Music Empowering Voice

A Student-Teacher Take

Sponsored by NAfME Corporate Member Hawaii Youth Symphony


What would life be like without the opportunity to hold an instrument? What impact would a classroom void of musical opportunity have on students’ development?

M. Kutty Portrait

M. Kutty

Likening the arts to a language, Hawaii Youth Symphony student and graduating senior M. Kutty composed the following piece from a student perspective considering Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as an educational model, and how the arts can help young people understand themselves and their connection to the larger world:

“Music begins where the possibilities of language ends.”—Jean Sibelius 

Language is more than the mere identity of the words we verbally speak, but is the foundation of how we speak in the voice that calls to our individual selves. Language is how we express our thoughts and feelings in a way that is understood by others; and for many, that language is art. Just like language, art holds a culture and a meaning. It is an identity and a core of being—in other words, an understanding of purpose and a sense of belonging. When language and identity are cut off, a voice and sense of being are cut off; when education turns into a place of limitation, a student’s validity and sense of abilities are cut off.

One of the most important parts about schooling is not only the education that is provided, but the concept of exploring self. Social-emotional learning talks about self-management, self-awareness, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. The arts have been proven to help students with the skills of understanding self, having discipline, knowing how to interact with others, and learning to find comfortability in vulnerable environments.  

As many schools begin to implement SEL—or even hold those standards and expectations without the label—students need to have a space that provides them the opportunity to work on those skills. Garnering these skills happens in various ways. Art is one of the most powerful forms of gaining these skills as it offers students a creative understanding of their true voice and who they are—finding their language. Each student is on a different path of finding their voice, learning their language, and having a sense of purpose in today’s society.

This needs to be understood: Advocating for music and the arts in education is not about creating an arts-dominant culture, but an artistically-motivated society. It is about advocating for the voice of students. When we experience the arts, it is not just the entertainment that we feel, but the connection that we form with the art, the artist, and the mind of the artist. Art is more than watercolors, a stage, and an orchestra, but a way of thinking, feeling, and expressing—all rooting back to the core of our being, our language.

—by M. Kutty

conductor Hannah Watanabe

Hannah Watanabe

Hawaii Youth Symphony Conductor, Programs Manager, and long-time educator, Hannah Watanabe frequently looks at ways to advocate for music in schools and with parents, and to encourage the development of social-emotional skills that can empower the voice of young people such as M.

Throughout her career, Hannah has taught orchestra at Moanalua Middle School, Hawaii Baptist Academy, Moanalua High School, and Kalani High School. She additionally plays an integral role in Hawaii Youth Symphony’s Listen & Learn Concerts, developed in partnership with Hawaii State Department of Education to provide free “for youth, by youth” performances to school children across Hawaii. Hannah points to helpful resources found in Aperture Education, Music Advocacy, and Psychology Today for additional insights that can support educators and aid in student artistic expression, and has incorporated key takeaways into her own approach:

  1. Utilize music as a tool to teach about diversity. Explore different cultures and customs with students through music exploration.
  2. Encourage leadership skills through teamwork. Part of what makes a great leader is the ability to collaborate and be in tune with one’s peers. Music is a fantastic medium for students to learn the skills necessary for future success.
  3. Celebrate music functioning as a tool of resilience. As they say, practice makes perfect. Learning a new composition requires students’ continued effort and urges them to grow from mistakes.
  4. Support good mental health awareness. Music has been proven to improve and stabilize one’s mood by releasing dopamine. Students can learn to use music as a tool for stress-management and self-expression.

Did this blog spur new ideas for your music program? Share them on Amplify! Interested in reprinting this article? Please review the reprint guidelines.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

July 14, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (

April 27 2024 Register for the General Music Virtual Mini Conference

Published Date

July 14, 2022



July 14, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (

Music Inclusion Hub from elementary to college. Your digital hub for culturally responsive, intersectional, mixed media music resources.
Messiah University. Learn more. Earn your master's in music conducting or music education. Online. Flexible. Affordable.
University of the Arts