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Posts Tagged ‘school’

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.


Jason Poole, accidental hawaiian crooner, molokai, anakala pilipo, pilipo solatorio, halawa valley, return to halawa, documentary, talk story, talk-story, hawaiian music, new york city

After filming the talk-story in Manhattan with filmmaker Allan Piper. (June 9, 2014)

Aloha, gang!

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of working with NYC-based filmmaker, Allan Piper.  We spent the afternoon together, filming the NYC-portion of the upcoming documentary, Return to Hālawa: The Life & Music of ‘Anakala Pilipo.

It was pretty unbelievable.


It started back in November of last year when I was on Molokai to record the soundtrack for the film. Matt Yamashita, the fearless filmmaker of the documentary, said that he wanted an NYC portion of the film.  My first reaction: You’re crazy, dude.  I don’t know the first thing about filmmaking.  And I even imagine how you go about setting up something like that in New York City.  No way.

Thankfully, Matt is patient and persistent.  He explained that it would be awesome to show that the things Pops has shared with me are traveling beyond Molokai’s shores, that I’m truly carrying them out into the world and sharing and teaching.  He asked about the possibility of filming me teaching in NYC public schools.  Again, I said NO WAY as the schools don’t let us bring cameras into the classroom because the kids are minors.

(Who knew I could be such a downer?)

And then he had a great idea:  I could do a talk-story/presentation, just like Pops and I do on Molokai.  Nothing major–small and intimate.  And it would be great if I could get keiki/kids there, too.  The whole thing could be filmed.

And… in an ideal world, moments that were filmed on Molokai (like me getting ready in the morning, packing up to go to the presentation, traveling to the venue, etc) would be filmed in the Big Apple–highlighting the differences in my two very different worlds, NewYork City and Hālawa Valley.

I still thought he was crazy.  But it was definitely worth a shot.

Finding a filmmaker to shoot the portion in NYC wasn’t as tough as I’d imagined.  Especially when you know someone like Allan Piper, an established filmmaker and documentarian.  I was thrilled when he said he could do the filming for us.  And then we actually found a time that we could shoot it. (Coordinating schedules to meet up for dinner with friends can sometimes be impossible.  I’m still amazed we found a time to make this happen!)

Once a date had been secured, I needed to send out an email to folks to invite them to the talk-story.  Matt had envisioned something intimate like we’d done on Molokai.  ”No need to have a big audience.”

I thought we’d be lucky if we got 10 people.  Sundays are precious days here in the Big Apple.  Folks cherish those few weekend moments and fill them quickly–especially when they have kids.  I crossed my fingers that we’d have enough folks there to do it. (Or that Allan would be such a filmmaking wiz that he could make 3 people look like a crowd.)

Allan showed up at my apartment and we were able to recreate a lot of the shots that I remember from Molokai–even a scene where I’m brushing my teeth!  I’m not sure either scene will make it into the final cut of the film, but I thought it would please Matt to see things come full-circle.  This is how it happened on Molokai/this is how it happened in New York City.

He filmed my commute to the venue, including walking down the chaotic, traffic-filled streets of midtown Manhattan. A huge difference from Molokai where there isn’t a single traffic light.  (*Note: At the time of this writing, there may be a temporary traffic light while they work on one of the bridges.)

And then at the venue… WOW!

A beautiful space in midtown Mahattan (lovingly gifted to us for the afternoon by one of the Crooner team, the fantastic Mariko Gordon!) with windows that looked out at skyscrapers and a park.  The room filled up quickly with (count ‘em!) 18 people–including 6 young folks!  Amazing!  I mean absolutely amazing!

And the icing on the cake: we had beautiful blue, sun-filled skies yesterday here in NYC.  Talk about a blessing!

The talk-story went really well–even though I wasn’t sure HOW I was going to craft a presentation that was family friendly, short and included enough interaction that it would read well (maybe even without sound) in the final cut.  But I could imagine Pops telling me, “Iakona, just go as the makani (winds) blow.”

