According to Yvonne Yokoe, band director at Hilo High School, there are many reasons to join band. And the best reason, she says, is because “it’s fun!”
This is how Yokoe sums up her own band experience on Oahu from middle school to high school to college, to a music education degree, and to her career as a music teacher in Japan and Hawaii.
“Along with fun come important lessons in responsibility, commitment, time management, leadership and music skills that last a lifetime,” Yokoe said. “Band provides a well-rounded experience that is excellent preparation for college and careers beyond High School.”
First up for the new school year was summer practice in July for incoming freshmen and upper-class band students, where students practiced pep band music for fall football games and marching band formations for local parades.
When classes started Aug. 4, students concentrated on perfecting concert music and improving technique on their chosen instruments.
Yokoe also teaches beginning piano and orchestra with assistance from Hilo string instrument teacher Cathy Young. Yokoe acknowledges a major change in the band program this year, with all students learning the entire repertoire of concert, pep band, parade music and marching technique.
Band classes are offered during the school day schedule only, discontinuing the class formerly held after school.
“We select appropriate pieces to teach proper technique, expression, balance, and other music components for a comprehensive curriculum,” Yokoe said. “A big change like this takes time to get results, but as time goes on, we’ll see the improvement.”
“I appreciate that people are sticking with the program even if they might not understand it completely right now,” she said. “Looking back to last year, it was overwhelming to step into the position after the school year had already started. I knew it would be a lot of work, and we got through it by focusing on one thing at a time. In the end, students felt good about what we accomplished and I am proud of them.”
The band’s efforts are validated in an adjudication (judging) by Michael Nakasone of their Kona Band Festival performance in May. Nakasone’s scoresheet is filled with comments such as “superbly done,”
“I’m impressed,” “very professional,” with a top overall rating of 1++. Nakasone, a prominent band professional in Hawaii, is the former Royal Hawaiian Band bandmaster and is the current band director at Punahou School. He also happens to have been Yokoe’s band teacher at Pearl City High School, where she played tenor saxophone. Yokoe continues to work hand-in-hand with Hilo Intermediate School band director Corey Maesaka.
“Without middle school, there is no high school music program. In my own student experience, my Highland Intermediate band teacher Boniface Leong laid a solid music foundation that then enabled Mr. Nakasone to build the Pearl City High School program to the powerhouse it became.”
Yokoe hopes to see the Big Island music community to continue to collaborate and build unity.
“It’s all about doing what’s best for the students. We strive for high standards while being practical and affordable, to reach as many students as possible,” she says.
In addition to support from music colleagues, Yokoe is appreciative of assistance she receives from Hilo High School administrators.
Katie Friday, president of the Viking Band Booster club, heads the parent organization that provides program support and raises funds for instruments and music clinics not funded by the school budget.
Student officers, elected by students or appointed by Yokoe, have administrative tasks and organize the retreats, end-of-year awards dinner, and other activities.
“Student leaders are my hands and feet. I rely on them to get things done, go where I can’t be, do what I can’t do,” she said.