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Hawaii Youth Chorus Launches First-ever Program In Waipahu

Desi McKenzie leads Hawaii Youth Chorus singers at an annual Christmas performance. Photo by Ashley McKenzie.

The Hawaii Youth Chorus is bringing its music to the West side this fall, offering classes for ages 5-17 at Waipahu United Church of Christ.

One-hour classes are at 9:30 a.m. each Saturday through Dec. 17 for HYC (ages 5-12) and at 10:30 a.m. for HYCTeenGlee! (ages 12-17).

HYC was launched in 1990 at Maemae Elementary School in Nuuanu when the administration wanted to preserve music programs for its students.

“Music was becoming less and less a part of the school curriculum, and the principal really wanted something to happen after school to fulfill that need for music,” recalled HYC founder and director Desi McKenzie.

The first classes began with just 19 students at Maemae, but the program since has grown to include about 140 students in several elementary schools throughout the state.

McKenzie established HYCTeenGlee! as a continuum for middle and high school students after they “aged out” of HYC. The classes being offered in Waipahu will be a first for that area.

“The other programs that we have – Nuuanu, Lanakila Elementary, Maemae – they’re all in East Honolulu. I want to be able to offer Hawaii Youth Chorus to children in Central and West Oahu,” McKenzie explained.

The classes will teach teens proper vocal technique and stage presence. The group also plans its own repertoire for each performance.

“I think the most important thing is that they learn the power of music,” she said.

Community service also is an integral part of the two choruses.

“I think part of the reason that we have had so much support from the schools is because Hawaii Youth Chorus’s mission is making a difference in our community through music.”

Over the years, the group has helped raise funds and awareness for organizations such as Easter Seals, American Cancer Society and Hawaii Foodbank.

The group’s giving mentality stems from McKenzie’s strong desire to help others. A longtime entertainer, McKenzie said her whole mission in life shifted when she had a child with special needs 15 years ago.

During a particularly rough time for her family, they were beneficiaries of the Lokahi project, which provides holiday gifts to families in need.

“My focus has shifted to philanthropic work,” she said. “(My daughter) just taught me that giving back to the community should be my No. 1 focus.”

The classes at Waipahu United Church of Christ are open to anyone who is interested; no experience or auditions are necessary.

“We are looking for kids who have a passion for music and community service,” McKenzie said.

Fee is $45 per month. For more information, call McKenzie at 623-2411 or email her at hawaiiyouthchorus@yahoo.com.