Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Our Kupuna

Our elders. Our ancestors. Our kupuna.

In the Hawaiian Dictionary (Pukui and Elbert), one of the definitions of kupuna is "Starting point, source; growing."

I believe that we allow them to live again every time we sing a mele, every time we dance a hula. We breathe life into their words, illustrate them with a hula, share their manaʻo with the world again. It is a gift.

If we donʻt take time to honor the kupuna when we sing or dance, what are we doing? Just going thru the motions?

Respect. Respect. Respect.

Our source. We stand on their shoulders. We are here because of them.


It all comes down to that simple word.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Each day, my kuleana, my responsibility, is revealed to me... And each day I find myself re-committing to this journey. It grows wilder and deeper--and more beautiful. And I feel so blessed to be this path.

Happy Aloha Friday.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It all begins with respect

As my Molokai date approaches, I feel like I've transitioned from "study-mode" to "all-out-CRAM-mode!" I am working my butt off to get things ready so that I can leave with what I need. My mele project that I've been working on is really coming along... And I should feel a great sense of accomplishment. I should feel that way... but I feel like I'm never going to have enough of it done before I go. I want to make Pops proud when he sees it.

Tonight I was working on doing some translations. I'm thrilled to have the "new process" in places, but it's time consuming. I am taking the songs, word-by-word, and translating. And not just in the context of the song. I'm using the Hawaiian dictionary, internet resources, liner notes, reference books, maps--pretty much anything I can get my hands on to make sense of it all. Instead of a singing from a place of "well, I kind of know what this phrase means," I want to sing from a place of KNOWING. And to do that takes time.

I found myself tempted to take short cuts. To write quick synonyms for the words that I thought I was familiar with. How sad to cheat myself of this experience! While I'm really happy that things are making more and more sense as I go along, I want to really do this RIGHT. I want to give these mele the respect they deserve. I want to give the language the respect it deserves. I want to give Pops the respect he deserves. And lastly, I want to respect myself--to really give myself over to this process. To take as much time as it needs to do it and do it right.

I found myself repeating the words "Honor the process" and "It all begins with respect" while I worked--especially when it felt like I was moving through glue. From my studies, I've learned that the cornerstone in Hawaiian culture is RESPECT. If you really honor the process, you are respecting those that came before you and you are respecting YOURSELF.

Mele studies get deeper and deeper every day. Feeling blessed to be on this wild journey.

Happy Aloha Friday!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Changing Strings...

Today I learned how to change a string on my 'ukulele--something that wouldn't mean much to most people, but for me, it was a real right of passage. I have never been one to take something apart to learn about it and then reassemble it. Maybe I did something like that when I was young and couldn't put it back together? I'm not sure... But I AM sure that I don't enjoy having to do something unfamiliar (like changing a string)--and especially when it deals with something that I love and value so much (like my 'ukulele.)

I was really afraid that I was going to go about the whole thing wrong. I was terrified of doing some kind of irreparable damage to the instrument. And that would be terrible! I need this 'ukulele for some upcoming performances!

A few weeks ago, while playing for a Hula class here in NYC, my wound silver string on my 6-string 'ukulele popped. I had noticed that it was showing signs of extreme wear and tear but I continued to play it. Kind of like when people KNOW IN THEIR HEARTS that something is wrong with their physical body, but refuse to see a doctor. The situation was classically funny. The dancers were moving beautifully. I was caught up in the beauty of the song. And then TWANG! Thankfully, no one was hurt when the string snapped!

Being such a "freak" when it comes to my 'ukulele and its strings, I wanted to make sure that I put the right kind on when I replaced it. As luck would have it, some of my friends were heading to the World Hula Conference on O'ahu. I asked them if they'd stop by the Kamaka factory and pick up a set of strings for me. I figured it wouldn't hurt to have spares of the other strings. Heck, if one popped, the others may just be waiting to do the same thing!

My friends totally came through for me and picked up a set of strings and I received them on Monday night. However, I didn't even take them out of the package... I was too nervous. Afraid that I would attempt to string it and screw everything up--without another string to correct my error. I was paralyzed.

My good buddy, Kbelle, came to the rescue. She told me to stop by her office and she'd show me how to restring it. The "old me" would have been happy to have her restring it FOR me. That way, I couldnʻt be responsible for doing anything wrong. How sad to be this old and so scared! Thankfully, she let me do most of the work. We figured it out pretty quickly and I left her office with all 6 strings intact.

You know how the new string doesn't like to stay in tune right away? How you need to play it, coax it into stretching a bit so that it maintains a constant (or at least semi-constant) tension? Give the new string a bit of a workout? Well, it's been so much fun. At first, it TOTALLY did not want to stay in tune! AUĒ! Stubborn buggah! But Iʻve been lovingly strumming it and, finally, it seems to be settling in and maintaining the necessary tension. I know Iʻll need to do that a lot over the next few days to make sure itʻs staying in tune.

