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Posts Tagged ‘songwriting’

Aloha gang!

I am so excited to share the news:

Our album, MELE O HĀLAWA, has made it to the preliminary ballot for the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards!

(Note: This isn’t the final ballot. This is the BIG ballot, the preliminary one, that has hundreds of entries. Hopefully enough folks will vote for it and it will appear on final ballot. At that point, we can consider ourselves official “nominees.”)

During the first discussions we had about the documentary SONS OF HĀLAWA, we talked about the necessity and the challenge of incorporating music into the film. That can be a difficult-to-navigate area, a full-time job. I was naive. I was optimistic. I said to Matt Yamashita, the filmmaker, “Why don’t I just write songs for the film? Then you can have them and we’ll be good to go.”

It never dawned on me that writing songs might be, um… a bit challenging  Ha!  As soon as I realized what I’d said, I knew I was in for a wild ride!

Thankfully, the soundtrack for the film included music by other folks as well. Pops, an accomplished haku mele (songwriter) contributed two songs to the album. And Molokai’s own amazing musician/producer, Lono, contributed two songs. With my own two compositions, we had six original tracks and we used traditional music from Molokai to round out the album. Each song was chosen for its own special reasons, making it a deeply personal collection of heart-filled songs from Molokai.

One of the greatest things the album offers is a rare glimpse into the rich and diverse musical landscape of Molokai and Hālawa Valley. Some of these songs on the album have never really been heard outside of the valley!  It’s intense!

We recorded the tracks in marathon-style when I was on island for a week. Lono put together beautifully layered instrumental tracks. Pops and I sang our faces off in the studio. And then Lono finessed and produced the finished musical project in time for the songs to be woven into stunningly beautiful documentary, SONS OF HĀLAWA.

What started out as a soundtrack for the film has become a legacy album–a way for future generations to hear, study and (most importantly) enjoy the music of one of Hawaii’s most beautiful and remote islands.

It’s such an honor to see the album’s journey and the film’s journey, reaching audiences we never dreamed of.

And it’s a blessing to know that future audiences, future generations, will be able to witness it all, too.

If you are a HARA member, please consider voting for our “little album that could” in the following categories:

Group of the Year: Pilipo and Jason with Lonomusic

Island Music Album of the Year: MELE O HĀLAWA

Favorite Entertainer of the Year: Pilipo and Jason with Lonomusic

Album of the Year: MELE O HĀLAWA

Who would have thought that a kupuna (elder) from Molokai’s remote Hālawa Valley and a dude from New York City (along with the always-amazing Lonomusic!) would record an album together?

MELE O HĀLAWA is a dream come true.

The album is for sale online via MKAloha.com and Mele.com.

#SupportHawaiianMusic!

Mahalo. Thank you.

And…

Right on.

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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.

 

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Crooner Break: Elizabeth Gilbert and Big Magic

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Aloha gang!

It’s time for another Crooner Break!  This time I’m checking in from the street after watching the always lovely and eloquent Elizabeth Gilbert at a taping of the Dr. Oz Show. Liz was there to talk about her book Big Magic as well as share some of her tools for living a creative life.

After receiving an advance copy of the book a few months ago, I’ve read it several times and highlighted the heck outta my copy. I keep it within arm’s reach while working at my desk. I’ve even downloaded the Kindle version so that I can take it with me everywhere I go.

It’s probably one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read.

My favorite part about the book? It’s a mix of magic and pragmatism, both of which you need (in abundance!) while pursuing a creative life.  She writes about ideas and how she believes them to be something that seeks out the individual who will help bring them into being. But then she writes about “working like a farmer” at whatever creative task/project is consuming you at the moment and sticking with the work until it’s done. (As Pops says, “We work until it’s pau. That’s how.”)

AND… she writes about how she went from being a “scaredy cat” kid to the person she is today, one who has a healthy respect for and relationship with fear–without letting it rule her life.

(I know, right?  Each time I’ve read it, I’ve asked myself, “Do you know me, Liz Gilbert? Did you write this book for me?”)

Because I’m always working on Project Natalie and new songs, I know I’ll keep this book close to me for a long, long time.

Please check out the video above.  And please check out her amazing book by clicking HERE! (You won’t regret it!)

Right on.

With warm Aloha

Jason

**Please be sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/CroonerVideo

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Aloha, gang!

I’m so excited to be able to share a new song (with a VIDEO!) with you today!  And it’s a hula!

