Middle School Students Record A CD

Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School ukulele students who participated on the CD

Choral director Julianne Hiu helped students at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School record a CD designed to raise funds for the school

Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School’s choir and ukulele students got the chance of a lifetime in October thanks to the efforts of individuals such as the school’s choral director Julianne Hiu.

She helped organize an opportunity for the music of a select group of seventhand eighth-graders to be recorded on a CD designed to raise funds for the school. Presented by Kathy Dahill, who composed the two original songs on the CD, When Santa Claus Comes to Hawai’i and Love is a Sparkle, it was a situation Hiu did not want to pass up.

“It was exciting to have them perform something that was written by their accompanist,” says Hiu of Dahill. “And the recording aspect of it, not many people can say they’ve had that experience. It’s something they can always remember.”

When the school’s choir room was turned into a recording studio, students were timid at first.

Julianne Hiu enjoys sharing her love of music. Coco Zickos photo

“They really want to do well,” says Hiu.

But after only a few takes, they began feeling comfortable with the process.

“They started off a little bit nervous and stiff, but by the end they were really getting into the groove of it,” she says.

Ukulele teacher Ben Ahn says he loved watching the keiki listen to the raw playbacks.

“They, of course, never said how cool it was to hear themselves, but their smiles told me how excited they were,” he says.

Watching the students open up was one of the most rewarding aspects of the project, says Hiu.

“This is such a delicate time in their lives, and music is something that is so personal especially singing, because the instrument is yourself,” she explains. “There’s nothing between you and the music, it’s just you. So seeing them experience that and feel the emotion of the song coming through them is just really exciting to me. And that moment when they’re all singing together and they can feel each other’s energy and really feed off of that and share the message of the song, that’s really special.”

Love is a Sparkle is the song Hiu particularly likes.

“The lyrics are just so great,” she says about the piece that speaks about everyone experiencing love during the holidays no matter what their religion or race.

Spreading joy through music is something Hiu has been doing since she was a child.

“Singing was my first instrument, it’s everybody’s first instrument,” she says.

The CD features the voices of Hiu’s choral students. Photos courtesy Kevin Matsunaga

Though she participated in choir while attending elementary school, by the time she was her students’ age, she switched her musical talents to band.

“I was really shy at that time,” she says, “and I didn’t have the confidence that my students do; that I really admire.”

Hiu eventually rediscovered her love for singing while majoring in music education at the University of Hawai’i.

This is Hiu’s fourth year teaching at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School and she continues to enjoy it.

“A lot of students here don’t think of choir in the same way students on the Mainland do. They love singing; there’s such a singing culture here. But to them, singing is just like kanikapila with uncle, it’s not in a group, all united. So I wanted to give them something different that they’ve never experienced before.”

Hiu would like to see the choir develop even more. Last year, she took her students to the Hawai’i Music Festival on O’ahu, where they got to work with professionals from the Mainland and listen to other students from middle schools across the state and some from California.

“That was really eyeopening for them because a lot of times, here, with there being few schools, they don’t really hear many other groups except for themselves,” she says.

Providing them with more chances to hear others sing, like starting a festival for choral music and inviting all choirs on-island to participate, is a long-term goal of Hiu’s.

“It would be a really great opportunity for students to see that singing in a choir is something you can do lifelong,” she says.

Raising awareness about the importance of the arts throughout life is something Ahn agrees with.

“I’m hoping that this CD project can do several things. I think it will be great to have a tangible item for people to listen to, and with that I hope that we can promote appreciation for the arts in the schools,” he says, adding that he recently received a memo that more budget cuts are in the future. “The CD has the potential to remind the public why it is necessary to give students a rich and diverse education.”

The CD costs $5, and 100 percent of the profits go toward the school’s ukulele and choral programs. They will be distributed Dec. 10 at the school’s craft fair and Dec. 13 during its winter concert. CDs also can be purchased at Scotty’s Music and Kaua’i Music and Sound.

Visit ckms.k12.hi.us for more information.