Hawaii Youth Symphony

Making Music More Accessible: How We Give Back

At Hawaii Youth Symphony, we believe that everyone should have access to the power of music. That’s why we take an active role in making music more accessible to the community. From hosting community concerts to providing free tickets for our students to see professional musicians in concert, we strive to create impactful musical experiences for all.

2019 Community Concert, Windward Mall

Why Are We Committed to Bridging Communities Through Music?

Our commitment is to provide a variety of musical experiences that enrich the lives of youth across Hawaiʻi. Why is this so important? The state of Hawaiʻi is unique in that… you can’t drive across it! Our towns are separated by both oceans and mountains, creating a vast discrepancy in the experiences that are available to kids in different communities across the islands. We understand that geographical or financial barriers can make it difficult for some families to access traditional music opportunities. That’s why we are dedicated to providing alternative solutions that bridge these gaps and create more inclusive experiences.

HYS students traveling from Kauaʻi

Our programs allow youth from different schools and backgrounds across the state to learn with and from each other, creating lasting friendships. It’s so beautiful to hear students say year after year that meeting new friends from different schools is their favorite thing about being in HYS!

“Being a part of HYS gave me the opportunity to meet many musically gifted students with whom I was able to share the joy of music over the years… I will never forget the memories I made in HYS and will look back at it as a wonderful time spent with wonderful people,” said HYS Class of 2022 alumnus Ethan Ibanez.

Aside from building this inclusive environment into the design of our programs themselves, we also take every opportunity we can to give back to our community, including neighbor island outreach and special events!

Neighbor Island Outreach

Maui Community Service Tour 2019, Maui Arts & Cultural Center

Our neighbor island initiatives are aimed at inspiring keiki to start their music education journey, and giving music students access to resources like great teachers, performance opportunities, and a chance to play with a full symphony orchestra. Being involved in a youth symphony can create lifelong opportunities!

We break down geographical and socioeconomic barriers by collaborating with local music programs and providing financial aid and travel assistance to Oʻahu for our symphony program and our summer music camp, Pacific Music Institute

We’re proud to have students from Hawaiʻi Island, Maui, Kauaʻi, and Molokaʻi join us for our programming. Whether it’s bringing music teachers to after school programs, connecting music students to music programs, or utilizing online teaching tools like Zoom, we work closely with partner organizations and individual families to open up more opportunities. 

Here’s a closer look at some of our community outreach initiatives:

Partnering with the Moloka‘i Instrumental Music Education Program

Just a 30-minute flight away from the bustling city of Honolulu are six islands without cities of similar scale. Molokaʻi is one of our closest neighbors, and also one of the least populated islands in Hawaiʻi. There are just 588 households with children, and the median household income sits at $43,063 per year [2020 census]. It’s important to us that children in these communities have access to a quality music education.

Hawaii Youth Symphony partners with the Moloka‘i Instrumental Music Education Program (MIME), a local organization founded by former elementary school teacher Bob Underwood, to provide additional opportunities for Molokaʻi’s youth.

Randy Wong, Bob Underwood, Richard Scerbo, and teaching fellows with MIME students

“The partnership with MIME and HYS started five or six years ago, and we have benefited in so many ways. We have been connected to that next level of teaching, and HYS has been wonderful with providing access to music, and providing our Molokaʻi students with opportunities so that they can travel over to Oʻahu and participate in programs like the Pacific Music Institute,” explains Bob Underwood.

The MIME program started as an after school activity that has since grown from a K-12 program to one that reaches players of all ages, including the parents of students and younger kids.

Richard Scerbo, Daniel Scoggins, Jordan Watt, and Randy Wong, Molokaʻi

Over the summer, Hawaii Youth Symphony president Randy Wong traveled to Molokaʻi’s Kaunakakai Elementary School with NOI+F director Richard Scerbo and two guest instructors from the National Orchestral Institute to hold a string workshop with the MIME students, and also play a free one-hour public community concert at Saint Damien Catholic Church. Keep reading to meet our talented guest faculty!

Partnering with the National Orchestral Institute + Festival

We partnered with the National Orchestral Institute + Festival to create the Orchestral Learning Alliance (OLA). The initiative broadens local students’ horizons by bringing inspiring faculty from the mainland to Hawaiʻi for our summer music camp.

OLA Teaching Fellow Jordan Watt mentoring Molokaʻi student

“The acronym OLA is also the Hawaiian word for “life” and for members of HYS and NOI+F, music is life as we all share a common bond that helps bring people together,” said Randy Wong, President of Hawaii Youth Symphony and NOI+F alumnus.

