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Posts Tagged ‘kids’

Sharing Aloha in our public schools.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Jason Poole, Accidental Hawaiian Crooner, Molokai, Halawa Valley, Anakala Pilipo Solatorio, Midori and Friends, Aloha, teaching artist

My ‘eke (bag) filled with an ipu heke, pūʻili, a shell lei and my ʻukulele.

Last week I had the great privilege of teaching/sharing Hawaiian music and culture at a public elementary school out in Howard Beach, New York. My friends lovingly refer to it as the “far out school.”  But not in a Greg Brady or John Denver kind of “far out” way.  See, this school is about a two hour commute from my apartment. To get there, I’ve got to take the subway for about an hour and then walk approximately 1.5 miles to get to the school through neighborhoods and over footbridge that crosses a busy highway. In previous years, I’ve visited this school in the scorching heat and humidity of early summer as well as the freezing cold of deep winter with icicles hanging from my nose.

But this school is a favorite place to teach/share Hawaiian music and culture.  The students and the faculty celebrate music and diverse cultures. This was my third year acting as a visiting teacher via Midori & Friends, the non-profit music education organization I work with.  When I walked through the door last Monday, it was a homecoming of sorts. (And they always make me feel like a rock star!)

When they ask if I can come and do a residency, the answer is always a resounding YES.

Did I mention that at this school I work with the kindergarten classes? Yup. All of ‘em.  That means I’m sharing Hawaiian music and culture with about 110 students, all of ‘em about five years old.  It’s like doing four back-to-back high energy shows every day. (It reminds me of college-age summers when I performed at a theme park.) It’s wild. It’s exhausting.

And it’s one of the most soul-fulfilling experiences of my life.

It dawned on me a little while ago that most of these kids have only been on the planet for about five years. They haven’t seen all of the touristy photos and movies about Hawai’i that are circulating among the masses. They’re not familiar with with the postcard “paradise” images that so many people associate with the Hawaiian islands–and that’s a blessing. (For one thing, I don’t have to spend as much time convincing them that Hawai’i is real place with real people and not just drowsy-eyed ’ukulele strummers sitting under coconut trees or majestic surfer dudes riding the waves with ladies sitting on their shoulders.)

For a lot of them, I am giving them their first taste of the islands and traditional Hawaiian culture. (But you know, no worries. No pressure or anything!) I have the privilege/honor/kuleana of introducing them to Hawai’i.

I bring my ‘ukulele. I bring maps. I bring lots and lots of photos. I share lots and lots of stories. One of the perks of being an “outsider who became an insider” of Hawai’i and her culture is that I’ve done everything–and I mean everything–wrong at some point. I’ve stumbled and stammered and put my foot in my mouth more times than I care to disclose.  So when I tell them about Hawai’i, I share it from the perspective of a fellow newbie/neophyte. We laugh a lot. I try to make them feel like we’re all learning together.

We sing songs, both traditional school kid-kine songs and my own original compositions. This year, I wanted to write a new song about Hōkūleʻa and how the canoe will be visiting New York City in 2016. I wanted the kids to have a song they could carry and simple hula they could dance–something to share with the crew if they went to visit the boat. (Songs and hulas are free and portable. You can’t beat that!)

I really struggled with the song at first, wanting to make it perfect, wanting to write something profound. But it came down to this: I needed to create something simple and relatable for these kids. I wanted to share 2 things: Hōkūleʻa is sailing around the world. She’s carrying a message of Mālama Honua, taking care of the earth.  Once I got my ego out of the way (Imagine standing in front of the Hōkūleʻa crew with throngs of students all singing the song and doing the simple hula!) the song basically wrote itself. A simple song. A simple hula. And an opportunity to discuss how we all have the responsibility to mālama honua.

All week long, we sang and danced ourselves silly. We laughed at stories of the goofy things that Uncle Jason has done in Hawaiʻi, about being afraid of lizards in the house, about getting a bellyache from eating too much inamona.

I told them about Hālawa Valley and its lifestyle that is so much like the traditonal lifestyle of Hawaiʻi long ago.  We talked about how Mom and Pops Solatorio adopted me into their family, how I look different from all of their children, how ʻohana is family based on feeling instead of bloodline.

I gave them a very basic introduction to the Hawaiian language.

And these kids! Ah! I’ll tell you, they’re so wonderful they can make your knees buckle with their smiles and enthusiasm.

There are kids in the classroom who don’t speak English very well. But you’d be amazed to see that these are the same little kids who give you a shaka and an “Aloha, Uncle Jason!” every morning when you greet them.  There are other kids who are part of the special needs program who shock me by coming up to me and saying, “Uncle Jason, did you know there are three ways to say Hawai’i (Ha-WHY-ee, Ha-WAH-ee and Ha-VAI-ee) and also I love you.”

