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Sound Pedagogy

When high school students take a field trip to the Honolulu Museum of Art's Soundshop, they're not expected to stay quiet.

a person singing into a microphone on a stage
(ABOVE) Beats teaching: Rukka the Magnificent (a.k.a. Rodger White) freestyles for students during a Soundshop at the Honolulu Museum of Art, a program that teaches kids self-expression through music production and performance.


Since 2013, Soundshop has transformed the museum's Doris Duke Theatre into a classroom/jam space, where middle and high school kids write and perform their own songs, guided by a roster of local musicians who have had songs on the radio, gone on tours and won Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. 

Five Soundshop teaching artists stand onstage with a quiver of instruments, including a turntable. "My name is Rukka the Magnificent," says one grabbing the mic, "and I'm from Nanakuli." The students start buzzing-especially the ones also from the Leeward Oahu town. A beat drops and Rukka kicks some rhymes before passing the mic to Nick Kurosawa, who plays a bluesy guitar number. Then singer/songwriter Maryanne Ito tells the crowd she has kids their age before cementing herself as the coolest mom they've met with a velvety R&B groove. She hands the mic to New York native DJ Leanski, who scratches up beats on the turntable. By the time jazz singer Kelsea Armstrong is onstage, the kids are rocking. 

a person using a turntable

DJ Lino Deltado drops a beat.


Soundshop is an alternative program designed for kids who struggle in traditional school environments for one reason or another: chronic absenteeism, substance abuse issues, lack of permanent housing. But it isn't just for kids from rough backgrounds. After touring the museum's galleries, the students return to the theater to make music. The facilitators then show them how to make a beat on an iPad and help them find rhymes for their lyrics. Before they leave, every student performs. 

Some students can't raise their voice until they first find it. One girl from Ito's group does exactly that and brings the house down with her verse, "Always went to school late because it wasn't great/always hated the long days, assignments always turned in late/well guess what, next year I graduate." Her peers sound off, cheering wildly and jumping out of their seats.

"There's always adrenaline afterwards," says Navid Najafi, award-winning rapper and one of Soundshop's founders. "Teachers tell us when they're heading back to school, the students keep singing and rapping on the bus. These kids aren't necessarily performers or artists, and they're not always creative, but we acknowledge how important it is to get uncomfortable. You're never gonna grow if you're always comfortable."

Honolulu Museum Soundshop

Story By Eric Stinton

Photos By Mengshin Lin

a boat on water with mountains in the background V26 №7 December - January 2024