The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

How The Punahou Orchestra Transitioned Online


During the first block of the 2020-2021 school year, Punahou orchestra students attended class online amidst the coronavirus pandemic, requiring directors to create a unique and unfamiliar curriculum. The transition to online learning also provided students an opportunity to create a virtual environment to practice and share their talents with the community.

Punahou had initially transitioned to online learning following a double digit surge of coronavirus cases in mid March of 2020. Due to rising cases in the summer, many classes prepared curriculum changes for the new school year. 

Although many classes had a learning curve with the switch, the Punahou orchestra department faced the unprecedented challenge of creating a completely new online curriculum for students.

Unlike many teachers, the orchestra directors are responsible for both students in the junior school and in the academy. Hundreds of students from grades 5 through 12 participate in nine different orchestra ensembles, and directors Jonas Carlson, Craig Young and Stephanie Lawton were able to create a syllabus for each orchestra that included both aspects of music playing, and music theory. 

Dr. Jonas Carlson, the director of academy orchestras, understood the extreme difficulty of playing music together online. Internet lag and connection speed, sound quality, and other obstacles prevented students from being able to play their instruments with each other in a virtual class environment. 

In place of that, Dr. Carlson focused on teaching the technical aspects of classical music and music history, which included learning about various periods of classical music, recognizing the different key signatures, and other elements of music theory.

In addition to theory, Dr. Carlson also assigned listening assignments for his students. Listening to these compositions allowed for students to familiarize themselves with the intricacies of the music in addition to being able to play them.

“Part of my goal is to get a deeper understanding of the music we play regardless if it’s orchestra or if it’s solo repertoire. I want to encourage a deeper level of thinking about what you’re playing,” said Carlson.

Reese Co ‘22, a violist in the concert two orchestra, agreed with Dr. Carlson’s sentiment. “Something good that’s changed is that we’re learning different stuff now. With the extra time we have, we’re learning about music theory and we’ve done research into baroque orchestra playing, so rather than learning how to play, we’re learning about orchestra”.

Despite not being able to teach his students in person, Dr. Carlson sees the pandemic as a teachable moment. “To some extent we can even look at it as an opportunity. An opportunity to do things that we haven’t really had time to do before,” he noted. 

Some students in the orchestra program have said they’ve struggled to practice in order to submit pieces for virtual auditions and competitions. 

One group helping students combat this issue is the Punahou music club. Run by symphony-orchestra students Erin Nishi ‘21, Mira Hu ‘21, and Jairus Rhoades ‘22, the club aims to prepare music students for in-person and virtual concerts while also helping to connect them with various senior homes.

“Another [goal of the club] is to bring music to the community. Especially [to] senior homes, nursing homes, hospices, and places like that where the seniors in our community don’t have a lot of access to seeing other people and interacting [with them],” said Nishi.

The club receives videos from members and alumni who want to share their musical talents with the seniors. The clips are formatted into a single, 45-minute video, which is then sent every two weeks to 17 different senior homes and hospices on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. 

“Competitions have shifted [online] as well. You will be sending in videos so I guess it’s a good practice for that too,” noted Rhoades.

“Part of the goal of the music club is not only to be able to share our music for the seniors but it also benefits the student in that they get to practice performing in front of an audience. So especially leading up to competitions and things like that, performing in front of a live crowd is really helpful,” said Nishi.

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