And when I walked down the halls of the schools in between classes, I felt like a celebrity. Those shining faces with bright eyes, those little hands giving me a shaka wave and their voices ringing out, “Aloha, Uncle Jason!”

Come on! Does it get any better than that?

On Friday, all four of the classes gathered in the school’s auditorium for our big “show.” My friend, Kaina, came to dance hula for them. And they were so excited to share the songs and keiki hulas they’d learned with her!  Imagine a school’s auditorium, nearly-filled to capacity with kindergarten students (and some fifth graders who’d recently done a report on Hawai’i), all singing and dancing.

Incredible.  It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

You know, I freaked out a little bit when Pops gave me the title of Kumu Hawaii a few years ago, when he said, “Now it’s YOUR turn to be a teacher.” I asked him what I was supposed to do with that heavy responsibility. I hadn’t grown up in Hawai’i.  I didn’t think anyone would want to learn from someone like me.

But that’s where I was wrong. I was hung up on my skin color, my background, the fact that I’m not Hawaiian. He had trained me and tested me. He trusted me. I needed to trust myself.

And I remind myself of that every time I do a new residency, every time I have the opportunity to share what’s been so graciously and lovingly shared with me.

When I walked away from the school on Friday, I knew that I’d planted seeds of Aloha. Some would grow. Some might not. Some kids may remember my name someday. Some might not. But I’ll bet a lot of them will remember that a man came to their school when they were kids and he brought an ‘ukulele and wore wild shirts and leis. He sang songs and taught them to hula. And he taught them that Aloha doesn’t mean “Hi” or “Goodbye” but it really means, “I love you my friend.”

And if that’s all that they remember, then I’ve done my job.

A blessing, indeed.

Mahalo for that, kids.

Right on.



Summer Vacation? Well…

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Some of the nicest gifts I've ever received. Thanks, kids! You all rocked!

This spring, I was given the awesome opportunity to share Aloha with school kids here in NYC.  And yesterday, I finished my final session at the last school.

Backstory: Midori & Friends, a non-profit music education organization, placed me in FIVE elementary schools over the past few months.  Some residencies lasted two weeks.  Others lasted as long as nine weeks!  There was a period that I was working with four schools at the same time!  (Please click HERE and HERE to read about some of my adventures in the schools.)

It was Heaven.  It was really hard.  But mostly, it was Heaven.

This morning, I woke up and my brain was still on autopilot.

As my eyes tried to adjust to the light in the kitchen while I made coffee, I began the daily ritual of going through my mental TO DO list for the day.  Which school was I heading to today?  What time I would need to get on the subway in order to arrive on time.   Where had we left off in our last session?  What things would I need to pack in my “Amazing Hawaiian Bag” so that we’d be ready to start, again, today.

And then it dawned on me:  I don’t need to report to a school today.

Summer vacation is here?  Is that possible?


With a cuppa Joe in my hand,  I headed out to my desk.

Again, I asked myself: Am I on summer break?

Not really.  I have all sorts of projects/items on a standing TO DO list that have been waiting patiently for me to finish up my work with the schools so that I could take care of ‘em.

Panic gripped my chest as I thought about all of the things that had been piling up.  What started out as simple things now appeared as monsters–threatening to swallow me alive.

As Anne Lamott reminds writers, we tackle big tasks “bird by bird.”  One thing at a time…

Beside me lay a huge canvas tote bag–my Amazing Hawaiian Bag–stuffed to the top with all sorts of things: songbooks, my pū/conch shell trumpet, hula implements, different varieties of lei, a kīhei and all sorts of other things buried in the pockets.  Things that had been collecting over the past months.

A great place to start!  I would unpack my the Amazing Hawaiian Bag and put the items away until the next residency begins in the new school year.

The first thing I pulled out was a pile of papers that had been given to me by the students yesterday. They are 3rd graders who are really concentrating on their writing skills.  They’d written me the most beautiful, heartfelt letters describing their favorite parts about our time together.

I started reading one.  And then another.  And then another.

And I cried.

Not a weepy, sorrow-filled tear session.  I cried because of their beautiful words.

Then I told myself to “get a grip!” and pushed the pile of letters aside.

I reached further into the bag and pulled out the seashell lei that one of the classes had made for me. (Again, stinging eyes from potential tears.)

I went to put the items in my bedroom and came across a book of photos and drawings that the kids at another school had made for me.

And that was beside a pile of cards and drawings that yet another group of students had made for me.

I took that as a sign.

I carried everything the kids had made for me out to the kitchen table.  I poured myself a fresh cup of coffee.  And I sat and read through their words and was amazed by their drawings and photos.

I surrounded myself in the lei of Aloha that they’d given me.

I’ll tackle the rest of the unpacking of that “amazing Hawaiian bag” tomorrow.