The audience was a ton of fun to work with.  They were the real stars of the day. I shared stories about some of the animals we have down in the valley because that always seems to make folks’ jaws drop.  Yes, we have cats and dogs and birds in the valley, but we also have wild boars, goats and lizards.  (And sometimes you might find a lizard in the toilet–but that’s another story…) I even shared one of the songs with motions, a short hula noho (school kid-kine) that I’d written. An epic audience participation moment!

And then… we were blessed with a hula by the lovely Ms. Eleanor.  She danced her beautiful choreography to my song, Healing Waters.  Such a gift to have something like that captured on film.  I wish you all could have seen the faces of the folks in the audience–all smiles and even a few tears.  (Mahalo for that, Ms. Eleanor!)

Time flew by and before I knew it, we needed to wrap up and head home.

I’m still in shock that it all came together, all of those moving parts.

I can’t wait to see how it fits into the final film.

We’ll keep you posted.

Right on.

(The next time I make a snap judgement and say NO WAY, remind me of this, Ok?)


Jason Poole, accidental hawaiian crooner, molokai, halawa valley, layrngitis, anakala pilipo, pilipo solatorio, urban aloha


Aloha, gang!

Earlier this week, I’d written about how a case of laryngitis had left me speechless–literally!  (Mahalo for your kind comments and emails!)

Well, I met with a great otolaryngologist (aka ENT) yesterday who gave me an extremely thorough exam.  I even had the chance to watch the procedure on a screen while he did the laryngoscopy!  It was so cool to see what my vocal cords look like.  I mean, I feel like we’re old buddies, these folds that allow me to do what I do, but I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing them.  (However, it wasn’t cool to see the inside of my nose as the camera made its way into my body–when did I become an old man with long nose hairs?!)

Sadly, I didn’t have my camera with me to take photos during the procedure.  But a quick search on Youtube yielded this video of a singer singing while the camera is in place, if you’re interested.  (Click HERE.)

I’m pleased to announce that I don’t have nodules or polyps!  Hooray!  He thinks this bout of laryngitis is the result of a virus.  And I’ve been doing the right things (resting the voice, staying hydrated, etc.) so I’m on the road to recovery.

He even gave me some advice about how to help prevent this from happening in the future: I need more regular exposure to germs.  (What?!)

Allow me to explain: When I’m in writing mode, I have a tendency to live like a hermit, holing up in my apartment for days at a time.  He suggested that I get out and about more often.  My immune system doesn’t have the chance to build up its strength if I only see James and Thomas the Cat.  So look for me and my notebook in a coffee shop near you sometime, soon.  Bring on the germs! (In small, manageable doses, please.)

More good news: The residency at the school has been postponed. I’ll be starting up with the kids next week, instead.  I’m so happy that it was possible to do that!  And the delayed start has given me extra time to come up with fun ideas–and maybe a new keiki hula!–to share with them.)

So that’s the latest from the Silent Crooner here in NYC.

But I won’t need to be silent for much longer!

Right on.


Jason Poole, Accidental Hawaiian Crooner, Molokai, Pilipo Solatorio, Laryngitis, Halawa Valley

Medicinal tea in a fancy, covered mug = Singer’s best friend. (Thanks, Noelle!)

What does a crooner do when he has no voice with which to croon?

A crooner with laryngitis makes for a frustrating day.

It started this past weekend.  A simple cold.  A “bubbly” feeling in the throat.  I was telling a story and noticed that my larynx felt strange, not smooth, grainy and raw.

“Did you hear that? My voice, just now.  Something is different.”

As the weekend progressed, so did the rawness.  And by Sunday afternoon, I had full-blown laryngitis.

I’m not a stranger to this phenomenon where the voice just doesn’t cooperate.  As a vocal performance major in college, I learned to be hyper-aware of my voice and how my larynx, throat and vocal cords “felt.”  It was my instrument.  My focus.

