“I am very grateful to HYS for being a constant, positive force in my life, and am honored to now serve as its president. Our vision to make music a right, and not a privilege, deeply resonates with me — all children should have an opportunity to learn a musical instrument, and to become the best version of themselves.”
Talk to Randy Wong, even for 15 minutes, and you immediately understand why he’s head of the Hawaii Youth Symphony, from executive director in 2012 to president six years later, and why he’s led the charge for music outreach in our youth communities, especially those most under-served.
His commitment, passion, and faith in music’s profound ability to change lives…shine through. His life-long mission — as a former HYS student musician, Hawaii Symphony Orchestra bassist, 20-year union member, and award-winning community leader — is clear: work hard, so children can play. All children, everywhere. Because “music [is] a right, and not a privilege.”
“Having an opportunity to play music is something that every child deserves, and it’s up to us adults to protect and promote pathways to make it possible for them to do so.”
Through various programs and partnerships, Wong has gone about ensuring this happens.
Ke Ola O Na Mele caught up with the busy working musician and respected community leader recently. His interview follows.
What are musicians doing to sustain a living wage with everything going virtual?
Musicians have long been entrepreneurs, and with everything going virtual, this spirit has become more necessary than ever. It’s been an interesting time to practice, reflect, and be creative. Teaching was already an important part of many careers, and for those who feel comfortable teaching remotely, this has become an important lifeline.
How long have you been a member of Local 677? What does the union mean to you, and why should more up-and-coming musicians use Local 677’s resources in this day and age of catch-as-catch-can?
I’ve been a member for about 20 years. As a young musician, I heard a lot about “the union” from my teachers and mentors, and joining felt like a coming-of-age moment.
Being a member of a union means that I will always know people who appreciate the craft as much as I do.
With all the change happening due to technological advancement, Local 677 helps working musicians to stay current and make sure we are properly compensated, while corporate profits rise. Standing together will always have more meaning than standing alone.
In your Hawaii Youth Symphony bio online, you shared that “…Our vision to make music a right, and not a privilege, deeply resonates with me…” Why is this so important to you, as a professional working musician and HYS President?
When I returned to Hawaii in 2011, I was wondering how many of our schools have music programs. I was surprised to learn that the State DOE does not track that information, and that there was no coordinated effort at the state level to ensure that every child would have music education. There are nearly 200,000 children in our state annually, and the vast majority of them do not have access to music education — they don’t learn to sing, read music, play an instrument, or develop any kind of knowledge of music. We need to right that.
Artistic studies build children’s work ethics, their intellectual/higher-order thinking skills, and their personal and interpersonal intelligences. Art inspires us to be curious and creative, to take risks, and to be flexible and adaptive. These are qualities that we need in the workforce, as well as the community at large.
These days, HYS programs include jazz, ukulele, and other styles of music, in addition to orchestra, string quartet, and wind chamber music. It’s my hope that, with so many opportunities for students, those who are interested will come out and play!
HYS also means a great deal to you personally. It’s been a “constant, positive force” in your life growing up as one of those young student musicians. How has HYS helped you? Why are such organizations and programs essential to youth all over the world?
HYS opened up a whole new world for me as a child: I met dozens of kids from schools all across the state and it was gripping to making music with so many others that also loved orchestra! As I progressed, HYS helped me seek more opportunities and make more friends. School music programs and youth orchestras do a terrific job of bringing out the best in young people, and they go onto become audience members and advocates for live music as adults.
What does music do for kids? Studies show that even a rudimentary knowledge of music — learning to read notes — gives you a better grasp of Math.
Yes, there are a lot of studies that show correlations between musical learning, language literacy, mathematical skill, etc.
Reading music notation is like reading a graph; the X-axis is time and the Y-axis is pitch. It’s also like reading an equation — each note is symbolic notation, or poetry — dynamics and phrase markings are analogies.
However, first and foremost, I believe music helps kids develop a sense of curiosity, of purpose, of self, and respect for others. From the curiosity grows their interest and passion to become musicians, and to become the best they can be, individually and collectively…
Excerpt of this interview is from the Spring 2021 issue of Ke Ola O Na Mele.