Today I’m just taking it all in.

And I’m filled with gratitude.

Mahalo, thank you, to the kids and the teachers and the schools for an amazing spring session of residencies.

Mahalo for the laughter!

Mahalo for teaching me how to be a better teacher.

Mahalo for joining me in the planting of some seeds of Hawaiian culture here in NYC.


Trying out 2 NEW SONGS today!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Jason Poole, Accidental Hawaiian Crooner, NYC, ukulele,

Aloha, gang!


(I’ll bet you were able to guess that from the headline, right?!)

One of the residencies that I’ve been doing this spring has been exploring music and movement with an awesome group of kids at a nursery school not too far from my apartment in NYC.  I mean it: these kids are really awesome!

And they’ve inspired me to (gulp!) write 2 songs for them!

I know… I know… I still can’t believe it.

I have never written a song before.  (Ok, that’s not entirely true… I wrote one when I was about 6 years old.  I think I was taking piano lessons and I wanted to play something I’d written. Needless to say, it never found its way onto the Billboard charts.)

These new songs are based on projects the kids were working on in their classrooms.  One group was helping/watching chicken eggs hatch and the other told me all about their butterfly project–watching caterpillars morph into butterflies.

So I did it.  I wrote simple songs.

Today is the last day of my residency.  And we’re putting on a little “show” for the last class.   The kids’ families have been invited. We’ll be sharing all of the songs & keiki hulas we’ve been working on over the past 8 weeks.  It’s going to be a lot fun!  And…

I think the kids might be singing the songs with me!

I’ll let you know how it goes, for sure!  (If you work with kids, you know they can be your best/toughest audience. They’re wonderfully/brutally honest.  They don’t sugarcoat things.  Let’s hope they like ‘em!)

Time to pack up and head out to the show.

Here we go!  I mua!


Go get ‘em, kids!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Last week, I had the opportunity to “share the stage” with about a hundred second graders–strumming and singing and dancing and, most importantly, SHARING ALOHA with their friends and family.

And I’m still grinning!

Here are some of my notes from the day:

9:00  AM:  I am standing in the school’s cafeteria tuning the ʻukuleles for today’s performance.  Tables are being folded up from the breakfast period that just ended.  Chairs are being set up in a cluster for the kids to use while they’re strumming.  My hula dancing friend, the lovely Ms. Eleanor, will be here momentarily–the kids are going to be so excited to see her!  And she brought a ti leaf skirt to wear for the performance!  How lucky are we?!

9:30 AM: The first of the five classes has just arrived in the cafeteria–with some of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen.  ”Aloha, Mr. Jason!”  rings out through the space.  They’re wearing tissue paper/pipe cleaner leis that they’ve made in their classrooms as a surprise. They are decked out in bright colors!  Wow… trying not to show them the tears that are filling up my eyes.  My heart is so happy to be able to be a part of this experience with them.  ”Is that your hula dancer friend?”  They point to Ms. Eleanor and she makes her way over to them to talk and show them her skirt.  We are in for an awesome time.

9:45 AM:  The parents/friends/family of the kids are arriving en masse.  It’s great to see the support that these kids have from their families.  It’s a weekday.  I imagine a lot of these parents & friends have taken some time off from work to be here.  It makes the day even more special.

10:00 AM:  One last look at the kids and the show’s running order and then we’re off.  I am thirsty already.  I think I must be sweating.  But it’s not nerves.  It’s excitement.  Ok, kids!  Let’s do this!  Go get ‘em!

10:30 AM:  How is the time moving so quickly?  I mean we’re having a blast!  And I just looked down at my watch and realized that the “show” is half over.  I wish we had more time!  The kids are doing an awesome job!  Singing out with some of biggest voices I’ve heard.  And strumming the ʻukuleles so proudly.  Right on, kids!  Right on!  I know Aunty Irmgard would have loved hearing them strum & sing SASSY LITTLE MYNA BIRD!  And… throughout the performance, I’ve been asking them about things that theyʻve been learning over the last couple of weeks.  Things like  the parts of the ʻukulele, how we tune an ʻukulele, etc.  Not only are they great performers, but they’re knowledgable performers–and eager/happy to share that knowledge.  So cool!

10:45 AM:  Ms. Eleanor and I just finished our “comic hula” where we demonstrated what can happen when you don’t pay attention.  Using pūʻili (spilt bamboo rattles), we improvised a hula line and simple choreography–and I managed to get WHACKED in the head from not paying attention!  Ha!  It was great to be able to illustrate that for the kids.  Telling the kids about that in the classroom is one thing–showing them in person brings it to life.

