In Good Company: Mia-Amor Porreca

Her Forte is Empowering Students Through Song

Mia-Amor Porreca’s life has been continuously propelled by music. At Kamehameha Schools – Kāpalama, she led her high school co-ed class in the school’s illustrious Song Contest, majored in music education and performance at Chapman University and received her master’s in education from the University of Hawai‘i – Mānoa. Porreca taught at Kamehameha before coming to Punahou in 2020. In addition to facilitating discussions on Case Middle School’s music curriculum, she teaches Music Explorations for grades 6 and 7, co-directs 8th-grade choir and assists with 8th-grade Hawaiian Music. Outside of school, Porreca enjoys canoe paddling as well as beach outings with her husband and two children, Andrea ’28, and James Kawika. She also volunteers at Bluewater Mission, a non-denominational church in Honolulu. Fittingly, Porreca was invited last year to return to Kamehameha Schools as a choral music judge for Song Contest. 

How did you decide upon music as a career?

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t love to sing, so it just felt very natural for me to pursue singing and performing as a career. When I was nine, I saw the song directors at Song Contest, and I was just mesmerized. I said to myself, “Oh yes, that’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to be a conductor.” 

What drew you to teaching at Punahou?

After teaching at Kamehameha for 11 years, it felt time to take the next step. And it was an amazing move. I came to my new school, this beautiful campus, these amazing faculty, these kids who are just so sweet. I enjoy middle school so much because the students are in this incredibly powerful moment in their evolution as human beings. As teachers, we have this precious moment to steward them through this time of tension. In music class, for example, when we ask them to sing in front of their peers, their voices are evolving in real life. It’s a privilege to be the adult who’s saying to them, “yes, you can.”

What lessons do you want your students to take away?  

With my Music Explorations students, I want them to have the ability to interact with music through the elements of music: pitch and rhythm, tempo and dynamics. If they can break music down into these pieces, they can interact with any kind of music. The Explorations program also is about making music that is pili to Punahou and to the people of Hawai‘i. It’s our Punahou chant, our fight songs and cheers. It’s our mele. It’s the songs of Hawai‘i that they’ll use the rest of their lives: Hawai‘i Aloha, Hawai‘i Pono‘ī, the Doxology.

How do you work with a diverse group to create one voice? 

Every student comes with musical knowledge, musical instinct and musical background. I want to discover what they come with, so we do those initial assessments to find out what they know and what’s brand new to them. I also set high expectations for them. I‘ll tell them, “You’re musicians, you’re singers, let’s go.” And these middle schoolers are so game, if you start treating them like singers, they start singing. 

What does it feel like to conduct a choir?  

I love conducting. There’s kuleana there, because I’m thinking about the students before I pick the piece. I’m thinking about the rehearsal moment. I’m listening for them. I’m responding to them. There’s this moment where my students’ eyes are locked on me and you can see they’re waiting on me to take the breath and give the downbeat. There’s a living, breathing, responsive thing that happens in the room that makes the music live in a unique way, a way that will never be sung like that again. It’s such an incredible moment. 

Can you tell me about the upcoming Kapuana Choral Music Festival?

This is the collaborative creation of all of the Middle School Choir and Music Explorations faculty. We’re bringing together the 6th, 7th and 8th grade choirs this May. The theme is our new school mission but we’re also doing mele that’s specific to Punahou. It’s going to be an extraordinary addition to the musical experiences that our kids have at Case Middle School. 

I feel so grateful for the opportunity to serve at Punahou. As an educator, as a music maker, and also as kanaka, it’s an incredible privilege to love these students and to have a chance to share and celebrate with them the music that is Hawai‘i.

– By Carlyn Tani ’69

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