enrollment of our school, the interest of music in the lives of the children, and how I can continue to maintain the program that I have as the years go by.

But, I have the energy and the support from my fabulous choir boosters club, a 501(c3) nonprofit organization, the parents of my students, both current and former.

We are very well-known in the community and love to perform throughout the year. The partnerships that have been established with many of the hotels and organizations that have asked us to perform for events keeps our program very strong.

Each year, it just keeps getting better and better so there is no stopping us!

Where will you be performing?

We just got a last-minute notice from the Kukui Grove Center who asked if we could perform at this weekend’s Spring Festival.

We’ll be performing at the free Keiki Fun and Fitness Challenge April 14, led by Kaylynn Drake (she was one of my first students at Kapaa Middle School)’s suicide awareness kokua foundation starting at 10 a.m. at the Kapaa Beach Park.

From there, we move to the Kukui Grove Center on the same date where we will be among the entertainment for the family fair, Sequential Transition to Elementary Public Schools presented by the Department of Education.

The Kapaa Middle School Choir and Ukulele Band also performs on April 19 at the Coconut Marketplace from 5:30 p.m. as part of the shopping center’s monthly offering.

And finally, people can enjoy the students’ music at the mandatory Spring Concert on May 9 starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Kapaa Middle School covered court.

So, no plans to sit back and take it easy?

I do not see the word “retirement” in my near future. I love what I do and have the best job in the whole world!


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