Funny thing is that it sounds sweeter to me than it did before the string had popped. It sounds more mellow... More "honey-ed." Maybe just to my ear. Maybe itʻs because I know that I took the time to get to know my beloved instrument a bit. Maybe itʻs because I wasnʻt afraid to work with it a little bit. I love how it sounds!

Did I learn anything from this? Yes... I learned that Iʻm really just a big olʻ chicken when it comes to trying new things! I learned that I need to get over it and to get in there and get the job done. I learned that changing ʻukulele strings, like most things in the world, is NOT such a big deal. And I learned that if Iʻm ever in a situation where another one pops, Iʻll be prepared to handle it--with spare strings in my case. Right on.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Going even deeper...

Today I got down the "nittty gritty" and started looking at the songs that have been somewhat difficult for me. I can't really explain it... there are some songs that are INSTANTLY appealing and then there are others that are, well, more of a challenge. Sometimes, those songs NEVER become part of my repertoire because they don't appeal to me. And other times, those are the songs I love most of all.

Thankfully, because of the nature of this mele project, I'm committed to looking at ALL of the songs in this cycle. Even the ones that, at first glance, leave me uninspired. I mention "thankfully" because as I went deeper into the songs that have been a challenge, they came to life. Sang to me. Some of them will absolutely become part of my favorites... Others, well, the verdict is still out on some of 'em!

I'm so glad that I took the time to examine them today. To really give myself over to the process and look at things that don't grab me right away. How sad to have missed something just because it's first impression wasn't totally favorable.

I can't help but think of all of the "first impressions" that I've made in my life. How many of those were less-than-spectacular? And I can't help but be grateful that sometimes, even though I may not have shown myself in a great light initially, someone gave me a second chance.

Mele study is getting DEEP!!! Right on!

Playing for the Hula classes

Tonight I was blessed to play for the dancers of Nā Lehua Melemele--a hula hui based here in NYC. Iʻm also blessed to play for Kumu Hula June Tanoue when she holds classes in the city. Itʻs an honor to play for dancers. Each and every time.

Singing the mele in my apartment is fine. Itʻs a way to study the piece, research it, "find it" in my voice. Performing the piece in public is great... A way to share what Iʻve learned with others. A way to "spread the Aloha." But there is something so incredibly special about playing for a dancer or group of dancers. Working in harmony with another person (or group) as we share the message in the mele. We tell the story. We help to perpetuate a piece of Hawaiian history. Itʻs an honor and blessing.

Every time.

Monday, August 10, 2009

9 days until Molokai

Ah! Can't believe the date is approaching so quickly! You know, I fantasize about being back on island all year: what I'd like to bring for the 'ohana, what mele I hope to be able to work on with Pops, places I hope to be able to see, etc. And then as the trip approaches, I lose my mind. Can't think of anything that I'd been planning. I've got lots of music to sing, but are these the "right" ones to be singing at this point?

If I start thinking about these things when lay down to sleep at night, I'll toss and turn for hours. Working things out--over and over and over.

I think I stress because being there is so special. Sacred time for me. And I want to be prepared for everything. I don't want to be there and find myself saying "If only I had done...."

But the coolest part about being there is that it IS sacred time. And things are good there--just as they are.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mele, Mele, Mele...

More of the mele study today. I love it. I love almost each and every second of it. Just picking the 'ukulele up and strumming it has a calming affect. I can't believe that something this "magical" really exists. Like the best medicine for the soul that one could ever dream of.

Starting up with a new mele can be a daunting task. But since I've "rediscovered" how to launch into the study, things have been a bit easier. AND once I've started with something, momentum builds and I then one mele leads to another and another and another. OCD at its finest!

I've started leaving "mele messages" on my friend's voicemail. It's been a great way for me to "perform" a mele that I've been working on AND (this is the best part) it allows me to share what I'm learning with someone who appreciates it. It's cool knowing that at some point during her day, she'll listen to her voicemail and hear a song from the islands. A win-win situation.

More mele tomorrow. And that's a good thing...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"Up to my eyeballs..."

E kala mai! Sorry for the lack of postings!

I've been up to my eyeballs with mele studies. It's been heaven spending ENTIRE days studying language and music. Heaven. Bliss. What I've always dreamed of doing.

For a year, I've been on a quest trying to figure out "my way" of learning songs and language. It's been tough. Lots of trial & error. In April, a friend of mine, an 'olapa, showed me the way she worked on learning the mele that she uses for hula. It was so simple--like doing a vocabulary list in middle school or high school English classes. My original thought: that's cool, but it's too similar to a method that I HATED when I was in school. There's got to be something better...


On Monday, I found myself struggling with a project that I'm working on. I couldn't seem to get started. I was feeling completely overwhelmed. And then I thought of Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD and how I needed to stop. And breathe. And take one song at a time. One word at a time.


It was amazing! Not only did I learn the lyrics, but the song CAME TO LIFE! It's been so fantastic! And so addicting! I've started learning a lot more songs now that they are truly "singing" for me. Not a great thing for my OCD, but I've been blissed out. What a nice change from feeling overwhelmed and "stuck" for so long.

