Hawaii Youth Symphony

Get to Know HYS Programs Director Hannah Watanabe

Our nonprofit organization’s administration team is instrumental in ensuring that our programs run smoothly and that our music teachers have the support they need. Programs Director Hannah Watanabe oversees all the things that make our 19 different ensembles and classes possible, while also conducting two of our orchestras. Let’s learn more about Hannah!

Alumni Make Amazing Staff!

Hannah Watanabe has been involved with HYS since she was in 9th grade, and has been one of our Symphony Program conductors since 2007! As a high school student, her love for music was nurtured under the baton of Mr. Michael Nakasone in YSII, and continued to grow for the next three years with Mr. Henry Miyamura in YSI.

Hannah began her journey as a staff member by helping with our Pacific Music Institute summer music camp after graduation, and we’re so lucky that she has continued to stay engaged with our organization.

“As someone who has benefited so much from my experience as an HYS student, it is an honor to do my part in aiding the young musicians of Hawai‘i on their own journeys.” – Hannah Watanabe

After earning her Bachelor of Education degree in K-12 Music Education with an emphasis in Secondary Instrument Music at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Ms. Watanabe taught music in Hawaiʻi schools for over 20 years.

In 2021, she decided to join HYS full time as Programs Manager! Hannah shared that “this dynamic new position allows me to fully dedicate my time to HYS, further supporting its vision that Music Is A Right, not a privilege, for all our youth.”

Supporting Students and Teachers

Our Hawaii Youth Symphony conductors and teachers are extremely busy! They typically work full-time jobs as musicians and/or music teachers, and teach with HYS after hours and on the weekends. Thus, our admin team members are superheroes who support our part-time teaching staff, and ensure that our students and families have the best music education experience they can have.

Why is the Programs Director position important? As students, we seldom account for the time music teachers spend outside of the classroom, and it can be easy to underestimate the amount of planning it takes to successfully run a non-profit music education organization like HYS.

“The Programs Director role is essential to ensuring the seamless execution of our mission in the service of nurturing young musicians statewide,” said HYS President Randy Wong. “We are incredibly fortunate to have Hannah Watanabe on the HYS team as she not only brings considerable expertise, talent, and leadership to our work, but also tremendous heart and integrity.”

Hannah Watanabe conducting Beginning String Ensemble

What kind of work do music program administrators do? Hannah leads everything from handling registration, to planning the season for each ensemble, to organizing concerts and events, communicating with our staff, parents, volunteers, and community partners, and more. 

As Hannah humbly puts it, “my job is to ensure things run as smoothly as possible so our students can learn and grow in their ensembles and our teachers and conductors can do their job without needing to worry about too many other things.”

But part of our goal at Hawaii Youth Symphony is to provide students with formative, unforgettable experiences, like traveling to other islands to play for the community, playing side-by-side with professional musicians and local legends, mentoring and inspiring younger students, collaborating with peers across oceans, and more. As you can imagine, coordinating these special partnerships and experiences for our youth, in addition to our day-to-day rehearsals and activities, takes tremendous skill.

Hannah Watanabe with Erica Mau-Schank, Randy Wong, and Brent Ramos at the 2024 YSI Maui Tour

“From our HYS families to our partners, feedback I always receive is how organized and seamless our programs run,” comments HYS Board Chair, Erica Mau-Schank. “Having well-run programs is a big reason HYS is a successful organization in our community! We are so fortunate to have behind-the-scenes champions like Hannah who devote their talents and passions to making HYS the best it can be.”

Q & A with Hannah!

Why did you choose to pursue a career in music?
I choose to pursue a career in music education because I believe that, through learning music and playing an instrument, you can learn a lot about yourself, others, and how to navigate life. It’s hard to explain the impact music can have on a child, but I’ve seen music and being in an ensemble change students’ lives for the better. 

What do you like about working in the nonprofit space?
I enjoy working for a nonprofit like HYS because of the impact nonprofits can have on the community and the children who live in them. I see nonprofits as organizations who look at the needs in a community and help to meet those needs. They are an important part of society and do things that private for-profit and government organizations often can’t. 

Why do you love conducting?

I love conducting because I like to see the growth in the ensemble and as a conductor, you have the best seat in the house at the concert! I get to see students making music up close and watch them grow each week from not being able to play the music very well to the performance where they hopefully are now able to not only play the music but play it with passion. I get to see that progress and help students grow.

What advice do you have for your students?
My advice to students is to not be afraid to make mistakes and not give up when something gets difficult. Making mistakes is a part of life, and we all make them. Learning from the mistakes is the important part and being able to persevere, have some grit, and patience with yourself will help you be successful in life. Being part of a musical ensemble and learning an instrument teaches you these skills that you can use no matter what you decide to do in life.

Mahalo Hannah!

Our organization is grateful to have staff members like Hannah who are so dedicated to our youth and passionate about what they do. You can meet more of our team of faculty and staff on our website at 

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