For Honokaa Jazz Band, music 'is a language itself'


Honoka'a High student musicians transcend hearing barriers with a performance at the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind as part of its 2015 Big City Tour from April 16-19.

​​​​​"All students, regardless of whether they are hearing, hard-of-hearing, or deaf  have an internal sense of music or rhythm that allows them to feel the beat ​​​​and associate a particular emotion to the song." -- Christina Juan, principal, Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind.

What would be the most challenging audience for a musician? The deaf. 

How could you perform music for those who can't hear?

This is exactly the task GRAMMY Award-winning Honoka'a Jazz Band chose to take on April 17 when they performed at the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind (HSDB) as part of its 2015 Big City Tour.

Comprised of Honoka'a High students, the band performed music while the HSDB personnel sang songs. The art and cultural exchange included HSDB students sharing deaf cultural norms and American Sign Language phrases with the Honoka'a students. The HSDB Dance Team also performed for the Honoka'a students.

The Honoka'a Jazz Band toured Oahu from April 16-19 in celebration of National Jazz Appreciation Month, which culminates in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) International Jazz Day on April 30.

The role of jazz and music plays a big role in bridging differences and teaching tolerance and acceptance of others. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova wrote the following message for this year's International Jazz Day:

"In times of change and uncertainty, we need the spirit of jazz more than ever before, to bring people – especially young women and men – together, to nurture freedom and dialogue, to create new bridges of respect and understanding, for greater tolerance and cooperation."

Honoka‛a Jazz Band Director Gary Washburn agrees.

"Music bridges gaps between people and cultures," he said. "It can be understood and enjoyed without the barrier of spoken language as it is a language itself."

So, why would the Honokaa Jazz Band want to play for a deaf audience?

"To experience. To learn. To educate, not only ourselves, but others also of the hearing world and to show the deaf that we respect and appreciate them and want to include them and show them what we do," said student Kamea Phenicie, a tenor saxophone musician. "We come from two almost completely different worlds that hardly cross paths. And when they do, it is often interlaced with misunderstanding, disrespect and perhaps even fear; fear of the unknown. This opportunity allows us to increase our understanding and mutual respect for each other.... In my eyes, anything that brings two groups together and puts aside their differences can never be a bad thing."

Being deaf doesn't mean you cannot experience and enjoy music.

"We are excited about this opportunity for sharing of art, culture, and personal experiences," says HSDB Principal Christina Juan. "We have students that are either deaf or hard-of-hearing. Although our deaf students are not able to hear the music, they can feel the vibration, and through that, the tempo and even the emotion of the music. Our hard- of-hearing students are able to feel some of the melody, so their music enjoyment experience is greater. All students, regardless of whether they are hearing, hard-of-hearing, or deaf have an internal sense of music or rhythm that allows them to feel the beat and associate a particular emotion to the song."

Later this year, the Honoka'a Jazz Band will perform for the 2015 Hawaii State Teacher's Association Conference at the Hawaii Convention Center. Experiencing real world settings that musicians are in helps to prepare music students for possible careers. The band is often requested and available for such performances.

This year the band's repertoire includes a wide variety of music spanning from the 1938 Chick Webb/Ella Fitzgerald version of "A Tisket, A Tasket" to the 2014 selection "Loving You." The repertoire includes a dedication to the late Horace Silver, a Ruth Brown version of "You made My Love Grow Cold," and standards such as "Caravan," "I Got It Bad," DeBarge's hit "Rhythm of the Night" and other favorites.

The Honoka'a Jazz Band has been recognized by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation as being an outstanding school for Music Education. Honoka'a High was one of 36 schools out of 22,000 eligible U.S. programs to receive the GRAMMY Signature Schools Award​.

Director Gary Washburn has also received recognition with a Claus Nobel Teacher of Distinction Award, induction into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and locally as a Living Treasure of Hawaii.

Contact Information

Communications and Community Affairs Office

Phone: 808-586-3232



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