A unique blend of western, Asian, Hawaiian and other Pacific Island traditions, the music department at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa is unlike any other college program.

In addition to its robust European and American program, UH is world-renowned in ethnomusicology–the study of social and cultural aspects of music and dance in global contexts.

“We are one of the few, or if maybe, the only school in the nation that have nine, performing ethnic music ensembles,” said UH Mānoa music department chair Laurence Paxton.

All of the students studying western music have to take classes that expose them to Asian and Pacific traditions. Students in the department’s composition program also explore the possibilities of blending styles.

“By using western compositional techniques but by adding ethnic instruments into that mix,” said Paxton. “So many of our ensembles perform these works.”

choir singers practicing

Choir practice

The music department has about 5,000 ethnic instruments from around the world that are used in performances. Most of the performances take place at the department’s 400-seat concert hall, the Mae Zenke Orvis Auditorium. The auditorium and the music department occupy their very own corner of the Mānoa campus.

“All the music majors kind of live here from the morning to the evenings,” said music major Cathlyn Momohara. “We have rehearsals till like 10.”

“We are a tightknit family,” added Miguel Cadoy, who is also majoring in music at UH Mānoa, “I just love the community here. We get along really well with the faculty.”

“What we get a big star on is the size of classes and the one-on-one relationships they have with the professors,” said Paxton referring to the most recent student surveys. “And how easy it is to contact them.”

The department has 22 fulltime faculty members, 40 adjunct faculty and offers undergraduate, masters and PhD degrees through a fully accredited, rigorous academic program.

The students also benefit from the fact that UH is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Internationally recognized musicians from all over the world regularly stop in for performances, and give master classes while traveling to and from Asia and the continental United States. (Watch a master’s class performance of the Blue Danube Fantasy.)

“It’s really fun, just listening and getting to watch a performer who’s done this for the 10,000 hours of practice,” said Momohara.

In addition to the nine ensembles that are given by the ethnomusicology area, the department also boasts 16 western ensembles, and you don’t have to be a music major to audition for any of them.

“We have great ensembles and a lot of talent here,” said Codoy.

The groups put on dozens of community concerts and performances each year.

“That’s our mission here for the university too, it’s to educate, is to make future musicians, but also to be a spokesperson for the university,” said Paxton.

Additional videos

Laurence Paxton interview

Mater’s class Blue Danube Fantasy piano duet

UH choir practice

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