Saved by Music

Henry Miyamura grew up in a tough neighborhood, but playing the clarinet opened doors to another life.

Friday - September 26, 2008

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Maestro Miyamura expects great things from his young musicians, and they produce it

If he hadn’t been introduced to the clarinet in the seventh grade, Henry Miyamura would have had a very different life. Now he is working with the Boys and Girls Club to turn Hawaii kids on to the power of music

Henry Miyamura grew up on the rough streets of 1940s Kalihi-Palama. He remembers it as a place where you wouldn’t walk down the street after 9 at night. Where guns were secretly shown off among young kids.Where there were card games and gambling and the occasional raid when people would be jumping out of second-floor windows.

It was the clarinet that took Miyamura away from all of that. He discovered music when he was in the seventh grade and it led him down a path that has made him one of the most influential people in Hawaii’s music scene.

For nigh on half a century, Miyamura has introduced thousands of Hawaii children to his world of music. As a teacher, he remains mindful of the wonderful things that music can bring to a person’s life. It’s because of this that he and other leaders at the Hawaii Youth Symphony jumped at the chance for a new venture with the Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii.


This month, HYS launched two free classes at the Boys & Girls Spalding Clubhouse in McCully - bringing violins and recorders and trombones into the hands of children who may have never touched them before.

“Our partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Hawaii fulfills our mission by reaching out to more youths, many of whom have never played an instrument in their entire lives, don’t know how to read music or may come from disadvantaged circumstances,” Miyamura says. “Our goal is to expose these children to the endless benefits of music.”

A pilot program last year was greeted with much enthusiasm, says clubhouse director Michelle Morihara.

“At the recital after, I think, it was a brief six weeks, they played Hot Cross Buns on the recorder and they were just beaming from ear to ear,” she says.“And they just wanted to know when it was going to start up again.”

The program fits the mission of the Boys & Girls Club perfectly, says operations director Melissa Trew.

“Arts is one of the core Boys and Girls Club programs here, and being able to offer such a quality program from the symphony is just an incredible opportunity,“she says. “It really is premier talent and we want to be able to provide that chance for kids who might not feel comfortable in a school setting or might not have that exposure at home to get into music.”

Working with Ethan Cardenas-Tseu, 12, at the Boys and Girls Club

Twelve-year-old Ethan Cardenas-Tseu didn’t hesitate to join the program. He’s already well immersed in music, which is, perhaps, an under-statement: He plays the violin, viola, cello, flute and trombone. But he wants to learn more - and that gets expensive when you have to pay for instruments and private lessons, he explains. So the program is a great way for him to learn more, more, more.

“I intend to go into musicology,which requires you to know how to play every instrument,“says this young musician with the shock of red hair. “I just want to be a great musician when I grow up.”

Ethan also aspires to join one of HYS’s top symphonies, so the clubhouse program is great exposure for him.

These are the kind of aspirations that Miyamura can relate to himself. His own opportunity arrived when he was in seventh grade at Central Intermediate.

“I couldn’t stand art class, so I just transferred into music,“he says. He chose to learn the clarinet simply because he loved the sound. Initially his mom resisted his decision because of his health. As a young child, Miyamura suffered from grand mal seizures. But when his doctor told his mom that blowing the clarinet might actually help him build strength, she agreed.


In the 1950s, Miyamura joined the youth symphony. But while he practiced with them, he never got to perform because he couldn’t afford the jacket. The only jacket in the house was his dad’s - and it was black.

“At that time black was for funerals,“Miyamura says.“I was ashamed to wear black, so I didn’t play in the concerts and I just dropped out.”

These days, it’s the norm for the youth symphony to wear black - Miyamura jokes that it makes the orchestra sound better - and HYS keeps a loaner wardrobe of black tuxes for those Henrys who don’t have their own.

Luckily, the lack of a light-colored coat didn’t put an end to Miyamura’s aspirations. He kept playing in the McKinley school band, then went on to earn a bachelor’s of music and a performer’s certificate from the Eastman School of Music, and then a master’s in music from Western Washington University.

When he came home to the Islands, Miyamura became band director at his alma mater, where he stayed for 14 years. His accomplishments and awards have stacked up over the years. He was principal clarinetist with the Honolulu Symphony, and a member in the Eastman Wind Ensemble, the Hillel Chamber Concert Orchestra and the Rochester Philharmonic.

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