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BYU–Hawaii Hosts 2024 Nā Leo Hou All-State High School Choral Festival

High school student singers joined by BYUH choir students standing holding hands during finale song.
High school student performers joined by BYUH choir members.

On Saturday, February 17, Brigham Young University–Hawaii hosted the 2024 Nā Leo Hou All-State High School Choral Festival. The all-day event brought nearly 400 high school students from across Hawaii together with the Hoʻolōkahi Chamber Choir and Seasiders Singers for interactive workshops, rehearsals, and sectionals, ending with a grand concert performance.

In explaining the event theme, "E Hahai i ka Leo: Follow the Voice," Dr. Erica Glenn, assistant professor in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts, shared with student performers, "For many of us, music is the "voice" that has guided us across the uneven terrain of a post-COVID landscape." She continued, "It has healed our souls, drawing us back to our most essential communities and facilitating intercultural understanding."

As the assigned clinician, Dr. Erica Glenn called upon her choir students, who participated in planning the event and supported the overall efforts. This collaboration brought a special feeling to the production, as explained by Abish Annly Baliwas, choir member and senior from the Philippines majoring in anthropology and cultural sustainability. Baliwas shared, "I had to take ownership of my musicianship by learning my parts so I could support the rest of the choir." She added, "I just knew the BYUH choirs were prepared to host the event."

BYUH student performers with Dr. Erica Glenn
BYUH student performers with Dr. Erica Glenn.

Ryan Escabarte, a psychology and health major from Cagayan De Oro City, Philippines, highlighted the BYUH choir's ability to manage festival logistics, hold daily rehearsals of intricate pieces, and include music dynamics from various cultures in the final performances. Overwhelmed with the outcome, Escabarte commends the high school performers on their "friendly, well-mannered, and disciplined" demeanors. He shared, "Watching the high school students perform the song "Fire" gave me so many chills and emotions. The high school and university students enjoyed and had a great time during the festival."

Baliwas, shared that witnessing groups of singers unite for the first time and bond over music was an experience she'll always cherish. She explained, "I was gushing about how remarkable the high school students were in preparing for the festival." Having been in the BYUH choir for three years, she is accustomed to the identity of group being, as she explains, "beautiful, multicultural, and diverse." Still, she was particularly excited about the festival because there was a newfound pride in representing not only the choirs but the university and the church at this event and to this unique crowd of participants.

Baliwas continued to expand on the day's events and interactions with the high school students. As one of the Alto section leaders for Seasider Singers, she did her best to ensure the young performers felt confident in their songs and rehearsals. "Their voices were so young and bright, and it reminded me of my younger self," shared Baliwas. She continued, "It made me sentimental as I looked back and realized how far I have come in my choral journey."

Seasider Singers choir during the festival evening concert.
Seasider Singers during the festival evening concert.

Escabarte shared one conversation with a student from Trinity High School who shared that the experience was "new to him and a little overwhelming" at first but that he was enjoying the festival and wished more of his classmates could have been there. Escabarte also shared, "The festival has opened a great deal of understanding to the students who participated. I think a few of those youth were touched by the spirit that day, and many left feeling inspired by the festival."

In the harmonious culmination of shared melodies and cherished memories, the 2024 Nā Leo Hou All-State High School Choral Festival at BYU–Hawaii emerged as more than a musical spectacle; it became a profound celebration of unity, cultural richness, and the transformative power of music. As the Hoʻolōkahi Chamber Choir and Seasiders Singers harmonized with 400 high school voices, the event showcased the participants' talent and dedication and exemplified the enduring spirit of intercultural understanding.