The Waimanalo Library tried to start a community ukulele class for years. They held one well-attended class a few years ago but couldn’t find a steady instructor. That changed a few months ago when Leo Daquioag, CEO, president, and founder of Music For Life Foundation (MFLF), introduced the library staff to seasoned instructors. The Foundation also donated several ukulele for the library to loan out, just like they do with books.
“People are used to libraries having books and I guess they don’t think of us as having other things available for them to use,” says Cora Eggerman, branch manager at the Waimanalo Library. “To help them with learning, but also with growing as a person.”
Exposure to music has been shown to boost overall learning and brain development in children. Learning to play an instrument can also help kids develop valuable life skills. Eggerman thinks the ukulele is a great place for keiki and adults to start. “The ukulele is something that everyone can learn to play,” she says. “You learn to play in elementary school and when adults pick it up again, it sort of takes us back to that childhood.”
Ted Radovich hasn’t been playing ukulele for long, only five or six years, but he’s been an avid collector for much longer. Both Ted and his wife, Cheryll, laugh when he says he’s trying to curb his habit. He started playing alone as a form of stress relief, but now he gets together with friends to play. And although he hadn’t had the time and patience to teach his kids, they’ve always wanted to learn.
A lifelong Waimanalo resident, Ted was excited to learn that his library would be loaning out ukulele. He was even more excited when he learned he could attend a class with his kids. In March, he took three of his four children to a class. His two oldest, Oliver, 15, and Sadie, 12, picked it up right away. His little one, Clara, 9, had a steeper learning curve, but she still had fun.
“'Ukulele brings people together,” says Ted. “And it’s also a really neat way to learn music, particularly Hawaiian music and Hawaiian language, for kids who aren’t necessarily musically inclined.”
Cheryll says the unique environment of family classes at the library puts her kids at ease. “I think it can be nice for adults and children to learn together because then it puts less pressure on the kids,” says Cheryll. “Some of the adults may not be able to do it as well. They’re all beginners. So there’s less pressure for them to be doing it perfectly.”
The Radovichs say their kids are even more interested in playing now. In fact, they’ve played together several times since their lesson. Although they have a collection at home, they’re looking forward to borrowing ukulele from the library, so the kids can choose their own.
Music for all
Daquioag says the foundation’s goal is to provide every library in the state of Hawaii with ukulele to loan out.
Ambitious? Maybe. But Daquioag believes it can be done. And more importantly, that it should be done. He’s always believed in opportunity through access and availability.
Much like the ukulele, MFLF is small but mighty. Daquioag has known Hawaii-based ukulele manufacturer, Sam Kamaka, his whole life. He’s also a close friend of ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. The Kamakas provide ukulele for donation while Shimabukuro uses his talent and reach to get the word out about the foundation. In fact, Shimabukuro played at the grand opening of the Nanakuli Public Library, which is also lending out ukulele from MFLF.
Since its inception, the foundation has refurbished 100 ukulele for schools, prepared Papakolea families for a performance at Ala Moana Center Stage, and hosted an ukulele pop-up shop. And now they’re bringing music to some of the state’s most underserved communities. The library project is an outgrowth of all these efforts.
“Music is a communal thing,” says Daquioag. “It brings vast people together. The language is universal.”
Rent an ukulele at the Waimanalo Library, Nanakuli Public Library, or A-ina Haina Public Library or join a public class free of charge.
Photos by Matt Heirakuji