So that's where I am this Wednesday morning. Still in CRAM mode. But loving it instead of dreading it. And that's pretty great.

Happy Wednesday!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A day of singing...

I'm vocally exhausted after working on a leo kiʻekiʻe style song today. But I loved every minute of it. Just participating in that tradition of singing is a thrill.

Time to let the throat rest. Time to honor the body and itʻs wisdom.

What a journey...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More mele work and language study...

Phew! Today was a tough one!

I decided to just bite the bullet and jump in. Worked on language study for a little more than an hour. Then dove into mele #2 in the cycle that I'm working on. Lots of translation. Totally love how the brain is able to switch gears like that! I know... I know... Itʻs going to take a lot more than a few hours a day to really grow within the language... But Iʻve got to start somewhere, right? And a few hours a day is a lot more than Iʻd been studying every day prior to this. Slow. Baby steps.

Growing up in a home where only one language was spoken, I was jealous of my friends who lived in a bilingual home. And I was constantly amazed to witness the "change" in their brains as they went from one language to another. I never thought I'd be able to do that. Not that I'm suddenly fluent in Hawaiian, but it's coming along. Slowly. Steadily. And after I finish my "official study time" for the day, my brain stumbles between English and Hawaiian. It's awesome! And I'm sure it's funny for the folks that call me on the phone during that time... I can hardly form a sentence!

More of the same for tomorrow. I've laid out a game plan as I countdown the days to Molokai. I want to be able to sing these songs with Pops and get his manaʻo. I want to be able to speak as much Hawaiian with him as I can. Where else am I going to find a chance to use it like that? And with a native speaker! Thatʻs one of the best parts about being down in Hālawa... being able to think in Hawaiian instead of thinking in English and then trying to translate it. When youʻre immersed like that, you donʻt have to keep changing gears. Itʻs easier just to lock it in!

Feeling blessed with these opportunities. (And mentally exhausted!)
Life is good.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Making Progress with the Mele

Ahhh.... Ok. So I sat down this afternoon and started to work on a mele from Molokai. A beautiful song that doesn't get sung very often anymore. And you know, that makes me really sad because this is such a fantastic combination of haunting melody and incredible lyrics. I was in heaven. Very few composers write like this anymore. In ANY tradition!

And I love the fact that as I sing it--over and over and over--the lyrics really start to come to life. As a non-native of the islands and a language student, sometimes the poetry is lost on my western ears and mind. But every time I slow down and take a breath and allow the song to "breathe," it's like light shines in the room. The lyrics suddenly become clear. The melody makes perfect sense. The planets align. It's all good.

I love that this is my current job. I hope that it can be forever. I can't think of a better way to spend one's time and energy. This job, while exhausting for a moment, actually gives so much more than it takes. How can you argue with that?

"Don't try. Just do!"

I was talking with Pops last night on the phone. It had been 2 weeks since we'd last spoken. Too long. I try to talk with him once a week--usually on Sunday nights. I know he comes out of the valley to go to church on Sundays. That means he has cell phone reception again!

He called me--an unusual thing. Usually I call him. I had mentioned this to a friend of mine who grew up in the islands. I told her, "Well, if he really wants to talk with me, he can call, too! Why do I always have to be the one to make the move?" She explained that in Hawai'i, it wouldn't be unusual for a kupuna to wait for my call. I needed to show the respect and make the first move. In the years that I've known Pops, I can count on one hand the number of times that he's called me. And every time is special.

We were catching up on all of the latest news. Everything that's been happening in our worlds. Family news. Local news. I told him that I really wanted to come and visit--the same thing I tell him every time we talk. He usually answers, "Well, son, I know that we'll be together again someday." I mentioned that I wanted to come in August. He sounded excited. I threw out a few dates. He grew more excited. I told him I would go on the computer and try to book a flight. His response? "Don't try. Just do!"

And that is a valuable lesson to be applied to all areas of my life. Don't try. Just do!

(And I went to my computer and made it happen. Mahalo, Pops! I'll be seeing you SOON!!)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Heading Back to Hālawa!


I'm heading back to Molokai to study/work/hang with the ʻohana next month! Booking a trip back to the ʻāina is ALWAYS one of the best feelings. Like a birthday and Christmas and New Yearʻs Eve and the Fourth of July all rolled into one.

That means that Iʻve got to really put my nose to the grindstone and start making some headway with these mele. Nothing like committing to a trip to make you accountable, right?

Hālawa Valley, here I come!!



I'm embarking a new project to learn some mele--specifically mele from Molokai. This is gonna be quite a journey. As I learn more about the island, the language in the mele comes to life. These songs that haven't been sung much over the last 50 years BOUNCE back into being. And I am blessed with the opportunity to learn them. How cool...

aloha is a state of being

i truly believe that we have choices in this world.
i believe we can go thru life with a scowl on our faces.
i believe that we can go thru life with a smile and a song.

i believe that aloha is a state of being.