2022 OLA teaching fellows Daniel Scoggins and Jordan Watt are young professional musicians who took time away from their careers to visit from the mainland and coach students in both  Oʻahu and Molokaʻi as Pacific Music Institute teaching fellows! Let’s meet them:

Daniel Scoggins, Cellist

Daniel Scoggins is a cellist who currently works as a teaching artist with Bronx Arts Ensembles in New York City. He takes group and private lessons to public and charter schools who don’t have the funds for their own music programs in the city. 

What does music mean to you? 

“Music to me is putting yourself aside and engaging deeply with the art and then learning something new about yourself through that. When you’re able to do that with other people in orchestra or in chamber music something really special happens.”

Why should all children have access to music education?

“All children should have access to music education because skills that you learn by playing music and by learning how to play your instrument better are transferable to every other aspect of life. When I was in high school, the thing that music really taught me was to learn how to learn. That helped me be a better writer, it helped me be better in math class, it helped me do better in science projects, and helped me be a better athlete because I had to learn how to work with other people… So even if it’s not worth it just for the experience of playing the music, it’s worth it because it will make you a more complete human.”

Jordan Watt, Violist

Jordan Watt is a violist originally from Atlanta, Georgia. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music as a recipient of the Cincinnatus Presidential Scholarship. Next year, he will be attending the Juilliard School for his Master’s degree.

How has teaching at PMI been different from other experiences?

“The positive vibes across the faculty and the students really make it for me. The kids are all very excited to be here. It’s been great working with students who are more than willing to adapt and take in all the information that you give them… I really love being able to influence the next generation!”

What does music mean to you?

“Music to me is about expressing the emotions I have to the audience and sharing with them how passionate I feel about what I am playing…hopefully we can all communally enjoy what a privilege it is to be able to play an instrument.”

Inspiring Youth through Concerts

Hawaii Youth Symphony has a rich history of community outreach. One of the most important ways we can spread the message that music education changes kids’ lives is through concerts! Our Symphony program students have participated many years in the MusicAlive Community Service Tour, which has been offered since the 1980s! By traveling together to play concerts in Hawaiʻi Island, Maui, Kauaʻi, and other neighboring islands, our students have the opportunity to give back through music and inspire students in these communities to get involved with instrumental music.

2019 and 2017 MusicAlive tour program books

In addition to bringing free concerts to underserved communities and inspiring school-aged youth to start learning an instrument, through these visits, HYS is also able to share the ways that any student can become involved in HYS, regardless of geographic location. 

Another of our annual community traditions is our Listen and Learn concert held at the Blaisdell Concert Hall (and held virtually throughout the COVID-19 pandemic!). This is a live orchestral concert for youth by youth that is open only to Hawaiʻi schools. The event is Hawaii State Department of Education-endorsed and available to public, private, and homeschool students. During the concert, our Symphony program students perform interactive demonstrations and songs that allow younger kids to learn basic concert etiquette, see and hear all instruments of the orchestra, listen to classical and popular music, and participate in sing-alongs.

Listen and Learn 2019, Blaisdell Concert Hall

“HYS has been an inspirational learning experience for me. It has also opened my eyes to the impact that music can have on the community, especially through the “Listen and Learn” performances which spark elementary students’ interest and excitement to start learning instruments themselves,” reflects YSI alumnus Aaron Omon.

We are also grateful to our supporters, who make it possible for us to offer our students free tickets to attend Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra’s incredible concerts and other local music events. For example, over a hundred HYS students, parents, volunteers, and staff were able to attend Yo-Yo Ma’s 2022 concert at the Waikiki Shell, including two students from Molokaʻi, whose trip to Honolulu was covered by travel assistance!

Molokaʻi students with Yo-Yo Ma

One thing we’ve heard over and over again is that Hawaii Youth Symphony students are so engaged with music. We really seek to develop a space where young musicians can explore their passions and express themselves. Music education has the most profound impact on youth when the passion comes from them, and that’s why it is so important for us to inspire the kids!

We Love Our Hawaiʻi Community!

The long and short of it is: we love our Hawaiʻi community, and we love music. HYS welcomes youth ages 7-18 from all islands and beyond. Interested youth of all levels, and nearly every instrument, have a home in our programs. You can learn more about our community impact and check out our musical resources page for local opportunities and more!

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