10:55 AM  Time for the HUKILAU SONG!  All 100 kids singing and dancing at the same time!  It’s like a hula flash mob!  Did someone say that it’s “just simple hula?”  No way!  These kids know what a Hukilau is–and they can tell you all about it!  Just ask ‘em!  (That’s a story for an upcoming blog post.  Stay tuned…)

10:58 AM:  My gut says we need to finish with a teachers-only Hukilau line.  Did I mention that this is a surprise for the classroom teachers?  Yup.  But these teachers have been ultra-supportive throughout our time together.  I know they’ll do it.  The kids’ll LOVE IT!  (Post script:  the kids LOVED IT just as I’d imagined.  YES!  And the teachers looked like they were having fun, too…)

11:00 AM:  The kids surpassed even my wildest expectations.  They rocked it.  I’m completely exhausted and yet, I’m totally invigorated.  Love this!

We had 5 classes of students.

We had 26 ʻukuleles to strum.

We had 200 dancing feet. (210 dancing feet if you count the classroom teachers!)

And about 100 of the sweetest voices and 100 of the biggest smiles you’d ever seen.

I am so happy to have been allowed to be a part of that day’s celebration.  We all showed up and said YES to the task/challenge at hand.  And we did it.

They did it!

Well done, gang!  Well done.


Kids + ‘Ukuleles + Aloha Spirit = AWESOME

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Aloha, gang.

Tonight I’m filled to the max with thankfulness.

We did a “show”/presentation today at a school that I’ve been working with.  Midori & Friends put me there for a 6 week residency in the after school program.  I was brought in to share the ʻukulele and Hawaiian song–and, of course, that means lots of Hawaiian stories (usually about some of my mishaps when I’m there studying!) and lots of Aloha.  (Please click HERE  and HERE to read more about the adventures!)

Today they had the opportunity to share some of what they’ve been learning with an invited audience–their families and friends and teachers!

Auē!  I want to share it all with you but my eyes are stinging from the tears that are welling up.  And that makes typing kind of tough!  Ha!

They were so AWESOME.

The kids come from such a pure place.  So beautiful.  I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to work with them and share some of the things that have been shared with me.

I think about how Pops would enjoy seeing them as they strum and sing so beautifully.   And how he would LAUGH watching them do keiki school kid-kine hula for their families.  Ah!

(Maybe I can manage to get a video from the presentation to share with him in January.)

He asked me to share what he was teaching me.  And never in a million years did I think I could really do that in NYC.

But these kids… and all of that Aloha…

Um… the lump in my throat is choking me.  I love ‘em!

I’ll do better at sharing details another time.  Right now I’m just basking in the warmth of a great afternoon/early evening with the kids.

Share the Aloha, gang.  Share the Aloha.

Right on.

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Sharing Germs and Learning Tunes

Monday, November 21, 2011

This weekend, I realized that the kids I’ve been working with at an elementary school here in NYC have shared so much with me.  Not only their hearts and their music–but also their GERMS!


On Friday night, about 24 hours after my session had ended with the kids the day before, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling well.  My body ached and I had small-kine chills.  But as soon as I realized it had probably come from hanging out with the kids the day before, I couldn’t help but laugh.  They really DO share everything.

I’m happy to repot that I’m “on the mend.”  The worst seems to be over and I look forward to feeling better–and fully recovered!–by Thanksgiving.

In other news:

Earlier today, I sat down to start working on a song that has won my heart this week, PUA ʻAʻALIʻI.

This Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award winning song (composed by Lee Ann ʻĀnuenue Pūnua) totally blew me away the first time I heard it.  (Please click HERE to read an article about that awards ceremony.)  It was a few years ago, so the circumstances of where I heard it are lost somewhere in my memory banks.  I do remember loving it.  (**Note:  I have started to carry index cards with me because I am constantly making “mental notes” about music that I hear, but those “mental notes” don’t always stay with me for very long…)

On Friday night, I was listening to Kawika Alfiche’s CD, Kaleʻa, and the song came on.  Ah! I recognized it immediately!  I stopped what I was doing so that I could peek at the song’s title.  I might have even said aloud, “This is a song I should learn.”

And then at a party on Saturday night, I heard the song, AGAIN!

So I sat down and started looking at the song this morning.  And you know what?  I triple love it.

I love its simple structure–no need for a complicated melody, vocal acrobatics or a complicated structure when you’ve got a song that expresses so much beauty in four short verses.  Each verses has only two lines!  A real testament to Ānuenue Pūnua and her compositional skills.  I tip my hat to you, for sure!

The song is haunting.  It stays with me.  I find myself humming it while I work.  (In fact, I’ve been humming it the whole time I’ve been writing this blog post!)

And I look forward to “going deep” while I study it–chewing slowly and carefully and really allowing it to sink into my bones.

I love a song like that, don’t you?

Happy Monday, gang!  How was YOUR weekend?  Drop me a line and let me know…