Modern Band for Local Culture: Hawaii’s Kerri Glickstein

Mike Lawson • Modern Band • March 3, 2020

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Kerri Glickstein teaches concert and modern band at Lāna’I High & Elementary School in Lāna’i City, Hawaii.

Ms. Glickstein found that the traditional instrumental music curriculum that she grew up with and taught to her students ignored their local culture. She says, “I was feeling a little stuck in my career, it was hard to make concert band work on this island.” In the hunt for new ideas to bring to her classroom, she heard an interview I did with fellow School Band and Orchestra columnist Elisa Janson Jones on her Music Ed Mentor Podcast, in which I spoke of the modern band movement and the annual Modern Band Summit in Colorado. She decided to attend and find out more. She left the Modern Band Summit with a completely new perspective and a whole lot of new ideas and resources to use in her classroom. “It was really rejuvenating, having something new and relevant to work with that will connect with my students,” she explains.

The first step was to see what her students wanted and then go from there. Her high school students started by doing modern band for the first quarter, and then she polled them to find out what they wanted to do next. The results were a mix between modern and concert band, so they did both of the ensembles together: “There were a lot of interesting ways that modern band and concert band enhanced each other.” For instance, most of the students that stuck to concert band instruments were treble instruments like flutes, clarinets, and trumpets, but the guitar, keyboard, and bass players helped fill out the sound. “I have a freshman bass guitarist that fills in for the lack of tuba. He transcribes notes from standard notation into tablature on his own,” she says. For the modern band songs, the students spend a lot of time listening, trying to get the nuance of recordings when they often don’t have sheet music. This has a big impact on their concert band pieces as well: “We will take lyrics to songs and use them to work on and understand more complex rhythms, and now that they understand popular music phrasing like verse and chorus, they can transfer that knowledge to their concert band pieces.” They also pick up on other musical ideas such as repeating melodies and sequences.

The 6th and 7th graders had struggled before due to instrumentation. Only about 10 students played concert band instruments, but many more played keyboard and ukulele. She got an extra 20 ukuleles with a grant from the Manele Koele Charitable Fund and now the class is eager to choose their own songs and drive the curriculum.

“It’s a big class with 42 students, and we have about 15 on guitar, 10 on keyboard, some that just sing, four bassists, a lot of ukuleles, and we all learn the drumming basics and rotate.” Glickstein recognized that just because she wasn’t a master of a topic didn’t mean she should hold her students back from that opportunity: “I’m still learning and figuring out how to do this with them.”

In Hawaii, the connection with the ukulele is part of the native culture. The students want to figure out the songs for traditional Hawaiian music, and that functions as a gateway to all the other popular songs they listen to. “Using the uke first was a huge spark, they would sing with recordings and then I would play while they sang, so they could see how easy it was,” she adds. She would find songs that used a few easy chords and put them on the board. Then students would listen and make up the strumming pattern that works for with the songs. Afterwards they would sing the melodies and figure them out by ear, which Kerri then says on fret numbers and then finally on notes, so they learn multiple ways to think about melodies.

Paula Fuga’s “Lilikoi” was a great starting song for the students with just two chords. It has a melodic intro and some of the kids already knew it and showed off, and then everyone wanted to learn it. For more ideas on songs that her students wanted to learn, check out Keali’i Reichel’s “Kawaipunahele”, Kolohe Kai’s “Heartstrings”, Hapa’s “Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai”, Josh Tatofi’s “For the Lahui”, and Kapena’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” and “Don’t Say Goodbye”. For Kerri, this melding of the traditional and popular, both in musical styles and her students’ music education has been just what she needed to revitalize her love of teaching.

For more information about the Modern Band Summit, visit

Scott Burstein is the director of teaching and learning for the national non-profit Little Kids Rock and inaugural director of the All National Modern Band Honors Ensemble.

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