Let’s Put Music Back In Schools

Don Chapman
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March 14, 2007
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I’ve been thinking lately about the dearth of music programs in our public schools, and talking with a variety of people about what might be done to create a non-profit organization that would encourage and support school music programs.

A press release I received last Thursday was the kick in the head I needed to mention it in this space:

The eight winners of the Honolulu Symphony’s competition for young musicians represent just three private schools - and six of them attend Punahou.

Congratulations to each of them - they, their parents, peers and teachers should be proud.

But still ... not one public school kid!

One of the sad truths about our public schools is that they largely deprive children of both the immediate and lifelong benefits of musical education.

Repeated studies have shown that young people who study music do better in core academic subjects, and the earlier they’re exposed to music the better. And playing well and performing also build self-esteem - the real kind that is based on actually accomplishing something.

Yes, there are the Pearl City High and Roosevelt High bands, which have marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving and Rose Bowl parades, and the musical theater program at Castle High, which has sent grads on to Broadway.

But those gleaming examples are exceptions. All of our students deserve such opportunities.

My own experience - forced, and initially mortified, to take orchestra in the seventh grade because art and band classes were filled - opened the wonderful world of classical music, which has given me countless hours of pleasure. Playing string bass in orchestra - even making all-city orchestra in Salem, Ore., although that’s kind of like being on the all-Honolulu toboggan team - led to playing in a jazz quartet, and later to a bass guitar in rock bands, and a lifetime of enjoying music of all kinds from country to opera.

Talking about this subject over a recent lunch with my friend Dr. Mark Stitham, he shared a great quote from Voltaire:

“A life without music would be a mistake.”

I also spoke with Johnny Kai of the Music Foundation of Hawaii, which contributes funds to the state Department of Education. As a professional musician, be believes school music programs would provide a career path for local students who could earn music scholarships to college and grow up to earn a living playing music, whether in Waikiki or in the symphony or Royal Hawaiian Band, or beyond our shores. He is also convinced that a study needs to be done that would prove to legislators the economic benefits of music in Hawaii, which he believes runs into the multi-millions of dollars.

As Johnny says, “Music is one of the reasons people come to Hawaii.”

My ideas are admittedly still rough, but I believe that if our legislators will not better support music education - and a bill this year would make the decision on music or no music up to individual school principals, whose needs are great and budgets are tight - then concerned citizens, parents and community and business leaders need to step up. For starters, I’ve discovered a couple of national foundations that provide a framework for organization.

Music is just too important to deny it to children whose parents can’t afford to send them to private schools.

If you’re interested in working to form such an organization, please e-mail me at:

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

three star

And if you’d like to see how wonderfully children can play, those eight contest winners - ranging from age 10 to 18 - perform in concert Saturday evening at the Blaisdell Concert Hall, with Henry Miyamura conducting.

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