Hawaii Youth Symphony

Why Make Music A Right?

Back in 1964, we recognized a need for better music education for our islands’ youth. When our founders grew up in Hawaiʻi, many of them didn’t have a band or orchestra program at their school at all. For those that were able to learn orchestral music outside of school, a world of opportunities opened up. That’s why we made it our vision to give every child access to a quality music education!

Music Education in Hawaiʻi’s Schools


What’s the trouble with music education in Hawaiʻi? In short, there are large gaps in access across the state. Out of over 200 public schools in the State of Hawaiʻi, less than 5% offer comprehensive music programs! 

Why? Arts education in Hawaiʻi schools requires both administrative support and adequate funding. Program funding allocation is decided by individual school administrators, so the availability and quality of art & music programs vary greatly by school.

Instrumental music is particularly difficult to implement in low-income communities and less-populated islands. Class time and funding are often allocated to core subjects instead.

Under Hawaiʻi law, all youth attending public school have to attend the school in the geographic area where they live. In areas where the local school has no music program, parents have to request a geographic exception and travel far from home if they want their child to take music classes.

Nonprofits Bridge the Gap!

Ukulele Class

Positive change is happening! The good news is that due to a change in federal education law, the number of schools in Hawaiʻi with robust music programs is growing. In the meantime, much of the music education gap is filled by non-profit organizations. 

What’s the law? Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, which was a huge win for music education in our schools! The law includes a stand-alone listing for music in the new definition of a “Well-Rounded Education.” This is a good start, but it is up to the individual states to make music a priority in schools. In Hawaiʻi, neither the words “music” nor “arts education” yet appear in the DOE’s Strategic Plan.

While changes are being implemented at the federal level, nonprofits are hard at work bringing arts to life in our islands. Nonprofit arts organizations in Hawai‘i generate $205.6 million in economic activity annually, which supports 5,968 jobs, and brings so much joy to our community. Like many other organizations, our mission is guided by the understanding that exposure to music and the arts creates well-rounded individuals.

How does HYS Make an Impact? 

Hawaii Youth Symphony is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides music education programs for children of all levels. We are Hawaiʻi’s only statewide music education organization, and are proud to bring music to areas with limited access.

From 2020-2022 we provided quality programming to 990 students from 68 different schools. All of our students benefit from our affordable programs, and we provided an additional $50,000 in financial aid to families in need of assistance. 

What kind of music programs do we offer? Currently, we partner with three Boys & Girls Club of Hawaiʻi locations on our Music in the Clubhouse programs, which are low-cost introductory music classes. Our Academy String and Symphony programs provide an affordable pathway of musical growth, all the way up to the highest level. We also have jazz band programs for students who are interested in instruments like keyboard, drum set, and guitar. You can find more information about our programs at

Making Music is a Right, Not a Privilege

Symphony Students

Our Mission is to help youth develop to their fullest potential through orchestral music, in the setting of our Islands’ unique culture. Our Vision is that making music is a right, not a privilege. Our Dream is that one day music education will be accessible to all. 

Our low-cost programs and student financial aid fund are made possible by many generous supporters. If you would like to help us provide a child with a quality music education, you can support us by donating to the HYS Annual Fund. Thanks for reading!

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