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The happiest songs on earth

BYUH’s Studio Jazz Orchestra visits Maui to inspire joy

An orchestra plays on a coast with the ocean in the background. The musicians are dressed in pastel yellow, blue, or pink tuxedos.
The Studio Jazz Orchestra playing on Maui
Photo by Emmie Siebert

University officials decided BYU-Hawaii’s Studio Jazz Orchestra would go to Maui after the devastating effects of the fires there, said Director Daniel Henderson. “Music has the power to influence, heal, lift, and inspire,” he said, and the concert’s theme was “The Happiest Songs on Earth.”

An audience member from Maui, Lyla, got up and danced during the song "Come to The Mardi Gras." She said, “Isn’t it wonderful to live your life in song?” She added, “I am almost 90, and I know the words to all of these songs!” She stayed dancing for the rest of the show.

Light in the dark

The goal of going to Maui, said Henderson, the director of the Studio Jazz Orchestra and associate professor in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts, was not to go over there and say, “Hey, look on the bright side of life,” or “Everything is going to be fine.” But rather when dark clouds are overhead, to cling to hope and know, “the sun peeks out of the clouds from time to time,” Henderson explained.

Henderson added most of the songs the orchestra played emerged from some of the darkest times of history, referring to the Great Depression in the 1930s. There’s poetry behind that, he said, that when the world was struggling, songs of joy, love and light were made.

A birds-eye view of the orchestra performing in pastel pink, blue and yellow tuxedos.
A bird's-eye view of the Studio Jazz Orchestra performing in Maui.
Photo by Emmie Siebert

Henderson remarked how quickly the devastation from the fires became apparent when the orchestra arrived on Maui. He said, “It's not just Lahaina. Everyone is struggling.”

“I spoke with some whose homes had burnt down,” Henderson said. Some were bursting with gratitude for the orchestra's performance, he said, and others were quietly admiring. Henderson said he also heard back from stake presidents, bishops and ward members from various wards who said they were all grateful the orchestra came to Lahaina.

Jamboree Jones

Another audience member, Sean, originally from South Africa, but who has lived on Maui the past 40 years, attended the orchestra's final performance. He said, “I am so grateful the kids get to experience this kind of thing on Maui.” Sean said he was touched by the song “Accentuate The Positive '' because it was his mother's favorite. It was so special to tell his child about these songs, Sean said.

A song that resonated with the orchestra more than Dr. Henderson said he anticipated, was “Jamboree Jones,” a song originally by Johnny Mercer about a football game. “But more than a football game, it really is about finding a redeemer, savior and helper when you need it the most,” said Henderson.

According to Henderson, the song starts with a football team who finds themselves in the unfortunate desperate situation of being down 17 to nothing with one minute to play, as the lyrics say. Henderson said, “It's hopeless. You can never come back from that!” He continued, the football team tries with all their talent, skill and coaching, but they can’t do it.

Finally, Henderson said, the football team gets help from an outsider who is the least likely person to be of any help. Henderson said, “Up in the stands, there is this lowly clarinet player named Jamboree Jones.” He continued, the clarinet player summoned all of his energy and power and spirit into his music.

Henderson said in the song, “It turns the whole crowd berserk.
They go nuts. They start screaming, cheering and yelling.” He said the crowd's spirit was infectious so the football team runs up the field and down the field, as the song lyrics say, and the team wins!

The backs of the heads of the orchestra musicians as they rest between songs at a performance.
The Studio Jazz Orchestra performs outside at a venue in Maui.
Photo by Emmie Siebert

Though Jamboree Jones is a story about a football game and a clarinet player, Henderson said, “Really, this is a story about how sometimes we need a Jamboree Jones in our life.” Henderson posed the questions, “When have we been down 17 to nothing? Do we know anyone who has only about a minute left to play, as the lyrics say? Can we as an outsider step in and say, 'You don’t know who I am,' like the lonely clarinet player, and help those around us?” Henderson said, “We all feel down 17 to nothing sometimes.” Sometimes people can feel like they only have a minute left to play, then, in comes their own Jamboree Jones, he said.

Sean said, “Your conductor puts out so much positivity and joy.” Sean said he was inspired by the connectivity between the conductor and the orchestra. “It seems like oneness,” he said, “It is just phenomenal.”

The primary purpose

My primary purpose is first, the education of my students,” said Henderson. He said a tour can offer experience, contexts and moments that students cannot get on campus. He said college is a time where students are divided because their crowded schedules force them to divide themselves. He explained, “One hour is science. The next hour is religion, then music, then lunch. The next hour is crying over how bad your date went last week, then work and then homework and then catch a little Netflix and call your parents.” Henderson said he views the tour as a time where he has his students for four days undivided, and how special that time is to leave an impact on the students.

The result of the tour, Henderson said, “From an educator's perspective, we made enormous progress musically.” He said by the end of the tour, the orchestra really felt the power of the music. Very few people in the orchestra are trying to make a career in New York or Hollywood, said Henderson, but “for the students to rediscover the love of music made me really, really happy.” To get to spend four days with them morning till night was terrific, Henderson said.

The orchestra performing on stage with several singers in the front as the audience watches and reacts.
Singers perform with the Jazz Studio Orchestra during the tour in Maui.
Photo by Emmie Siebert