Hawaii Youth Symphony

What does a year at HYS look like?

Our nonprofit organization works to provide music education to the youth of Hawai‘i. We have been doing this for nearly 60 years, and every year is full of exciting events, programs, and performances. This past year was our biggest yet since the pandemic, and we’re so grateful! We were able to reinstate many of our favorite traditions, create new programs to serve more of our community, and provide special opportunities for our keiki.

Reflecting at the end of the season is an opportunity to celebrate the wonderful things that happened this year, and plan for the future! Our goal is simple: to ignite a love of music in young people and to bring joy and educational opportunities to our community. We hope you enjoy this closer look at our 2022-2023 season. 

We performed 15 concerts this year!

HYS operates year round, which makes for an exciting lineup of concerts! The 2022-2023 season started with the 2022 summer programs. Five concerts were held during Pacific Music Institute 2022, including the Faculty and Friends Concert and four student concerts. Our Summer Strings and Super Strings keiki also performed for family and friends at the end of their month-long summer programs!

Our fall semester started in September, culminating in the Winter Concert series and our annual Nā Mele fundraising concert. This year marked our third televised He Makana O Nā Mele program, replacing our in-person fundraising gala. While groups of students recorded their Nā Mele performances socially distanced in small groups for Nā Mele 2020 and 2021, the 2022 performances were recorded as a full ensemble at several of Oʻahu’s iconic locations.

Providing performance opportunities for younger students

Following our spring semester, we were proud to present our Spring Concert series, which included performances from our Symphony, Academy String, Clubhouse, and Jazz programs, as well as the first Aloha Concert Luncheon since 2019!

2023 is the first year in HYS history that our Music in the Clubhouse students all had the opportunity to perform on stage in both the Winter and Spring concerts. These introductory classes for elementary students are in collaboration with the Boys & Girls Club of Hawaii. It’s so wonderful to watch their performances knowing that, for many of them, this after-school class was their first time learning instrumental music, and they’re already able to perform recognizable songs on stage!

Celebrating our senior class and collaborating with special guests

The 2023 Aloha Concert Luncheon took place in May at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center Ballroom. Following lunch service, Youth Symphony II performed Franz von Suppé’s “Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna,” “Two Songs from the League of Legends,” and “Selections from The Phantom of the Opera.” Youth Symphony I performed three songs with Kāneʻohe-born special guest singer, Kathleen Stuart, as well as Hector Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival Overture” and Giuseppe Verdi’s “I Vespri Siciliani Overture.”

Kathleen is now based in New York City, where she performs weekly with her jazz trio in addition to touring nationally as an off-broadway singer. She reflects on collaborating with YSI: 

“The talent and work ethic I witnessed was impressive, and in the times I got to talk story with several students, their bubbliness and generosity of spirit was clear. Even though everyone is very serious about what they are doing there is a lightness — and laughs and hugs throughout! HYS truly provides an environment that brings out the best in young performers.”

A Senior Aloha Ceremony followed the performances, including a lei ceremony and send off performance of Aloha ‘Oe. It was such a fun day for our Symphony students, and a real testament to all they’ve accomplished over the past 4 years. 

It was exciting to be able to begin to restart in-person music during the 2021-2022 season, but in 2022-2023, we were able to do so much more! Mahalo to everyone who made music with us and helped create special opportunities for our youth.

Debuting new compositions…

One of the most exciting parts of our season was all the new music we were able to play! We started a year of amazing collaborations off by working with HYS alumnus and composer, Michael-Thomas Foumai.

Foumai’s arrangements of “Over the Rainbow” and “ʻAhulili” for our Nā Mele 2022 concert brought together so many sounds. Our advanced jazz and symphony ensembles worked together with vocalist Raiatea Helm to bring these new compositions to life! 

… and supporting diversity, inclusion, and young composers in the process!

As part of the Winter 2022 Concert series, the Academy String Program’s Intermediate String Ensemble (ISE) had the opportunity to perform the world premier of “We Can Sing,” a newly commissioned piece composed by Nicholas Felder from the University of Michigan.

This was made possible by HYS’ collaboration with the National Orchestral Institute+Festival’s K-12 New Music Project grant, which is funded by the League of American Orchestras’ Futures Fund. The goal of the K-12 New Music Project is to diversify the pool of composers who write for young players by commissioning works by historically excluded composers. “We Can Sing” was composed specifically for elementary school orchestras by a BIPOC composer!

NOI+F director Richard Scerbo, who travels to Honolulu each summer to conduct HYS’s Pacific Music Institute OLA Symphony Orchestra, explains the importance of the initiative: “The National Orchestral Institute + Festival has pledged to amplify creative voices that have been unfairly silenced in the orchestral ecosystem due to systemic racism.” 

Playing works by living composers also opens up opportunities for students to work directly with the composers, learn about their creative process, and meet amazing role models. It reinforces that symphonic music isn’t about recreating scores composed centuries ago, but about expressing our passion and continuing to push the musical world forward. 

By collaborating with organizations that are doing important work to promote diversity and inclusion in the arts, Hawaii Youth Symphony is helping to create a more equitable and just world for all artists and audiences. 

Working with Mr. Felder was so inspiring that Intermediate String Ensemble student, Ian Taira, composed his own piece, titled “Medieval Battlefield: Intro to Spring.” ISE performed his original composition during the Academy and Clubhouse Spring Concert at Kaimukī High School Auditorium. Ian was recognized and presented with a lei following the performance. Mahalo to our wonderful faculty who helped make this possible!

We created a new entry-level music program

2022-2023 was the debut year of our brand new Pālolo Pākeke Ensemble, an after school bucket drumming class led by percussionist Chris Cabrera. Pākeke means bucket in Hawaiian, and the program is a new partnership with Pālolo Elementary School. Through this introductory class, students learn the basics of rhythm and musicality. The class is fun and approachable, giving students a positive experience learning music and setting them up to learn whatever instrument is next in their journey! You can learn more about our new bucket drumming programming here!

Bringing more beginning music programs to our communities is a key part of our mission. We’re excited to continue to partner with schools and community organizations across the state to help all keiki have access to programs like these. 

We upgraded our office space and welcomed new members to our admin team!

Our administrative team is small but mighty! During the 2022-2023 year, we moved from our  home base in the Varsity building into a bigger office space. The best part of the new Hawaii Youth Symphony office on King street is an expanded music library and instrument storage space. This new space allows us to provide more free access to instruments, and an even more amazing repertoire of music to our students.

We also welcomed several new team members this year! Development Coordinator Cyrinthia Decker joined team HYS in January. She said working at HYS has been incredibly special to her. “I am constantly seeing music impact Hawai‘i’s youth by giving them new artistic experiences while also staying in touch with island culture,” Cyrinthia reflects, “my favorite moment is seeing a smile on everyone’s face at each HYS concert and sharing in the joy of music.” 

Mahalo to everyone who made our 2022-2023 season so wonderful!

“On behalf of all of us at Hawaii Youth Symphony, a big THANK YOU to all who have supported us this year. It is an honor to be part of a community that helps young people develop to their fullest potential through music,” says our president, Randy Wong. We can’t wait to continue the momentum into the 2023-2024 year.

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