The Benefits Of Music In Schools

Studies show students who learn music do better in other subjects. After nearly 20 years teaching music at Kapaa Middle School, Mary Lardizabal can attest to that

Music programs often are the first to be cut from public school curriculum because of financial restraints, but not at Kapaa Middle School. Its program is still going strong, thanks to Mary Lardizabal, who has been the school’s music teacher for almost 20 years.

“It is important to have music in schools,” she proclaims one afternoon after her chorus class had finished practicing for its winter recital, which was held last week.

In fact, research backs up her claim — learning and playing music tends to improve students’ grades in academic subjects.

One of the best parts about teaching classes for her — three sections of chorus, ukulele band (with assistance from Loke Sasil) and general music — is watching sixth-, seventh-and eighth-graders grow before her eyes each year and learn things that go well beyond the classroom.

“It’s about building their self-confidence and bringing out their talents,” says Lardizabal, who currently has 180 students.

This inner strength gives kids the ability to let go and be who they are.

“They come to a place where they can just embrace themselves in the music,” explains Lardizabal.

Not only does she delight in hearing their young voices develop and seeing their talents expand, she notices profound development.

“I can see it in their faces that they are changing personally, physically and emotionally too,” she says.

There is no doubt Lardizabal believes in her students and is truly proud of them.

“I have such a great, talented group of kids,” she boasts.

Her classes are electives students can choose as part of their school schedule. This is the third year eighth-grader Haley Gokan has elected to be in the choral group.

“I spent almost my whole life singing, so what’s another year?” she notes.

Her first time singing in front of an audience was in preschool. She liked it so much that she has continued serenading audiences ever since. Even though she aspires to be an eye doctor, singing is a fun hobby she remains committed to. The class has helped boost her stage confidence, and she appreciates Lardizabal’s devoted guidance.

“She really helps you,” says Gokan. “Even if it doesn’t apply to singing, like bad grades, she helps you get through it. She’s really supportive.”

Hnin Yi, another eighth-grader who recently joined the chorus and also has always loved to sing, agrees.

“She’s really fun,” she adds, referring to Lardizabal’s classroom instruction.

Music is obviously an essential part of Lardizabal’s life, and it has been since she was a child growing up in South Dakota. She was raised in a musical family and started piano lessons at an early age.

“I just knew in my heart music was always an important part of my life,” she says.

After moving to the island 24 years ago, she found her calling for teaching music. But before she landed her current position at Kapaa Middle School, she was a substitute as well as a music teacher at Kapaa High School, where she stayed for two years while obtaining her teaching and music certifications from University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Lardizabal ultimately found her way to Kapaa Middle School, where she is one of four remaining original instructors from the institution’s inception in 1997. Her program continues to grow, and she credits the keiki and the support of their parents to its success. The community also has been highly supportive of her choral and ukulele band that regularly performs at various venues around the island, including at hotels and Kukui Grove Center.

“It’s great to have that wonderful reputation and be asked to perform,” says Lardizabal.

She even has her kids perform every year at the nationwide Heritage Music Festival, where the choir and ukulele band are adjudicated by college professors. They have consistently won top honors, including a gold ranking, for several years.

“I tell my students it’s a gift — I have a gift to share and it comes from within. The kids inspire my gift and make me want to push and do more and more and more,” says the mother of Christian, 11, who is in her chorus, and 14-year-old Tia.

Though this is her 20th year teaching, it has yet to get old for Lardizabal.

“This is just the beginning,” she says. “Each year I just continue whatever I’m doing to make it better for these kids.

“I come to work every day and do exactly what I love. I’m teaching and I’m playing music, and I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Kapaa Middle School Choral and Ukulele Band will carol at the Historic County Building Saturday (Dec. 20) from 6:45 to 7:45 p.m. Lardizabal plans a number of events like this next year, including an alumni reunion concert.

To donate to the 501(c)3 organization, visit