One to Watch: Erin Nishi ’21

By Christine Thomas

Erin Nishi ’21 is the concertmaster of both the Punahou Symphony Orchestra and the Hawaii Youth Symphony I, as well as the first violinist of the stellar Keller String Quartet in the Punahou Chamber Music program.

When Erin Nishi ’21 performs, audiences can’t help but be amazed not only by her commanding musical ability, but by a 16-year-old playing the violin with such poise. “They are all enamored of her playing and seeing someone so young doing so well and with such maturity,” says Nishi’s current violin instructor, Ignace Jang, concertmaster of the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra. “She’s an ambassador of music.”

Nishi is the concertmaster of both the Punahou Symphony Orchestra and the Hawaii Youth Symphony I, as well as the first violinist of the stellar Keller String Quartet in the Punahou Chamber Music program. She’s won numerous music competitions and has performed as a soloist with the Maui Chamber Orchestra, the Kamuela Philharmonic and the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival orchestra.

Yet, Nishi’s focus isn’t on accruing accomplishments; she’s more intent on sharing her music with others. “Music is something that emotionally brings people together,” she says. “Connecting back to the larger community is something that is really important to me.”

As president of the Punahou Academy Music Club, she’s been instrumental in the club’s community service efforts, playing regularly at retirement residences across O‘ahu and organizing benefit concerts for Music in the Clubhouse, a Hawaii Youth Symphony music education outreach program held at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hawaii.

“Her sound is soulful and beautiful, and she plays with conviction, which is delightful, but character is the core of who she is, and the music is icing on the cake,” says Helen Chao-Casano, Punahou Music School director.

Her discipline and focus, which have long been evident, are also unusual for someone her age, Chao-Casano adds.

For Nishi, music is part of her roots. Her older brother is an accomplished violinist and played as a concerto soloist with the Punahou Symphony; her paternal great-aunt, Ellen Masaki, founded Honolulu’s Masaki School of Music; and her maternal uncle is a professional violinist with the Louisiana Philharmonic. But beyond her distinguished musical pedigree, it’s her work ethic and commitment that sets her apart.

She doesn’t yet know whether she’ll be pursuing music professionally, but after learning to play the violin as a 3-year-old and also playing piano, she knows it will always be part of her life. “Music is something everyone should have access to and be able to indulge in if that’s their passion,” she says.

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