In 2014, Niu Valley Middle School band director Zachary Morita decided to present students with a challenging opportunity.
His love for music and teaching his students inspired him to start a percussion performance group that would span multiple grade levels. The group became the Hawaii Youth Percussion Ensemble, or HYPE.
“I always hear about the mainland and all the percussion opportunities up there, but growing up here there weren’t many options. We’re the only percussion, performing group that works year round,” Morita said.
HYPE members include a dozen students from the 6th grade to 11th grade, from Niu Valley Middle School and Kaiser High School. Some of them are not in music or band classes but still love being able to participate in a performance group.
“We’re more of a family,” 7th grader Chelley Endo said. “We play together better as a team. We know how to help each other and make each other better.”
Because this is an extra curricular group, the students come in after school and weekends to prepare for concerts. However, Kaiser High School junior Emerson Goo said it is not the only reason HYPE has a different feel than regular classes or band.
“It’s really student driven,” Goo said. “I think in the end the students get a lot of it done. I think the students feel personally motivated.”
Why a percussion only group? Well as Morita puts it, it is about giving percussion musicians a chance to do something they wouldn’t normally get to do.
“Percussion is usually put in the back and they don’t get the chance to be featured. Here we give them the chance that say the violins would in the melody,” Morita said.
And, the work is not only paying off but it is getting noticed.
After a clinician from Texas worked with the group, she invited HYPE to audition to perform at the National Conference on Percussion Pedagogy (NCPP). The clinician is a member of the NCPP board. The board viewed a video of HYPE’s performance and invited them to attend the 2016 conference in San Antonio, TX, just before school let out.
HYPE had the honor of being the only group performing in the conference, which is usually reserved for college groups. This has members of the group a little nervous, but proud as well.
“Our behavior and our playing go into us representing our schools and Hawaii. So we have to be at our best,” Endo said.
The musicians performed in front of mostly music directors at the middle, high school and college levels. They also had the opportunity to be part of a question and answer panel at the conference.
“We have been prepping them with questions, potential questions, and mock panel sessions,” Morita said.
The performance time came and the students pulled off a sensational performance that earned praise from the conference attendees.
“What an inspiration it is to see such young well-behaved, mature players, particularly when so many of them have been playing only for six months or so! It is a testament to (Morita's) effort and teaching philosophy that this program is such a success,” University of Texas-San Antonio Percussion Professor Dr. Graeme Francis said.
“I’m so thrilled for (Morita) and the Hawaii Youth Percussion Ensemble. The ensemble performed fabulously and all the educators as well as industry folks at the conference were completely in awe and loved the performance as well as your presentation with the students speaking,” Texas Tech University Professor of Percussion Studios Dr. Lisa Rogers said.
Performance preparation has given HYPE members learning experiences that have given them a new sense of confidence to overcome challenges.
One member of HYPE has used the group and its music to overcome perceptions about the hearing impaired. Goo became deaf after an infection forced doctors to remove his cochlear implant.
Instead of balking at participating in music, Goo chose to follow the notes.
“I subscribe to the social model of disability that people with the disability aren’t themselves broken - they don’t need to be fixed,” Goo said. “It’s society, that needs to change. I think the biggest challenge has been able to get people to see that I can actually play music. I think that most people are surprised when I tell them I do play music. But to me it has never been as mind blowing as it is to some.”
Goo has made a significant impact on the group who say they don’t see his hearing impairment as impairment to the music or HYPE.
Goo admits it is not always easy, but his passion for the music is abound. His eyes light up when he plays and when he talks about music.
It is a shared passion and camaraderie that has created a very strong bond between HYPE members. Throughout their journey to Texas, these students have showcased their knowledge and talent while making lifelong memories along the way.