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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, April 24, 2005

Leilehua will honor its music man

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Central O'ahu Writer

Leilehua High's 50th annual spring concert on Saturday will be a memorable event for James "Jimmy" Uyeda, who set a standard of musical excellence at the Wahiawa school.

James Uyeda, former Leilehua High band director, followed the score as present director Keith Fukumoto, top right, led the alumni band recently at the school. Various Leilehua alumni who played in the band in the past have come together to perform in the 50th spring concert.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The school plans to honor Uyeda at the concert by naming the music building he lobbied for years ago after him. Uyeda served as band director from 1963 to 1973.

An alumni band has been formed to play at the concert and Uyeda will be one of three former Leilehua band instructors directing the group. Uyeda's three children — his daughter, Jamie Natividad of Maui, 41; and sons Kevin, 40, and Gareth, 36 — and his grandson, Leilehua senior Gavin Uyeda, are playing with the alumni band, giving him a chance to direct them together for the first time.

"I'm very thankful for that," said the 70-year-old Uyeda, who has 13 former students playing for the alumni band.

During his tenure at the Wahiawa school, Uyeda was the catalyst for establishing the band program's identity as a concert band rather than marching band.

"For music to become fine art, you have to go beyond the notes," Uyeda said. "What makes it fine art is how you interpret the music. When you play music and try to express it, it has to go beyond harmony, rhythm and melody. A performer's soul should ride on the sounds."

Paul Kobayashi, who was Leilehua's principal at the time, said Uyeda "pushed hard to get concert music going, not having the band just play rah-rah stuff. He also started a choir ... and created a lot of interest, which is why many of his students got involved in music."

Spring concert at Leilehua High

Leilehua High School's 50th Annual Spring Concert

• 7-9:30 p.m. Saturday

• Leilehua High gymnasium

• Free admission

• Also: Band alumni dinner — Leilehua High is holding a reunion/scholarship dinner 6 p.m. Friday at Leilehua Golf Course; $30 per person; 622-6572 or www.leilehuaband.com.

Uyeda, a graduate of Baldwin High and Lawrence College in Appleton, Wis., is an ordained Zen priest and a martial artist skilled in aikido, kendo and iaijitsu sword disciplines. He retired in 1991 as band director at Leeward Community College after 35 years of teaching music.

In describing his strict, demanding teaching philosophy, Uyeda said, "I don't teach just for time in school." He believes students are not learning music if the role of a band is just to play at football games and march on a field.

His philosophy is geared to teaching students life skills.

"I wanted to give kids in rural-area public schools an opportunity to look at the world, so I pushed them," Uyeda said. "I believed if bands in the Orient could play three hours without dropping a pitch, we needed to be able to do that. If American bands could play with tremendous technique, we needed to do that. If European bands could play fast with schmaltz, we needed to do that.

"And so when I was at Leilehua, if I came in at 5:30 in the morning, six students walked in with me," he added. "By 7 o'clock, three-fourths of the band would be practicing. They were special kids."

The band building, which replaced a facility Uyeda called "a monkey cage" near the school's football stadium, was built in 1970 and was a "dream come true," he said. Up to now it has been known simply as Building EE.

Leilehua's symphonic band recently returned from a 10-day trip to Orlando, Fla., where it placed second at the All-American Music Festivals.

Leilehua band director Keith Fukumoto, 49, a Farrington High grad who played in Uyeda's Leeward Community College band, is preparing for his 25th spring concert. He taught Uyeda's three children as well as his grandson.

Uyeda, meanwhile, played in the band with Lloyd Inaba at Baldwin and succeeded him as Leilehua's band director.

"The bond is very strong," said Delbert Kim, who played tenor sax for Uyeda at Leilehua in 1972-76 and helped Fukumoto organize the alumni reunion to mark the 50th concert.

"For some guys, it's the first time in 20 years that they've picked up a horn," Kim said. "It's an unreal experience to be playing together with them."

Kim will be performing with the alumni band, while his daughter Jamie, a junior and an alto sax player, will be playing with the Leilehua band.

Besides Uyeda and Inaba, a Maui resident who began the 50-year spring concert count, Pearl City High principal Gerald Suyama, another former Leilehua band director, will take a turn conducting the alumni band.

Fukumoto said that at the concert, the 140-member Leilehua band will play a new arrangement of the school's alma mater by 1963 graduate Eric Shimamoto.

Alumni group rehearsals are a chance to renew acquaintances and talk story.

James "Jimmy" Cabralda, 55, recalled that Uyeda encouraged him to join the Navy band in 1968. He spent 30 years in the Navy and retired as assistant director of the Pacific Fleet Band.

"Mr. Uyeda picked hard music, classics that were challenging, and it made us better," said Cabralda.

Kevin Uyeda, a computer teacher at Mililani Waena Elementary School and Leilehua's junior varsity baseball coach — and also the son of former Leilehua band director James Uyeda — shared a story about the first Leilehua concert he attended: His mother, the former Lillian Haramoto of Maui, marched with the Leilehua band from Ka'ala Elementary School to Fred Wright Park in Wahiawa on Nov. 7, 1964, and gave birth to him at 10 that night.

"She gave birth, got out of the hospital the next day and brought me to the Fall Pops concert that night," he said. "I heard my first concert before I was a day old."

Reach Rod Ohira at 535-8181 or rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Corrections: Kevin Uyeda is the son of former Leilehua band director James Uyeda. Information in a previous version of this story was incorrect.