Hawaii Youth Symphony

Our Journey to Making Music a Right for our Keiki

Wow! Can you believe itʻs been five years? In 2018, our Hawaii Youth Symphony staff and board of directors came together to create a five year plan. This strategic planning process is crucial in shaping the future of our nonprofit organization. Now that it’s time to set our goals for the next five years, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the goals we set for ourselves five years ago and share our progress with our community.

Our five year goals

In the past five years, our major goals fell into 4 categories: access, achievement, talent, and free concerts. Here’s the short version of our priorities and how we strive to achieve them: 


We strive to break down financial and geographic access barriers. HYS actively fundraises, engages donors, makes strategic partnerships, and applies for grants in order to be able to provide musical opportunities for more students.

Our focus on inclusion allows us to award over $100K in financial aid and tuition subsidy each year. All HYS students pay less than a third of the total cost to participate!


At HYS, we believe that every child can achieve in music, regardless of their background or prior experience. To encourage our students to reach their full potential, HYS offers beginning to advanced programs across a range of instruments, genres, and ages.


Hawaiʻi is a world-class destination for music and high-quality music education. We strive to create opportunities for students to learn and perform with talented artists.

Free Concerts

On average, HYS performs 50+ concerts each year; the majority of which are free. We love bringing free concerts to underserved areas and introducing young audiences to the magic of the symphony orchestra. In the last decade, over 100,000 children have attended our FREE in-person or virtual education concerts; the only ones of their kind in the state of Hawaiʻi. 

Access: New programming in the past five years!

Over the past five years, our organization has achieved significant milestones in line with our strategic goals. One of our major accomplishments was the successful expansion of our reach to underserved populations. Through partnerships with local schools, Boys & Girls Club of Hawaiʻi Clubhouses, and other nonprofit organizations, we were able to provide music education opportunities to a diverse range of keiki who may have limited access to such programs.

In 2019, we created HYS Jazz, which opened access to instruments that Hawaii Youth Symphony previously didn’t offer programming for, such as saxophone, piano, guitar, and more. The program is a fun opportunity for students to dive deeper into music by exploring a different genre of music and learning to improvise. Each year, we’ve continued to expand our jazz program. We now have beginning, intermediate, and advanced jazz groups!

We also expanded our Music in the Clubhouse and Academy String programs to create more introductory music opportunities for beginning music students in different geographic areas. We made new partnerships with Le Jardin Academy and BGCH Windward to serve windward Oʻahu students with after school violin classes, and also formed a new partnership with Pālolo Elementary School to serve their students with an after school bucket drumming program. 

Access Beyond Oʻahu

In addition to expanding access to music classes across Oʻahu, we have created opportunities for students to meet other young musicians from across the islands and beyond.

We also developed a relationship with the Molokaʻi Instrumental Music Education program, bringing workshops, mentors, and free concert performances to Molokaʻi. We are also proud to provide travel assistance for neighbor island students from Maui, Molokaʻi, Kauaʻi, and Hawaiʻi Island to come to Oʻahu and participate in music programs. 

Talent & Free Concerts: Pacific Music Institute summer camp

Each July, we host our Pacific Music Institute (PMI) summer camp, a place for students from across the state, the continental U.S., and the Pacific Rim to come together and improve their musicianship. The camp experience is inclusive to students of all levels, with beginning students going from basic strumming to performing a recognizable song in our Beginning ʻUkulele Workshop, and advanced students learning challenging pieces from celebrated artist faculty.

What makes PMI special is definitely the talent! We’re talking about BOTH our students and faculty. We invite the best of Hawaiʻi’s local musicians and music teachers, as well as teachers from renowned institutions like The Juilliard School, and University of the Pacific, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to join us for a week in Honolulu and share their knowledge with our students. Each year, we’re blown away by how much our students can achieve in just one week, and how engaged they are with music.

In 2019, we made PMI even more impactful by partnering with the National Orchestral Institute+Festival (NOI+F) to create the Orchestral Learning Alliance (OLA). Through this program, NOI+F brings incredible conductors and teaching fellows to our music intensive each summer. In addition to mentoring our students, the OLA faculty also travel across the state of Hawaiʻi to give free concerts and share their talents with our community. At PMI 2023, our string quartet students and teaching fellows had the opportunity to perform for our kūpuna at senior centers in Oʻahu and Molokaʻi!

