Dinner will honor
isle school band pioneer
WAILUKU >> The father of school band leaders in Hawaii ventured into the arts because he was looking for acceptance -- and success.
Saburo Watanabe gained that success, teaching music to at least 12 students who, in turn, have taught music in schools.
"He inspired me to be a music teacher. I wanted to be like him," said Hajime Kuwada, who taught band at Aiea Intermediate School for 19 years.
Watanabe, 84, will be honored at a dinner at 6 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Hideaway Restaurant in Kahului.
Watanabe was about to graduate from McKinley High School on Oahu in 1937 when band teacher Paul Sanders advised him to pursue a college education in music because he could gain broad acceptance and success.
"I guess that sort of challenged me," said Watanabe, who served as the Baldwin High School music teacher for more than 20 years.
Gaining acceptance was important for a Japanese American after prejudice during World War II, he said.
While Watanabe, the son of a Japanese immigrant, volunteered to work in U.S. military intelligence in India and Burma, his Japanese-born brother Tetsui was held in an internment camp in California.
Watanabe, who was born on the Big Island, said life was difficult during World War II for Japanese immigrants, including his father, Shichiro.
Watanabe showed he could function under difficult circumstances when he returned from World War II and found Baldwin High School's musical instruments in poor condition.
Watanabe said a friend found a stockpile of musical instruments in a Quonset hut abandoned in Kahului by a Marine band, and he used the parts to fix the instruments at the school.
Retired high school literature teacher Agnes Terao-Guiala remembers how the band also gathered surplus Army helmets and painted them white to match their marching uniforms.
What: Dinner honoring Saburo Watanabe
Reservations: Mike Matsumoto at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 72 Ili Kupono St., Wailuku 96793.
Cost: $30. Send checks to Marlene Kushi at 2290 W. Main St., Wailuku.
"He started the band from scratch. He really had to scrounge," she said.
During Watanabe's era the Baldwin High band served as the county band, playing not only at school functions, but also at Memorial Day observances and the Christmas Parade in Wailuku town.
Watanabe started the first annual spring music concert in the late 1940s, a tradition that continues.
Former students said he served as a role model for many youths and inspired them to pursue teaching as a career.
Terao-Guiala said one student who came back from military service went to see Watanabe at the school before visiting his parents.
"He was like a father figure. We were that close to him. He was very kind and compassionate but really, really strict," she said.
Kuwada said Watanabe's influence continues today through his former music students.
"It's a pyramid. It's sort of like a tree that becomes bigger and bigger," Kuwada said.
Saburo Watanabe's students who have taught music in schools include:
>> Kaoru Uto, Maui High School.
>> Hajime Kuwada, Aiea Intermediate School.
>> Lloyd Inaba, state specialist in music.
>> James Uyeda, Leeward Community College band instructor.
>> Ed Matsushita, Maui Waena Intermediate.
>> Lance Jo, Baldwin High School.
>> The late Gary Tanoue, a college music teacher in Sioux Falls, S.D.
>> Geraldine Otani, a college band and orchestra teacher in Wisconsin.
>> Gerald Suyama, Moanalua Intermediate School band teacher and now principal of Pearl City High School.
>> Ted Manzano, Maui Waena Intermediate.
>> Linda (Tanoue) Smith, music instructor on the Garden Isle and now principal at Kauai High School.
>> Amy (Hokama) Mitsuda, music teacher and now head of the Punahou School music department.