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Posts Tagged ‘show up and say YES’

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.



Writing Days really freak me out.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Accidental Hawaiian Crooner, Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird with Annie, Molokai, Halawa Valley, Pilipo Solatorio, Jason Poole

Today was supposed to be a writing day.  These are rare occurrences in my world. I clear my schedule so that I have the whole day to write new stories, songs, blog posts, articles.  I get really excited. Sometimes I even circle the day in red on my calendar.

I plan it all out, dreaming about that amazing feeling I’ll surely have at the end of the day because I’d accomplished so much. I imagine being buried in an avalanche of pages filled with my words.

But having a whole day dedicated to writing can be a scary thing. A paralyzing thing.

Right now it’s 3:30 p.m. here in New York City. Let’s see how this writing day has gone so far:

Instead of jumping out of bed and rushing to the notebook sitting on my desk (which had been placed there the night before so that I wouldn’t have to hunt for it), I sat at my desk and sipped coffee and did everything BUT write. I read and responded to emails. I did a bit of drawing. (What?) I paid a few bills. (What?!)

Then, I went to the gym.

And then, I did the laundry.

And then, I did a little housework.  (Have I ever told you guys how much I hate doing housework?  Wait.  Let me rephrase that: I hate doing housework every day except for writing days.  On writing days, housework takes on a strange appeal.  It’s like it becomes the most interesting and urgent thing on the planet.)

When I finally sat down at my desk to do some actual writing, I felt totally stuck.  Like frozen-in-the-ice-never-to-move-again kind of stuck.  And that’s NOT how I want to feel on a writing day.

So what did I do?

I watched the documentary Bird by Bird with Annie. Have you guys seen it? The one about the amazing Anne Lamott?  (You can find out more about the documentary by clicking HERE.)

I love it so much.  I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it. But I get choked up every time. She’s like a superhero to me. She tells it like it is. She shares her truth, her own messy and inspiring truth.

And I’m so grateful for that.

Here’s some of my truth: Writing ain’t easy. It’s scary. It can make me feel like I’ve lost my marbles.  It can make me want to bury my head in the sand.

And it’s important work. It’s important to share our stories. Our songs. It’s important for us to share where we’ve come from. What we’ve learned along the way. What we believe in.

And it’s a gift to be able to do it.

So, I’m gonna open up the notebook and scratch out a few words. I’m going to trust that those initial scratches will lead to more scratches and that pretty soon, I’ll have lots of words on the page.  Some of ‘em good.  Some of ‘em not-so-good.

But at least I’ll have some proof that today was a writing day.

And proof that I showed up and said YES to the challenge.

Maybe I won’t get as much written as I’d hoped or planned.  But I got inspired.  And maybe that’s worth even more.

Right on.


Whatcha listening to??

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Accidental Hawaiian Crooner, Jason Poole, Halawa Valley, Molokai, New York City, Urban strummer

Aloha, gang!

I’m officially up-to-my-eyeballs in Project Natalie.

Loving it, even though it terrifies me a little bit.  But it’s all about Showing Up and Saying “YES” to the opportunity, right?  I mean… that’s how great things happen!

I have been listening to old playlists on my computer and it’s totally time to change things up a little bit.  Add some variety.

And I need your help:

Whatcha listening to?

Seriously… drop me a line and let me know, ok?

I’d love to hear from you.  And I’ll use your suggestions to create a new playlist that I’ll post here on the blog. (Note: While Hawaiian music suggestions are always appreciated, this is not limited to Hawaiian music.  I’m really curious–whatcha listening to?)

Many mahalos!



Grateful and exhausted.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

jason poole, accidental hawaiian crooner, Aloha, gang.

My mind and body are exhausted tonight. 

And my heart is full.

These past few weeks have been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs and twists and turns.  Lots of opportunities to SHOW UP AND SAY “YES!” to the reality of the situations–both good and bad.  And I’m grateful for that.

