Every summer, the University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu offers a unique opportunity to musically inclined high school students from Nānākuli, Waiʻanae, Waipahu, Farrington and ʻĀnuenue High Schools.
It’s called the Summer Music Works program and it’s a song writing class with an ear for higher education.
“We are using music as a way, as a bridge, to college,” said Jon Magnussen, a UH West Oʻahu assistant professor of music.
Over the course of the free, five-week program, each student writes and professionally records their own song.
“The first couple of weeks are really about the basics of music theory,” said Magnussen. “What do they need to know in order to function in a recording studio and in a songwriting environment.”
The students also participate in a series of talk-story jam sessions with well-known artist mentors, like Willie K.
The mentors play their own songs for the students, jam with the students and listen to the students play. They also describe their professional experiences, answer questions and offer songwriting advice.
“I learned that you can’t just stay inside the box, you’re going to have to be outside the box in order to progress and express yourself more out in the professional life in music,” said student Jeremiah Gionson, who attends Waiʻanae High School.
“The mentors give them a peek into the real world into the music industry,” said Magnussen.
The students spend the second half of the program working with UH West Oʻahu music instructors and writing their songs.
“They taught me to open up my mind and not worry about outside opinions that is going to affect my personal style of writing,” said student Tioata Faamata, who attends Waiʻanae High School.
The students then record their songs during the last week of the program.
Throughout the five weeks, the students practice college success skills like public speaking, writing and note taking, and they work with student tutors from UH West Oʻahu’s Noʻeau Center.
“It really has opened my eyes,” said Jeremiah Gionson.
“It prepares us with college skills,” said Faamata.
Near the end of the program, students take a day-long tour of the music programs at other UH campuses like Honolulu Community College’s Music and Entertainment Learning Experience or MELE program, the Leeward Community College theatre and UH Mānoa’s music department.
“It makes it for real for them that, that is their next step,” said Magnussen.
The program ends with a hōʻike, or show, where the students introduce their songs to the public.
“It felt wonderful to see the crowd’s faces too because they all looked like they understood what I was saying through the song,” said student Skye Gionson of Waiʻanae High School after she performed her song.
Summer Music Works is a collaboration between UH West Oʻahu and the Boys and Girls Club of Hawaiʻi’s Waiʻanae Clubhouse and was made possible this year through a U.S. Department of Education Title III grant, the University of Hawaiʻi Student Diversity and Equity Initiative and the UH West Oʻahu Music Fund.
“I’d like to thank the creators of this program because it is a good opportunity to all here,” said Faamata.