50 States of Guitar Class
Number 8: The Aloha State
By Thomas Amoriello Jr.
NAfME Council for Guitar Education Chair
Aloha NAfME members! Today we will visit Honolulu and the classroom of Darin Au who has also served on the NAfME Council for Guitar Education as the Western Division Representative since 2015. Darin has held teaching positions at Sacred Hearts Academy and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Darin currently is a faculty member of the Academy Music Department at Punahou School.
You can watch Darin and his students in action in this brief segment:
Over the past several years, he has made many contributions to arts education by presenting workshops on teaching creativity at the Schools of the Future Conference, the Hawaii Music Educators Association (HMEA) Conference, and to teachers and parents at Punahou School. Darin received his Master of Music degree in Composition from the University of North Texas. His most recent book is Beginning Ensembles for the Next Generation of Guitarists. In addition his compositions and arrangements have been performed across the United States, throughout Europe and in Asia, including a world premiere of his published work “Chasing Dragons” at the prestigious Guitar Foundation of America Festival in San Antonio. (This work will also be performed by the NAfME All-National Guitar Ensemble conducted by Dr. Michael Quantz at the NAfME All-National Honor Ensembles in Orlando this November.)
Most recently, his composition for guitar ensemble, “Bailarina en un paisaje abstracto,” was premiered at the HMEA Conference in a combined effort of the Maryvale High School (Phoenix, AZ) Touring Guitar Ensemble and the Classic Guitar Ensemble II of Punahou School. Darin has performed extensively throughout the U.S., and among his local credits are concerts and CD recording with rock/reggae band Thick Tubes and radio and television appearances with Kapono Beamer. Thank you, Darin, for sharing your thoughts!
Please tell us about your school and overall music program.
I teach at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii. It’s a K-12 Independent School with 3,750 students. 1,750 of those students are high school students. Our school strongly supports music, so we have band, orchestra, and choir along with a range of general music classes. And, of course, we have a high school guitar program.
Please tell us about your own personal musical background growing up and your collegiate experience.
Growing up, I was a band kid, so I played clarinet. Our program was robust, so we had a really good Wind Ensemble, and our marching band was large (about 200 members every year). In my junior and senior year, I also played in orchestra and played some of the great masterworks (the real stuff, not transcriptions). On the side, the music teachers used my talents as a guitarist in jazz band and other school performances. In college, my major was Composition, but my main instrument was guitar. I have my M.M. in Composition from the University of North Texas.
How do the guitar family instruments fit into your teaching?
I teach three levels of guitar. And 95% of the time we stick to playing guitar, but we will also use bass, electric guitar, ukulele, and octave guitars from time to time.
What kind of classes related to the guitar do you teach?
I teach a course called Creative Music Studio where students of varying music backgrounds come together and work on collaborating on recordings and live performances. It’s essentially a commercial music class. And I teach a really great course called Creativity and Composition. I get to teach this course with a colleague who is a fantastic teacher and published poet. Together, we teach creativity as a skill through writing and music.
What would you like to say to the non-guitarist music educator who is about to or interested in incorporating the guitar into their program?
I’ve started telling people the guitar will save the world. The guitar is the most versatile and affordable instrument out there. It has a rich history of being a “native speaker” in classical music, blues, jazz, rock, Hawaiian music, and so much more. Students exercise discipline through technique (classical guitar), creativity through improvisation (blues/jazz/rock), and learn storytelling and history (blues/Hawaiian).
Additionally, the guitar is a fulfilling solo instrument that also can play in ensembles ranging from a vocal/guitar duo to a small rock or jazz combo to a full-size guitar orchestra. Students can learn to sing while they play, write songs, and of course, learn theory and music technology all with the guitar at the fundamental core of the curriculum. What’s not to love about the guitar?
Do you have any success stories you would like to share about students (musical and non-musical)?
Early in my teaching career, maybe year 5 or 6, I got a call from an administrator at the high school where I work. She said, “I have a student who wants to learn to play the guitar, but I wanted to check with you first. She was born with one arm. She says she can attach a pick to the end of her prosthesis, and she’d like to try.” Who am I to deny a kid who is enthusiastic about learning to play music? So, I told my administrator, if she’s up for learning, I’ll be there to teach her.
She taught me never to give up on a student if they were willing to go the distance themselves.
She was one student in a class of about 18 students. I taught all the students how to play fingerstyle (classical technique), while this student used the pick at the end of her prosthetic arm. To her credit, she practiced regularly and got a decent sound out of that guitar! She could keep up with nearly everything her classmates did, including doing string skips on arpeggio exercises. She taught me never to give up on a student if they were willing to go the distance themselves.
What do you tell your talented students who are planning to pursue music or guitar studies in high school or college after they finish with you?
The music part is only a small part of the equation of being a successful musician. Work hard, show up on time, be prepared, and be a good teammate.
Do you have any networking or advocacy tools that have worked for you promoting your program that would help other educators?
Staying positive on social media and being a part of NAfME have been priceless in helping my career.
What type of arrangements and/or transcribing have you done for your school performances?
I’ve done arrangements of some great classic rock tunes; “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Dream On” come to mind. There have been a bunch of others, but in the past five or six years, I’ve turned the arranging of rock tunes over to my classes. They collaborate to come up with their own arrangements. When “Moana” was the popular Disney movie a couple of years ago, my students wanted to do “How Far I’ll Go.” They did a really great job and incorporated extended techniques into that arrangement and the dynamic range was superior.
Do you do any musical performance or activities outside of your school teaching duties?
I’m an active composer and performer. I feel those activities make me a better music teacher. I play in a duo in Waikiki. My duo partner plays rhythm guitar and sings. That allows me to improvise countermelodies and accompaniments to keep things interesting for us and for our audiences. I try to change things up every time we play. As a composer, I wish I had more time to write guitar ensemble music, because I love doing that, but time and energy is always an issue.
Past “Guitar Class in 50 States” articles:
- Number 7: The Land of Enchantment (New Mexico)
- Number 6: The Sunshine State (Florida)
- Number 5: The Grand Canyon State (Arizona)
- Number 4: The Ocean State (Rhode Island)
- Number 3: The North Star State (Minnesota)
- Number 2: The Silver State (Nevada)
- Number 1: The Garden State (New Jersey)
About the author:
Thomas Amoriello is the NAfME Council for Guitar Education Chair and also serves as the Guitar Education Chairperson for the New Jersey Music Education Association. He teaches guitar for the Flemington Raritan School District and Hunterdon Academy of the Arts. Tom graduated from Shenandoah Conservatory with a Master of Music Degree in Classical Guitar Performance. He is the author of the children’s picture books; A Journey to Guitarland with Maestro Armadillo & Ukulele Sam Strums in the Sand (March 2019), both available from Black Rose Writing. He recently made two vinyl record releases on the H42 Records label of Hamburg, Germany featuring former members of Black Sabbath, Whitesnake, Dio, Ozzy Osbourne, Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force and more.
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