Today, I needed to “dig deep” to find the inspiration to SHOW UP AND SAY “YES!” to teaching and sharing–the job that Pops has asked me to do.  It’s always an honor to share Hawaiian music and culture–although sometimes it feels like it would be easier to hide under the covers.

But we show up.  We honor the commitment we’ve made.

And it’s always wonderful.

I love being surprised at the goodness that comes from times like that.  Times when you feel like you’re running on empty–like even the reserve tanks are empty–and you can’t give anymore.  It’s times like that where I find my tank has been filled, again.  In ways I hadn’t even imagined.  Listening to little kids singing.  Watching someone discover the joy of making music (all by themselves!) by strumming an ‘ukulele.

So my mind are body are exhausted tonight.

But my heart is full.

Mahalo, thank you, for that.

How was YOUR day?  What’s happening in YOUR world?  Drop me a line!  I’d love to hear from you.

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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.


In November of 2011, my friend Lisa asked me to come to O’ahu in January to be a part of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaiʻi‘s New Year’s ʻOhana Festival.  She knew my story and wanted me to come share and sing as part of the festivities.  

A chance to sing at a major festival in Hawai’i.  An opportunity to leave wintery NYC for a few days and head to the warmth of O’ahu.  A chance to be seen as a Hawaiian musician in Hawai’i.  All of those things made it an easy decision:  I HAD TO SHOW UP AND SAY, “YES!”  

I arranged a trip so that I could be on Oʻahu for the festival and then planned to head to Molokai to spend some time with Pops and the ohana.   

Once those plans were in place, all sorts of additional opportunities presented themselves–including opportunities to do some press for the festival as well as a chance to sing on Pakele Live!  

The trip turned out to be the adventure of a lifetime.  Here’s the story:

(Please click HERE to read Part 1)   (Please click HERE to read Part 2)   (Please click HERE to read Part 3)  (Please click HERE to read Part 4)  (Please click HERE to read Part 5)

Jason Poole, Pakele Live, The Willows, Honolulu, Hawaiian music, Accidental Hawaiian Crooner

Honoring the songs on Pakele Live! (Honolulu, HI 1.12.12) (Photo courtesy of Jon Yamasato)

At the airport on Molokai, I’d looked at Pops and said, “Do you really think I can do this?  My voice is still shaky.  I don’t know if this is…”

“Iakona,” he interrupted me.  ”I don’t think you can.  I KNOW you can.  Remember, you are doing this for the kupuna–those that came before.  You’ll be honoring their memory.  Make them proud.”

I got my nervous self (raspy voice and all) on the plane and headed back to O’ahu

After I’d arrived at the little hotel in Waikīkī where I was staying, I unpacked my bags and I started to get really, really nervous.  Tonight I’d be joining the legions of Hawaiian musicians that have sung on the streamed/televised Hawaiian music show Pakele Live!

Back in NYC, I enjoy watching their show LIVE on the internet.  I have done it for years and have seen the best of the best of Hawaiian music thanks to this show.  (When I can manage to stay up, that is!  The show is broadcast live on the web beginning at approximately 6:00 PM HST–that is either 11:00 PM or 12:00 AM in NYC, depending on Daylight Savings time.)

As I ironed my Aloha shirt for the performance, a beautiful green Aloha to honor the island of Molokai with very traditional looking kapa cloth designs, I tested my voice.

“Heeeeeey!”  I sang from high to low.  Then, “Heeeeeey!” from low to high.

There was a voice, yes.  But it was still a bit gruff.  Still a little raspy.  Was I about to go on stage and make a fool of myself?

I had to take a deep breath.  I had to get a grip.

I’d been over-the-moon excited I was when Lynn Piccoli asked me to be a part of the show when she found out I was going to be in the islands!

And then to find out that my good buddy Andy Wang was going to be there, too!  And that he’d accepted my invitation to join me on stage…

Well, it seemed like it was meant to be.  Too many wonderful “coincidences” to be overlooked.

This was what I like to say is a “no brainer.”   It had to be done.

