By Sarah Champayn Look | Member of the 2015 Honor Band of America
Music has always been a part of my life; I don’t remember ever not doing it. I’ve played the ukulele since I was six, guitar since I was 10 and began to introduce myself in the world of orchestra by playing the viola at age 13. When I joined 7th grade band, I had my heart set on playing the bassoon, however, since my mom is an amazing sidekick parent, she forced me into playing the clarinet. I was terrible at it and hated band. At the end that year, I asked my band director if I could switch to bass clarinet. As I expected, he said no, and I tried hard to stop playing.
Luckily, things changed as I went into 8th grade. Being my second year of playing in the Oahu Band Directors Association, Central District Middle School Honor Band, I was given a solo in “Orpheus Overture.” After the performance, Moanalua High School band director, Mr. Elden T. Seta, came up to me to congratulate me on a well-done solo. This was the same man who had taught my older sister (she also played clarinet) and was currently my older brother’s band director. Little had I known that I was going be so inspired by his passion and work ethic from that night on, for many years to follow. I practiced my clarinet everyday and strived to be the best person that I could possibly be. The next year I began attending Moanalua High School. During my sophomore year I earned the title of Miss Teen Hawaii United States and, in effort to create a platform for the competition, founded a non-profit organization called “Love ME Through Music. ” This organization uses music therapy to heal those who are going through emotional and physical challenges. I began to see music as more than just a common ground for a group of students, it was something to take pride in and grow with.
My junior year I began attending Kamehameha Schools Kapālama. I felt lost, sad, and by senior year, I felt as though I was no longer performing with the vigor and determination that I once did and thought about giving up on my music. Shortly before losing all hope I found out that my old ensemble, Moanalua High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble, was attending the Music for All National Festival in 2015. I suddenly felt inspired and wanted to perform at the same venue they were. Mr. Seta and my mom encouraged me to apply for the Honor Band of America, which also performs at the Festival. I decided to audition, which meant practicing and videoing myself with a lot of faith and pixie dust of hopes that I would get in. Turns out, I did! It was crazy knowing that I was going to be the first student from Hawaii to be in the Music for All Honor Band of America.
Before I could blink, March and a number of financial problems appeared. I ended up buying my plane ticket to National Festival the night that I was supposed to leave, had two connecting flights (including one which was cancelled), missed my seating audition and finally arrived in Indianapolis at 2:00 a.m. on Thursday morning. There were many obstacles getting there, but every moment of National Festival made it absolutely worth it.
One of the greatest moments I had while I was there was after I performed with the Honor Band of America and the band members of the Moanalua High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble greeted me. I looked for them to thank them for coming to the performance and ask them how they enjoyed it. They paraded me with hugs and a plethora of compliments, and then out of the blue, a close friend of mine in the band began to lei me with beautiful orchid lei. It turns out that they had brought lei as a makana (a gift that a person from Hawaii brings when they travel to other places to show appreciation toward people who welcome us) and everyone in the ensemble suddenly showered me with dozens of them. I had so many they went over my heads and arms. To have people who had no idea who I was but just wanted to congratulate me was indescribable — I started to cry!
When I returned to the Honor Band of America reception, people were staring at me. It’s not everyday you see an individual lei’d over her head in the middle of Indianapolis, IN. I had to bypass several people before I could even reach my mom. She instantly burst into tears when she saw my wide smile, and I excitedly yelled, “Hey Mom, look what I got!” Obviously I couldn’t take the lei with me on my 4,000-mile journey to get home so I followed my first instinct – to share. I started to lei other musicians, their families and all the administrators that I could find. It’s amazing how a single lei can affect such a large amount of people. A friend who I had met in the Honor Band of America even came up to me and promised that she would press every single petal and keep the lei as a memoir. People were coming up to me left and right sharing their gratitude of a touch of aloha I have given them.
Back at home, I see these orchid lei everywhere. Never had they phased me before until that night. To see these genuine smiles on my newfound friends made me love Hawaii more than ever. In fact, I have promised my fellow friends that I would come back up to watch them and bring lei for everyone in the 2016 Honor Band of America.
Music for All and the Honor Band of America helped me realize why I love music so much and that, no matter where I am or whom I’m with, music has the ability to sustain and create lifelong friendships. It’s also shown me the magic of performing that comes from knowing that everyone in your ensemble has put in countless hours to practice and share the thing that they love. Good music comes from perfection. Great music comes from passion.
I’m so thankful for everything this organization has given me the opportunity to experience and I hope to use my knowledge and passion to obtain a doctorate in music education and teach at the primary education level. I also hope to continue to develop my family’s non-profit organization, Love ME Through Music, into a broader project so that we can help students like me go to the Music for All National Festival every year.