Hawaii’s Musical Paradise

Mike Lawson • Archives • June 4, 2008

In this recent SBO interview, Seta provides some insight into the development of a program that has taken ensembles from Hawaii to Europe, Japan, Australia, California, and New York.

School Band & Orchestra: Tell me about your own introduction to music?
Elden Seta: I started out playing music in middle school. My grandfather played faith music, but my parents weren’t musically inclined. I guess when they were in high school most students didn’t participate in music programs.

My two older brothers played saxophone, so I picked up the clarinet. I worked my way through middle school and high school, where I became really involved with music and participated in a lot of activities in the program. I had really great teachers there. Eventually, I went to college as a music education major.

SBO: At what point did you know that you were going to be making a career in music education?
ES: Like any other child, I wasn’t sure if I was going in the right direction or not, and I came to the typical crossroads as a junior in high school. I found out that no matter which direction I turned, I couldn’t find anything that I liked any better or had more interest in than music. That’s when it solidified that I really knew that I was in the right place. I went forward from there and I’ve never looked back since.

SBO: Tell me a little bit about the school band programs in your area of Hawaii?
ES: I think the band programs here are strong. Student interest is quite high. Generally, band programs here are pretty similar to most of the mainland United States. Here, music education starts around seventh grade. We don’t have too many or barely any elementary school music programs. That’s something we haven’t been too successful with, but the secondary programs are very developed.

SBO: Are there many marching competitions and festivals?
ES: Oh, yes. We have marching band, concert band, and jazz band competitions, and we host our own marching band festival, the Menehune Classic. We also have vocal ensembles all those great things are all here, and they’re all going really well.

SBO: How did you end up at your current position?
ES: Right after college, I was lucky. My first job was at Moanalua High School, where I still teach today. As I was graduating from the University of Hawaii, the current band director got a job at a private school and decided to move, so it just so happened that I was at the right place at the right time. I started calling for the position, interviewed for it, and I was fortunate enough to get it. Also, my college professors and past high school band directors got involved in the process. The recommendations they gave me were really important.

SBO: What was the band program like when you arrived?
ES: There were two concert bands one a ninth-grade band, the other a sophomore-to-senior-level band with about 120 students total. There was a string program starting up with about 35 string players. Also, there was a small music theory class with about 5 students, and a marching band with about 100 students.

SBO: And where are you at now?
ES: Now we have three concert bands, three orchestras, two choirs, we also offer two piano classes, and our marching band is around 240 students now.

SBO: That’s considerable growth.
ES: Yes, in fact, the music student enrollment right now is a little over 600.

SBO: That’s great!
ES: Yeah, it is great. The kids have worked really hard. They have a terrific attitude and it shows.

SBO: What’s been the spark behind the growth in your program?
ES: I think it’s a mixture of many things. We have a really good working staff. The administration has been amazingly supportive. The community has been great they’ve been behind us all the way. And we have a terrific parent group. Our parent-boosters organization does everything they have to do to make what our dreams possible. In my 20 years here, they’ve never said, “No, that’s not possible.”

Anything that we have, any idea that we want to pursue for the good of the students, they always say, “What can we do to make it work?” I think that mixture of everything together is what makes this music program really special and what has allowed it to grow so much.

We also have a terrific feeder school program, which is really key for us. The band and orchestra program down at the middle school is truly amazing. All that put together is what makes our program so special.

Moanalua High School Music Department at a Glance

Address: 2825 Ala Ilima Street, Honolulu, Hawaii
On the Web:

Ensembles (No. of Students)

  • Symphonic Wind Ensemble (92)
  • Symphonic Band (155)
  • 9th-Grade Concert Band (93)
  • Symphony Orchestra (90)
  • Concert Orchestra

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