I wrote it as a gift for Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts, the creators of Zentangle®. I wrote the song last September and then recorded a selfie-style video while I was in Hālawa Valley when I was back on Molokai in March.  I sent it to the Zentangle folks last week and it was released in their newsletter yesterday. I was delighted to see it pop up on Facebook and blogs yesterday.

And when I woke up this morning, I was shocked to see that the video had been viewed over 1,500 times! (What?!  Crazy!)

Here’s some backstory for the song:

Many of you may know that I became a CZT™, a Certified Zentangle Teacher, back in 2012. I was part of the 10th graduating class of teachers (CZT 10).  Here’s the crazy thing: if you would have told me that one day I would be able to call myself an art teacher, I would have laughed.  Really hard.  But Zentangle is more than just art, it’s a method of drawing that unites the mind and the body. It rocked my world in ways I wasn’t expecting.

I didn’t become a teacher so that I could teach Zentangle classes.  Well, that wasn’t my primary reason, anyway. It was really so that I could go and study with Rick and Maria in person, to find out what this was and to learn directly from the source. Nānā i ke kumu.  Look to the source.  That’s what Pops is always telling me.  (Note: the only way to become a CZT is to study directly with them at one of their teacher-training workshops. It’s done face-to-face. I loved that aspect of it. It made it even more real, more authentic.)

I’ve taught classes here in NYC and in Chicago. I’ve held classes in Pennsylvania with students ranging in ages from 6 years old to 86 years old. And we ALWAYS have fun. It’s hard to explain. I think the best way to understand it is to take a class from a trained teacher who can lead you through the process, someone who can help you create with confidence.

Anyway… last year, the Zentangle folks asked me to come back in September and speak at one of their teacher-training workshops. They wanted me to talk about how I use Zentangle–sharing stories from classes, both formal and informal.

Now you guy know how I love to play with writing songs. Well, maybe it’s better to say I love to START writing songs. (It’s the finishing of songs that is the tough part!)  And I had this idea that I would write them a song as a makana, a gift, a way to say MAHALO and THANK YOU for all that they do.  I had a little snippet of a melody line I’d been playing with but I didn’t have any lyrics.  While I stood in line at Port Authority Bus Station, waiting for the bus to take me to the workshop in Providence, Rhode Island, it dawned on me: I would write the song in the style of a 1920s-1950s hula.

When I got to Providence, I spent the first night sitting in the hotel lobby scratching away in my notebook, writing lyrics about the Zentangle method of drawing and fitting them into the melody that I’d been playing with. (I wanted to be kind to my roommate for the weekend. He’d traveled all the way from Taiwan to attend the teacher-training!  Night owls like me do better sitting on couches in the hotel’s lobby than sitting at a desk in a room, anyway.) My goal: I wanted to have the song “ready” to share when I gave my presentation the following night. I wasn’t sure if I would share it, but I wanted to have ready. Just in case…

The next night I gave my presentation. I shared about taking Zentangle to Hālawa Valley on Molokai and how we used sticks to draw the patterns in the mud, how my young Hawaiian nephew showed me how to draw patterns he saw in nature around him. I talked about the meditative qualities of the method and how I use it in my own writing process–especially when I get stuck and my hands (and brain) won’t cooperate.

And then it was time. I took the leap into the unknown and while wearing a cordless headset microphone (like a rock star!) I strummed and sang the Zentangle Hula for an audience. For the first time.

It was so much fun.  And the coolest part? Before the end of the song, the teachers-in-training were singing along with me!  The song followed me all weekend long, in the classes, in the dining room, in the elevators.  People sang it and smiled.

Awesome.

So that’s how the song came to be. I recorded it over the spring when I was back on Molokai.  Then I lost the video. (gulp!)  Then I found the video. (phew!)

And now it has a life of its own.

Wanna learn more about Zentangle? Check out their website: https://www.zentangle.com/  (Note: the Zentangle Kit is wonderful. It’s how I got started.)

And you can read more about my story of how I reclaimed my “inner art dude” by clicking HERE.

(P.S.  Because I attended the teacher-training again last year, I’m now a DOUBLE certified teacher!  Ha!  Me–this guy that swears he can’t draw a straight line.  Do you feel that way, too?  Then Zentangle is for you.)

And please share the song/video if you feel inspired to do that. Let’s start a whole Zentangle Hula movement! (Smiles are contagious, you know.)

Much Aloha to you and your families.

Right on.

 

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Planting Seeds of a Song.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Jason Poole, accidental hawaiian crooner, pilipo solatorio, anakala pilipo, halawa valley, molokai, songwriting, hula, kamaka ukulele,

One of the best parts of writing a new song is at the very beginning.

The song could go in so many directions. At this stage, it’s all about potential.

