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Hawaii Youth Symphony

HYS Orchestrates New International Vision for Na Mele Gala 2020


Dec. 8 at 8 pm, KHNL

Dec. 10 at 7 pm, K5

Event Connects Students from Hawaii to Japan with Special Performances from Jake Shimabukuro and Raiatea Helm

Hawaii Youth Symphony (HYS) will present a reimagined version of its annual He Makana O Na Mele: The Gift of Music. Traditionally held as an in-person gala, the nonprofit’s major fundraising event of the year will now be celebrated as a one-hour extravaganza premiering December 8, 2020 via television and social media. Na Mele will feature special performances by HYS students together with world-renowned entertainers Jake Shimabukuro and Raiatea Helm—as well as five Junior Orchestras from Hawaii’s sister cities in Japan, and the Ukulele Junior Orchestra from Kanazawa, made possible through collaboration with Hawaii Tourism Japan (HTJ).

“Now, more than ever, music has the power to bridge communities that cannot physically connect,” said President of Hawaii Youth Symphony, Randy Wong. “HYS has been hard at work to continue delivering high quality, affordable, music education to Hawaii’s youth and beyond—and this wonderful vision for Na Mele reflects that same commitment and the innovative spirit that music inspires.”

“This program will be a breath of fresh air—it’s going to have a little bit of everything, and I’m very excited about the collaborations between orchestras,” said Jake Shimabukuro, who also serves as an HYS board member and was instrumental in furthering the collaboration with HTJ. “What ties this all together is that music is a universal language.”

The sweeping event includes an elaborate orchestration, encompassing  every level of the HYS organization together with the support of partners from Hawaii to Japan. Dynamic performances—skillfully synchronized with students from across the Pacific as well as conducted onsite at the Royal Hawaiian Center in socially-distanced waves—will be under the direction of Maestro Joseph Stepec, HYS Director of Orchestral Activities, Dean Taba, Director HYS Jazz and Combo I, and Chad Uyehara, HYS Academy String Program Director.

Composer and HYS alumnus Michael-Thomas Foumai, celebrated Japanese composer Daisuke Ikeda, and arranger Brian Sheperd all contributed special orchestrations to this project. Junior Orchestras from Hokkaido, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Ehime, and Okinawa will perform in the event, as well as the Ukulele Junior Orchestra from Kanazawa.

The premiere of He Makana O Na Mele: The Gift of Music will air on Hawaii News Now on KHNL on Tuesday, December 8 at 8 p.m. A rebroadcast will air Thursday, December 10 at 7 p.m. on K5, and the event will also be available via hawaiinewsnow.com/hys to stream online.

Beyond a festive evening, Na Mele will benefit all HYS programs, and further support its vision to make music a right, not a privilege. Contributions will also break down barriers like financial hardship, access to qualified music teachers, and the high cost of instruments. Interview segments in the special will share student stories and reflect on the importance of music education with the help of community leaders and supporters. Audiences are invited to follow #MakeMusicARight on Hawaii Youth Symphony’s social media and donate via hiyouthsymphony.givesmart.com.

“We believe the relationships fostered through tourism and unique cultural experiences only makes Hawaii and Japan’s special relation even stronger,” said Mitsue Varley of HTJ. “Given the circumstances around the pandemic, it is even more important to showcase a message that music connects the world.”


“This program will be a breath of fresh air—it’s going to have a little bit of everything, and I’m very excited about the collaborations between orchestras. What ties this all together is that music is a universal language.”


—Jake Shimabukuro, HYS Board Member