View from the Pew
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Word of Life Academy headmaster Royce Tanouye, a former public high school band teacher, teaches the school's music technology laboratory class. Tanouye says the school is the only secondary school in the state to offer the sophisticated music education.
Technology helps nurture students' compositions at Word of Life Academy
School's out and most high school students put the products of the year -- term papers, tests, special projects -- out of sight and out of mind.
Open House and Tour offered
Word of Life Academy, 544 Queen St., will host an open house and tour of the music technology laboratory at 6:30 p.m. Monday. The summer program begins June 18. It will offer a two-week music technology laboratory class. For information, call 550-0238.
But a fortunate few from a unique music class have some homework worth keeping -- songs they wrote, published as podcasts and burned as CDs, to play forever on their computers, portable players and cell phones.
The Word of Life Academy music technology class gives students a shortcut into the recording studio. They didn't start their music education tediously practicing someone's compositions on a piano, horn or violin. They started at a computer keyboard -- with a music keyboard at hand -- with the capacity to summon up a virtual rhythm section, a piano accompaniment, a background of strings for their own compositions.
"They have music in their heads and in their hearts and technology helps bring it out," said headmaster Royce Tanouye. A former band teacher in public schools, Tanouye teaches the music tech laboratory class in the academy's high school. There are similar labs for the elementary and middle schools of the academy.
"It makes music accessible to a greater number of people. Even if we don't have a voice or the fingers to excel at an instrument, we still have ideas," Tanouye said. In a traditional music education that starts with playing scales on an instrument, "if there's anything creative inside, it takes years to come out. Very few of these students have music training. They come in knowing the music teenagers know."
The academy, affiliated with Word of Life Christian Center, is the only secondary school in the state that offers the sophisticated music education, Tanouye said. Only the University of Hawaii Music Department offers a similar program here.
It was a matter of spiritual serendipity that led the creator of the music technology program to the door of the Pentecostal church in Kakaako. Award-winning composer Henry Panion, who has been conductor and arranger for Stevie Wonder for 15 years, came to Hawaii in 2002 as a visiting professor in the UH music program to help establish the computer technology music program.
Panion is a music professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His compositions for orchestra have been performed by symphony orchestras in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Detroit and Baltimore. He has established music programs in many venues, from college classes to a program for inner-city children in Birmingham.
"My family attended Word of Life while we were in Hawaii," Panion said. "In the process of talking to pastor Art Sepulveda about the sort of things I do, we developed the idea of starting a small program."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ninth-grader Faith Zerba works on her music at Word of Life Academy's music recording room. The room is equipped with the latest Apple computers and software. Students are free to create and circulate their compositions online as well as among one another.
The program grew into the classes now offered at the three school levels. This summer, they will put in a sound studio that can take the music now produced in class and in the church sanctuary to a higher level. Panion compared it to the difference between emergency-room procedures and surgery in an operating room: "a sterile environment with high-end tools, pristine mikes, isolated booths that allow us to protect the sound."
"It's not just using technology for the sake of technology," Panion said. "We use it to enhance every aspect of the musical experience. This technology has democratized American music. It allows students to explore their inner being for their own musicianship. It takes the technology out of the research lab and down into the hands of young people who can see what they can do."
It's not all fun and games in the classroom. There are what the professor calls "pedagogical benefits," programs that teach music theory, history, fundamental scales and so forth "in an environment that is nurturing as opposed to being daunting and intimidating."
Headphones being a normal appendage for youngsters today, it's only natural to hear the teacher's lecture through the headset, and link up with another student to work on a project and tune out the rest of the class.
Youngsters use their lab tools and music skills to prepare multimedia projects for other classes: Imagine an English literature report with background music or poetry to a hip-hop beat.
A computer with a rhythm section makes a classic mnemonic tool. "They can't memorize something as simple as John 3:16, but put it to a beat and they'll memorize anything," Tanouye said.
Panion is "the professor" for the Kakaako classes, linking up by Internet to teach several times during a semester from his Alabama base. "Kids in Hawaii were able to sit in on a recording session with the Birmingham orchestra, they heard what I had to say, they could even see me conduct the orchestra. The world has become a very small stage because of this technology."
Pastor Art and the Word of Life congregation reap the rewards of the program. The musical teenagers are running the sound board for services that feature multi-instrument bands and singing groups, and helping with the taping of the services, which are telecast later. It might be the first line on the resume of a musical career in the future.