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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 3, 2006

It's the 'Little Band That Could'

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

The Iroquois Point Elementary School band, under the direction of music teacher David Utrera, performs at the state Capitol. They've come a long way since the band started out three years ago with only four young musicians, all wanting to play the drums.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Presenting some of the brass and wind players of the Iroquois Point Elementary School band in concert: From left, sixth-grader Justin Putman, fourth-grader Simon Brown, sixth-grader Aaron Grimes, sixth-grader Chris Carlson and fourth-grader Daiana Aponte.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The "Little Band That Could" went on tour yesterday, all the way from Iroquois Point Elementary School to the state Capitol for a concert in the rotunda and command appearances in the Senate and the House.

It was the longest tour the band has made since it started three years ago with four members, all of whom wanted to play the drums. Today they may not sound quite like the Honolulu Symphony, but tiny Simon Brown blows his trumpet like Dizzy Gillespie (with cheeks puffed out) and Aiza Valeriano bangs the timpani exactly on the beat.

This is a very versatile musical organization. Six drummers switch around from cowbell to bass drum with fluid ease. However, somebody forgot to bring along the snare so the drummers pounded on steel folding chairs to keep the rhythm.

It's the only elementary school band in the district. Parents held fundraisers to buy instruments. The kids have to keep their grades up to play in the band and give up an hour of play time Tuesdays and Fridays to rehearse.

The "Little Band That Could" comprises four flutes, one clarinet, four trumpets, four saxophones and six drummers. Band director David Utrera said his young musicians consider the clarinet "kinda risky" because it tends to squeak. So he's lucky to have a clarinet player.

Iroquois Point principal Bob Elliott said he's lucky to have Utrera as band director. "Schools recruit band directors like they do football coaches," Elliott said. "The big dream is to direct a high school band like Pearl City and go to the Rose Bowl."

The "Little Band That Could" is getting a jump-start on the Rose Bowl, although the kids haven't yet learned to march and play at the same time. But they've been all the way to Aloun Farms 10 whole miles from campus to play for Sunset on the Plains

Utrera, who also teaches music classes at Iroquois Point Elementary, said the band is a dream he shared with Elliott, who wanted a music department. He has patched one together with exemplary American ingenuity. Here's an example:

Timpani whiz Aiza Valeriano's mother is Pia Valeriano, who teaches piano at reduced rates in return for use of the school's keyboard instruments. The kids get economy piano lessons and the school gets a music department.

Probably the biggest benefit is that the kids are learning to enjoy music. They got very excited when Utrera told them he had received the music for "Star Wars" and "Fawkes the Phoenix," the theme from "Harry Potter." Trumpet virtuoso Simon Brown is already fooling around with a bamboo flute and a conch shell at home.

Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.