Achievement & Talent: Building up our young musicians

Achievement definitely doesn’t always mean winning awards, but we would like to recognize our students for their incredible musical accomplishments. Our mission is to develop youth to their fullest potential through music. This means providing them with a pathway for growth! 

Many of our Symphony Program students have won music competitions, and some of our students have gotten incredible performance opportunities.

In 2021, the Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra (HSO), hosted their first Nā Hōkū ‘Ōpio “Young Stars” competition. High School seniors who are selected as winners of the annual competition have the opportunity to play solo repertoire with the Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra during their summer concert series at the Waikiki Shell. Over the past 3 years, nearly all of the Young Stars winners have participated in an HYS program, including Symphony, Jazz, and our Pacific Music Institute summer intensive!

In addition to the HSO, our young musicians have had the opportunity to play with local musical heroes like Jake Shimabukuro, Raiatea Helm, Amy Hānaialiʻi, Iggy Jang, Ginny Tiu, Noel Okimoto, Bryan Tolentino, Allen Won, and Kathleen Stuart. Many students have also performed professionally in the Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra, Maui Chamber Orchestra, University of Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra by Carnegie Hall, and Hawaii Chamber Music Festival, among others!

We’re proud that Hawaii Youth Symphony could be part of their music education journey, and can’t wait to see where music takes them in the future.

Non-programmatic strategic initiatives

While new programming is exciting, so is the behind the scenes work that goes into expanding the reach and impact of our programming for our keiki. For example, during the past five years, we also started purposeful PR and marketing efforts. The more people know about HYS, the more kids we can serve, and the more impactful opportunities we can provide for our students!

Hawaii Youth Symphony has appeared in some of our favorite local publications, such as being featured alongside Hawaii Ballet and Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus in Hawaii Parent magazine, and being featured several times in MidWeek Hawaii and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser

HYS even made an appearance in national thought leadership publications, like the League of American Orchestras’ Symphony Magazine, and our student performances aired on TV through our partnerships with ‘Ōlelo Community Media and on Hawaii News Now.

Creative solutions during COVID-19

Of course, when these 5-year goals were created in 2018, a global pandemic that shut down schools and educational institutions wasn’t part of the plan! In 2020, our team got to work to figure out how we could adapt our programming to continue to meet our goals within the constraints of stay home orders, capacity limitations, and mask mandates.

We were determined to continue providing music to our youth, even if it had to be virtually. To make this happen, we created HYS+, a virtual symphony program that rehearsed via Zoom and still allowed our students to connect with their peers and continue their musical progress. We also created a hybrid Pacific Music Institute summer program that included virtual masterclasses taught by celebrated musicians of all kinds! 

To continue our free community concert initiatives, we safely filmed and edited together our students’ clips and broadcasted our performances on local television and radio stations. We also made these concerts accessible to our community by making them available for streaming anytime on our Virtual Concerts page.

Our largest pandemic shift was that of our annual fundraiser, He Makana O Nā Mele: The Gift of Music. Previously held as an in-person gala, Nā Mele became a televised event aired on Hawaii News Now channels. We are so grateful to have now produced three televised Nā Mele programs, each able to feature more of our students and more of our story, and grow the reach of our organization to hundreds of thousands across the state and beyond. Mahalo nui loa to all of our partners for making this possible!

Innovation at Hawaii Youth Symphony

We were thrilled to wrap up our 2022-23 season by earning the top recognition in the Social Good category of Fast Company’s Best Workplaces for Innovators 2023. Fast Company said of HYS:

“The Hawaii Youth Symphony invested a significant portion of its operating budget to pilot programs in underserved communities, including Nanakuli and Molokai. The statewide music education organization provides financial aid and opportunities for students to attend the Pacific Music Institute, established a Middle School Honor Band focused on accessibility and diversity, and partnered with organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, Goodwill Hawaii, and the National Orchestral Institute to expand reach. Through these diverse educational programs and its Make Music a Right initiative, HYS is creating an inclusive community for innovation where music is the common language.”

We definitely owe it to the guidance of our board members and entire team! We’re so glad their willingness to adapt and create innovative programming that improves our community was recognized.

Carrying our momentum into 2024 and beyond!

Our team has been hard at work on our next five-year plan! We’re excited to finally share it with our community. Stay tuned for our next blog, where weʻll dive into our goals for the next five years, starting with the 2023-24 season!

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