Friday, November 18, 2011

The Accidental Hawaiian Crooner

A few years ago, at a Lynda Barry writing workshop, I met Jason Poole.

I thank Lynda Barry's "Writing the Unthinkable" for many things in my life, including Jason Poole.

He's The Accidental Hawaiian Crooner and the story of how Hawaiian music changed his life is one of my all-time favorite stories. Now he studies Hawaiian culture and music; he sings (oh, how he sings), plays ukulele, and tells stories. He generously shares, never holds back.

Here's a recent blogpost from his site (

Strumming with Kids and Planting Seeds (Part 2)

An afternoon of sharing the ʻukulele and the ipu heke. (NYC 11.17.11)

Last Thursday, I wrote about a new 6-week residency that I have at an elementary school in NYC as part of their after-school program.

I’ve been brought in, one day a week, to share the joys of strumming the ʻukulele. And if you’ve ever met me, you know that I can’t talk about the ʻukulele without sharing stories about Molokai and the other Hawaiian islands–and even a little school-kid-kine keiki hula for fun. In my mind, they’re not exclusive. Each supports the other.

Here’s the funny thing: they bring me to the school to educate as well as to enrich the school experience for these amazing kids.

And I can honestly say that I am being educated–and absolutely enriched–by my time working with them.

No joke.

Today I brought my ipu heke, a double headed gourd that is often used for percussion in hula and Hawaiian music.

We worked out simple traditional paʻi, hula beats and rhythms. A beat such as (U-T-U-T-T) is something they are very familiar with. During the school day, their teachers clap that rhythm as part of a call and response way to get the kids’ attention. I was so excited to say “Hey! You already know this beat!” And they were excited to share some of the other rhythms they know. (They are exposed to world music through workshops like the one I’m sharing, so they’d had some experience with drumming.)

Then we took those very same rhythms we’d been clapping and strummed them on the ʻukuleles.

Um…totally awesome!

Working on chord progressions with them can be - well - a challenge.

I might have up to 18 students at a time, ranging in age from kindergarten to second grade. And I’m getting them after a full day of classes. So attention spans tend to be shorter. And I’m one teacher trying to share hand positions with18 kids all at once. We do a lot of open chord strumming on the ʻukulele!

But I have to tell you…

It’s like magic when they’re all strumming together.

Some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard.

And I love watching them dance. And I LOVE hearing them sing. (And it’s so much fun to hear them scream with delight when I sound the pū, my conch shell trumpet! I think they’re hoping I’ll blow out some of the windows–Ha!)

It’s an awesome way to spend an afternoon.

Yes, I’m exhausted afterwards. But it’s a good kind of exhaustion. It comes from doing something fantastic.

Right on

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