Hawaii Youth Symphony

Tradition meets Innovation: Highlights from the 2023 Season

The 2023 season for Hawaii Youth Symphony was one to remember. After slowly returning to in-person rehearsals, concerts, and activities in 2021 and 2022, we jumped into 2023 determined to fully bring back long-standing traditions while also introducing exciting new programs. From the return of beloved concerts to the launch of innovative initiatives, the season was a perfect blend of tradition and innovation. Here’s a quick look at some of our most exciting moments this year. 

January 2023- New after-school music class

In January, Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra percussionist Christopher Cabrera began teaching our Music4Kids general music class at the Boys & Girls Club of Hawaii Spalding Clubhouse, and was inspired to start another bucket drumming class at Pālolo Elementary School! This free after-school class is a really fun and accessible way for elementary students to learn the basics of music and be inspired to continue to pursue it. Creating accessible programming is one of our biggest priorities, and we’ve loved seeing this class grow this year. Learn more about Music4Kids and Pālolo Pākeke Ensemble on our website!

May 2023- First Aloha Concert Luncheon since 2019

In May, we were excited for the return of one of our most cherished traditions. The Aloha Concert Luncheon is an annual event featuring our top orchestras and celebrating our graduating seniors. At the end of the concert and luncheon, we hold a special senior recognition ceremony and bid aloha to our new alumni as they graduate high school and move on to the next phase of their lives. It was such a fun event, and students had the opportunity to play several showtunes and fun pieces with Kāneʻohe-born off-broadway and jazz singer, Kathleen Stuart. We love working with local talent! Learn more about Kathleen Stuart and meet our 2023 grads by reading the ACL Concert Program.

July 2023- Pacific Music Institute returns to McKinley High School

Pacific Music Institute by Hawaii Youth Symphony has a long history of being held at McKinley High School each July. In 2021 and 2022, we were grateful to hold our week-long summer music camp at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center, where students and faculty practiced together safely with appropriate face coverings and distancing. At PMI 2023, the energy was high as we returned to our home base and saw so many smiling faces fill McKinley’s gorgeous auditorium, music rooms, and classrooms with music. It was great to be back at Hawaiʻi’s most historic high school, and to perform our end-of-PMI showcase concerts on a real stage! You can learn more about PMI at!

July 2023- Hawaii Youth Symphony wins Best Workplaces for Innovators award

It is important to us to constantly be innovating in order to continue to meet the needs of the youth we serve. In July, we were shocked and honored to be recognized for innovation by Fast Company. Among incredible finalists like American Red Cross, CAA Foundation, and Genentech, Hawaii Youth Symphony was chosen as the winner in the Social Good category of their 2023 Best Workplaces for Innovators awards. Fast Company cites our pilot programs, focus on accessibility and diversity, and partnerships as reasons that HYS was chosen. Read what they had to say about us here!

September 2023- HYS Launches New Five-year Strategic Plan

Our incredible board of directors worked all year to analyze the needs of our community and create a strategic action plan to fuel our organization’s growth over the next five years. Our marketing team helped us highlight the board’s work and announce the new strategic goals to our community, and in September we were thrilled to officially launch our 2023-2028 Strategic Plan. Read our blog Working Towards a Future Full of Music to learn more about the planning process, our mission, vision, values, and priorities for the future.

October 2023- Symphony Program Side-by-Side returns

Another amazing return to tradition came to life in October when our full Youth Symphony I ensemble played alongside the Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra at one of Hawaiʻi’s largest and most iconic venues, the Waikiki Shell Amphitheater. The Hawaii Youth Symphony and Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra Side-by-Side initiative has been part of our organization’s history for a long time, but has not been regularly scheduled into our programming. The first Side-by-Side was in 1977, and though many more were performed when possible over the years, they only began to be held annually during the 2012-13 season. Starting in 2023, we are endeavoring to hold TWO Side-by-Sides with the Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra each season for the very first time! 

November 2023- In-Person Nā Mele Gala returns

He Makana O Nā Mele, or The Gift of Music, is our annual fundraising gala. Each year, supporters and stakeholders gather to enjoy an evening of music, participate in our Silent Auction, and celebrate the joys of music education. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we produced three one-hour-long TV specials in lieu of holding our in-person galas in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Nā Mele 2023 was the first time we were able to gather together again in person at the spectacular Halekulani Hotel! Symphony, Academy, and HYS Jazz students serenaded a supportive crowd, and some even performed alongside the legendary Amy Hānaiali‘i, Hawaiʻi’s top selling female vocalist of all time. It was such a successful and joyous event, and we are so grateful to our sponsors, supporters, and team.

November 2023- First ever HYS Jazz Side-by-Side

Why leave all the Side-by-Side fun to the Symphony Program? In November, we debuted our first ever Jazz Side-by-Side! This collaboration between our Jazz I and Jazz II ensembles and ʻOhana Jazz was created in partnership with the Musiciansʻ Association of Hawaiʻi. ʻOhana Jazz Hawaii is a group of local jazz musicians who put on monthly performances at the Musicians Union. Created by HYS Jazz faculty member Noel Okimoto with the intent of creating a place to enjoy jazz in a family friendly atmosphere, ʻOhana Jazz showcases the best local jazz talent in Hawaiʻi. It was an amazing opportunity for our jazz students to play alongside huge names in Hawaiʻi’s jazz scene, and we’re already looking forward to the next one!

December 2023- First In-Person Listen & Learn Concerts since 2019

Listen & Learn concerts have been an HYS tradition for over 50 years. These educational concerts performed by our 3 most advanced orchestras are an opportunity to teach younger students about all the instruments and sections of the orchestra. Endorsed by the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education and attended by public, private, and homeschools all over the island, they are one of the most cherished HYS traditions to be a part of. Since 2020, our students have continued to perform these concerts virtually, but it was amazing to finally be able to fill an auditorium with keiki again! Our Symphony students will also be traveling to Maui for our first neighbor island Listen & Learn concerts since 2019 in February 2024. 

And so much more!

We highlighted some of the biggest events from the end of the 2022-23 season into the beginning of the 2023-24 season, but there is so much more to celebrate. We didn’t include our Winter or Spring Concerts, which included clubhouse programs and collaborations between programs for the first time, and we also take so much joy in the small moments and seeing our students improve over time.

We are so grateful to have such committed staff & faculty members, board of directors, volunteers, and families who made all of this possible. From the triumphant return of our favorite concerts and events like the Aloha Concert Luncheon, Side-by-Side concerts, Nā Mele gala, and Listen & Learn concerts, to all the work it takes to launch a new pilot program, mahalo for a great 2023 year. 

If you are compelled by the work our team accomplished in 2023, and want to support our efforts in 2024, please consider making a gift today.

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