Westchester Middle School Teacher Pierce Yamaoka smashes conventions around classical music while raising funds for worthy causes as an activist musician and organizer for Protestra.
One of Windward’s own, Westchester Middle School Teacher Pierce Yamaoka, is smashing conventions around classical music, all while raising funds for worthy causes, as an activist musician and organizer with Protestra. Founded in 2017, this cohort of mainly orchestral musicians is based in New York City but receives donations and support from all over the country.
As shared on their website, Protestra aims to “use [their] art to speak out against injustice and speak truth to power.” They continue, “We consider it our responsibility as artists to use music to expand social consciousness and raise awareness about the pressing societal issues that affect us all, but especially the most vulnerable and marginalized among us.” As part of that mission, the organization, which recently acquired non-profit status, holds benefit concerts for like-minded charities, programs their repertoire with a lens toward highlighting diverse composers, shares resources, and invites guest speakers for panel discussions on timely topics.
Mr. Yamaoka is an accomplished trumpeter, and he earned two music degrees before arriving at Windward. He was invited to join the group as an organizer and trumpeter in 2020, and he participated in their first concert on September 10, 2020, for the event series Take a Stand, titled A Concert for Black Lives. The concert was fully virtual, live streamed from musicians’ homes, and included a panel discussion organized by Mr. Yamaoka about current issues related to race. Intended to raise funds for the NAACP legal fund and Black classical music educators, the concert had an impressive turnout and raised $3,000. "Our goal with these pop-up concerts is to create an interactive experience for the audience, inspiring activism by utilizing multimedia education and engaging in dialogue about the theme of the show,” Mr. Yamaoka explained.
"Our goal with these pop-up concerts is to create an interactive experience for the audience, inspiring activism by utilizing multimedia education and engaging in dialogue about the theme of the show.”
This past May, Protestra presented their first in-person concert for their Music in Action series, titled Heritage Against Hate. Timed to coincide with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) month, the concert featured works by AAPI-identifying musicians and included an accompanying art show and a discussion hosted by Asian Musical Voices of America. The majority of the proceeds were donated to Café Maddy Cab and Heart of Dinner, two local organizations supporting the AAPI community in New York City.
“Our ultimate goal is to effect positive change by inspiring engagement in the community by showcasing diverse classical music selections,” said Mr. Yamaoka. “In the coming years, the organization hopes to move away from our current spontaneous, pop-up concert model and toward planning seasons that center around a social justice topic.”