And I had to trust.

Andy picked me up to take me to the venue later that afternoon.  Like we’d done at the JCCH’s New Year’s ʻOhana Festvial, we’d decided not to finalize a set-list for the show until right before the performance.  It would allow the night’s performance to feel fresh.  I would be able to select songs that I knew I could sing–which was still up in the air as my voice was proving to be unreliable.

And… I like the idea of deciding on songs right before the show because that’s how rock stars d0 it. Using a black marker, they scratch out a list on a piece of plain white paper just before they take the stage and rock everyone’s world.  (At least, that’s how they do it in the movies. Ha!)

We sat in the green room/artist’s hang-out-room behind the stage at the the legendary restaurant, THE WILLOWS,  in Honolulu and put together songs that worked.  Developed our flow.

And outside, folks were coming in for dinner and to see the show.

Lynn Piccoli and the Pakele Live! gang are the tops! I mean, we were working with some of the best in the biz.  Pali Kaaihue, DJ Pratt and Tony Solis–names that are instantly recognizable in Hawaii.  (*Embarrassing Crooner story:  I admitted to DJ–who is a member of the legendary Hawaiian band, Kalapana–that his music was a favorite.  ”I think I’ve even used Kalapana’s music as make-out music,” I said.  Inside, I gave myself a big slap on forehead.  Um… Jason?  There is such a think at TMI!  Ha!)

There was some commotion happening outside the green room.  They were having some problems getting the internet connection/feed up and running.  What does that mean?  Well… that meant that only the folks that were sitting at The Willows would be able to see our show.  No one would be able to see it who was attempting to stream it on the internet.

For a brief moment, my heart sank.  How could this happen?  We’d worked so hard.  I felt like I’d overcome insurmountable odds–singing with laryngitis for a week!– only to find to find out that our “big moment as Hawaiian musicians in Hawaii” wasn’t going to be broadcast.  I had people all over the world ready to tune and watch.

And then I remembered:  THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU, JASON.  It’s about honoring the songs.  Honoring the people that came before.  Allowing those songs to be heard again.  Honoring your commitment to share Hawaiian culture.

That was I had been telling myself all along.  And it was no different now.  We’d go out there and honor the songs as best as we could and trust that we were doing the right thing.

And that’s just what we did.

Pakele Live, Jason Pole, Andy Wang, The Willows, Accidental Hawaiian Crooner, Hawaiian Music, Honolulu

Jason Poole & Andy Wang sharing songs & stories on Pakele Live! (Honolulu, HI 1.12. 12) (Photo courtesy of Jon Yamasato)

We took the stage and we sang and laughed and told stories.

We were surrounded by love from friends and family.  (Even some folks from the NYC gang!)  I was so moved by the smiles and Aloha everyone shared with us.  And all of the beautiful lei!

We were blessed to have hula dancers share their gift of hula.  (And some lovely “hula hands” from our friends at a table–which totally helped me to remember the song’s lyrics!  Mahalo for that!)

And we honored the songs as best we could.  We shared from our hearts.

And my voice was there!

Unbelievable!  (Yet, after all of these other “near misses” it was becoming more and more believable!)

And here’s the coolest part:  It turns out that something wacky happened with the internet connection that night–which was a shame as folks had hoped to tune in via their computers.  BUT… Pali did something quite extraordinary:  HE EDITED IT IN RECORD TIME AND POSTED IT ON VIMEO!   (I think that was the first time Pakele Live! has ever done that.)  (A super huge MAHALO! to Pali for all of his hard work.)

What does that mean?  It means YOU can watch it anytime you want!  EVEN IF YOU WANT TO WATCH IT RIGHT NOW!  Ha!  Just click on the links below:

It was such a blessing to be a part of that evening.  And to be a part of the Pakele Live! family. 

And to have my buddy, Andy, there by my side.  Awesome.

Phew!  Still grinning from ear to ear jus thinking about it.  A real rite of passage!