And I’m not a stranger to using home remedies to help fix the situation.  Drinking infusions of ginger root that’s been boiled on the stove.  A warm saltwater gargle.  Loading up on vitamin C.  I thought I had this one taken care of. (Insert image of stereotypical singer with throat wrapped in a scarf sipping tea.)

To make matters a bit more complicated (read: worse) I am supposed to begin a new residency at a school this week.  Starting tomorrow.  Sharing Hawaiian music, culture (and some ‘ukulele strumming?) with five classes of kindergarten students and five classes of first graders.  I love this kind of challenge.  And as Pops would say, “This isn’t a challenge.  It’s a gift!  You will be planting seeds of Aloha with these young people.”  I was looking forward to being the first taste of Hawai’i that most of these kids had ever had. (Please click HERE to read about some of my favorite “school adventures.”)

But on Sunday night, the situation hadn’t gotten any better. Still no voice.

Ok.  I know how to deal with this.  I’ll just make an appointment to see a doctor tomorrow.

And when I woke up on today, I did just that.

Now, I know that there’s little a doctor can do when it comes to laryngitis.  At best, he’ll discover it’s a bacterial infection and prescribe some kind of medication.  But most of the time, a person with laryngitis is told to simply rest the voice.  Silence.  (Um, those of you who know me know that being silent isn’t something that comes naturally to me!)

I had to notify my contact at the organization that arranged the residency, explaining the situation. I am having some vocal problems I’m schedule to meet with a doctor and will keep them posted.  I was optimistic.


I went to see the doctor today.  He gave me a very thorough examination.


Alas, there is nothing that can be done. No magic pill to prescribe. I’ve been put on complete vocal rest.


Because of my age coupled with no signs of bacterial infection, I was referred to an otolaryngologist (aka ENT) for a laryngoscopy tomorrow.  We used to refer to it as “getting ‘scoped” when I was back in college.  It’s a painless procedure where a tube with a camera is passed through the nose and down the throat so that they can take a look at my vocal cords.

As I walked out of the doctor’s office, I knew that I needed to ask that the residency with the kids be postponed until after I have the procedure.  My hope is that I’ll be told to rest the voice and I’ll be up and ready for the kids next week.

There is a tiny part of me that’s nervous.  Vocal cord nodules.  Polyps. You name it and I can go there in a heartbeat.

But the other part of me says that I need to just chill out and wait to see what the doctor finds and advises.  Maybe it’s nothing.  (And wouldn’t a lot of unnecessary worry be a huge waste of energy?)  After a few bouts of laryngitis over the past few years, it will be great to be able to see what the vocal folds look like and assess their health.

The biggest disappointment of all is that I won’t be able to start up with the kids tomorrow as I’d planned.  I love that first day of a residency: giving them the first taste of Hawaiian music and culture. Sounding the pū in the classroom.  Sharing with them my favorite Hawaiian words: Aloha and Mahalo.

And I really don’t like being an inconvenience to the wonderful folks who have arranged the residency.  It takes so much work to coordinate something like that. So many parts and pieces to sync up.  And I’m stuck here at the starting block. (Please, God, don’t let them label me as a “problematic” teaching artist.)


I remind myself that I didn’t choose to be an inconvenience.  It’s not like I’m asking to postpone the residency so that I can go shopping.  I literally cannot produce a workable sound with my voice right now.  (And those of you who have worked with kindergarten and first grade classrooms know that you may need to produce A LOT of sound when working with that age group!)

I remind myself that I’ll be even more excited about the residency when I can really share with them–in good health.  When I’m not limited by my body like I am at this moment.

So, I find myself as the Crooner Without A Voice right now.

But I’m not going to be totally silent.  I may not be able to use my voice to speak or sing, but I can still write. And there are half-finished songs begging to be completed.  And essays to be written.  And pages of Project Natalie to churn out.

I’m not going to be quiet.  I’ll just be speaking on the page, instead.

A (small-ish) pitfall on the path.

I’ll keep you posted.


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.