I went for a walk yesterday to clear my head and get some movement in this body. And I was pleasantly surprised when a new song (a hula?) started to take shape in my mind. Walking seems to be a great “spark” when it comes to songwriting, at least for me. As I walk, my brain “dances” and I often get little snippets of lyrics, a few words, maybe some preliminary thoughts about the song’s rhythm.

As I walked across the Harlem River on the Broadway Bridge, I used the voice recorder on my phone to capture the things that were happening so that I don’t lose them. (Uncle Dennis Kamakahi told me that he used to carry a tape recorder with him for the same reason. And hey, if it worked for him…)  I was able to gather some great ideas, some moments that might turn into something bigger. (I was also able to record lots of NYC noise.)

When I got back to the apartment, I scratched a few notes about the new song in my trusty notebook. I sketched out a structure–something that may or may not work. I’ll only be able to tell when I really start working, moving the parts around to see how it all comes together.

The early stages of a new song are a lot like planting seeds.

And now it’s time to water them and let them grow.

I know I can’t rush the process. (Even though I’m incredibly impatient.)  I need to let them sit for a little while, let them rest.

But I also need to mālama these precious seeds. I need to take care them and not let them dry up and die. I need to water them, give them attention.  And I need to make sure they get lots of sunlight and not remain in the dark of my notebook and phone.

It will be exciting to see what happens.  Just like when you plant seeds in a garden, you wait to see what grows.

Of course, there are times when gardens are planted and nothing grows, too.  No matter how much you want flowers to grow, no matter how well you try to take care of these seeds, sometimes nothing happens.  And thatʻs what makes the beginnings of a new song kinda scary, too.

Hopefully, something will appear.  Hopefully, the song will flower.

We’ll see.

Right on.

off

Aloha, gang!

I’ve been open about my struggles with being “stuck” when it comes to writing.  And the more that I’ve look at other areas of my life, I see that I’m “stuck” in a lot of places.

So what do you do?

You find a way to deal with it, to break through the stuck-ness.

I took a HUGE step this year and signed up for an online art class, 2015: Year of the Spark!, lead by two creative art-geniuses, Carla Sonheim and Lynn Whipple.

I am a very timid (reluctant?) visual artist.  As a kid, I had a traumatic experience in an art class that lead me to put away the art supplies for nearly 30 years. (You can read about that by clicking HERE.)

Right before the new year began, I read about this awesome online art class and I had a crazy reaction, a mixture of feeling terrified and excited at the same time.  Kind of like when you look at a roller coaster.

And a little voice inside my head said, “THIS is something you need to do.  You can use a different medium to challenge yourself.  You need to learn to let go.  You need to learn to play.  That’s how you’re going to get UNstuck.”

I took the plunge and signed up.

And I’ve loved the online classes.  I’ve loved being a part of the supportive online community of artists all over the world.

The other night, Carla and Lynn (and Carla’s husband, Steve) came to NYC and hosted a “Spark Get-Together” for the NYC-based members of the class.

The other artists were brave and shared their sketchbooks.  I wasn’t quite ready to do that.

I did something else:  Before the get-together, I emailed both Carla and Lynn and asked them for the first 5 words that came to mind when they thought of the word ART.  Then using those words for inspiration, I wrote a song, We All Need The Spark (The Spark Song).  I was still writing the song up the last minute before the get-together.  In fact, I finished it on my trusty ‘ukulele while sitting in a karaoke room near Grand Central Station, where we all met up.

After pizza and art-sharing, we headed into Grand Central Station, right in the historic main terminal, for our Group Art Exercise. (Note: the thought of creating visual art–on-the-spot and in front of other people made me want to hide.)

But I was spared from the drawing.  Instead, they surprised me.  They asked me to sing my song.  And while I strummed and sang, the other artists used their “wrong hand” (their non-dominant hand) to draw 2 portraits of me, one of my head and torso and one of my full body.  (What?!)

Wow!  Talk about a surreal experience!  Singing a freshly-penned song in Grand Central Station while artists draw pictures of you!

Steve, who’s an amazing artist himself, captured the whole thing with his camera and put together one heck of a video.

I dare you to watch it and not smile.

When you see how much fun these incredible art adventurers are having, you’ll wanna join in.

And you can!  Spots are still open in the class.  You can find out more by clicking on the link HERE.

We all need the spark of inspiration to help us break through our stuck-ness.  We all need to play.  And we all need to remember to have a little fun.

Right on.

**How do YOU break through your own sense of stuck-ness?  Drop me a line.  I’d love to hear from you.

 

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