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What Ukes, Manners Share In Common

What do ukulele competitions and charm schools have in common? They attract young participants who learn to master charm, confidence and discipline.

First, let’s talk ukulele. The sweet smell of freshly-sawed koa wood is just as pleasant as the musical sounds Jason Young creates with his fingers from strumming his homemade ukulele. The Hawaiian instrument maker does not play professionally, but he does enjoy shaping and creating one or two ukes every once in a while as his pastime. Young is an avid ukulele concert-goer and enjoys the musical repertoires of great local virtuosos such as the late Israel Kamakawiwaole, Kalei Gamiao, Bryan Tolentino, Taimane Gardner, Eddie Kamai, Herb Ohta Jr., and more. In fact, Young credits his ukulele passion to Ohta Jr., his initial instructor and mentor.


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Jodie Kiyokawa won both vocal and overall performer at last year's Duke's Ukes competition. PHOTO FROM JERRIE KIYOKAWA

“I was 19 years old when I first started playing, and I idolized Mr. Ohta,” says Young, a systems analyst. He prefers traditional old-fashioned artists, but did you know there are modern-day uke stars in pop culture? Was pretty cool seeing George Harrison, Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Star jammin’ with an ukulele, and Taylor Swift is fearless on the uke. But no one can beat my favorite rocker of all time — The King! Pick up an old Elvis Presley for Ukulele record, and if you’re a fan you can still strum, sing and pick along with your favorite Blue Hawaii, Love Me Tender, Heartbreak Hotel and Hound Dog.

Young’s fascination with carving and making ukuleles from scratch started when he saw a homemade instrument while in college.

“Met a guy on the Mainland who had a custom ukulele. It didn’t look that great, so I figured, I could create something better,” he says. “That is when my hobby began.”

But he prefers playing them over making them. At day’s end, his typical evening is hanging out in his man cave, striking chords to Frank Sinatra’s The Shadow Of Your Smile.

“Music itself is soothing, and playing the ukulele is one outlet to wind down and put a busy day behind me … end my night on a good note,” he says.

He doesn’t play for his wife or family, but they can hear him create in his little corner of the world.

“The first ukulele I carved out was made with mahogany wood. I have also used milo wood from Molokai, and koa from all over the islands,” he says. His fretboards are made of ebony from Africa. His three daughters, nephews and nieces are all recipients of his original designs. They may not be name-brand Kamakas, but they are certainly Young originals, each engraved with his signature motto: O Ke Kanaka Ke Kuliana o Kai. “Which means man’s privilege is to dream. I like to think of limitless possibilities and the future,” says the Class of ’66 Iolani grad.

Today, Young helps organize the Outrigger’s annual Duke’s Ukes events, where musicians are welcome to strum on down to Duke’s Waikiki. I love music, so as mayor this event was always one I listed as a “can’t miss activity.”

In its ninth season, the competition showcases the very best Oct. 11 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The two divisions that will be featured are Ukulele Instrumental and Ukulele & Vocals. In order for artists or amateur ukulele enthusiasts to qualify for Duke’s Ukes, they first must pass open auditions Sept. 13 or Sept. 27, from 10 a.m. to noon at Duke’s.

Prizes will include Kamaka ukuleles, Duke’s Waikiki merchandise, gift certificates and more. On hand will be one of last year’s champs, including Sportsmanship Award Winner Jodie Kiyokawa.

“Playing helps me connect to my music,” says the Niu Valley sixth-grader. “I always feel happy when I am singing and strumming my ukulele. It’s nice to have this type of event for kids like me, and adults who are passionate about the ukulele.”

Now, let’s move on to etiquette schools. I came across The Art of Charm School in Kahala, which teaches boys and girls how to incorporate manners into their daily lives. My Momma always reminded us to mind our Ps and Qs. “Yes, please, thank you, you’re welcome, I’m sorry and no, thank you,” were the magic worlds in our household. Well, busy parents can now send their kids to etiquette school.

“We have a fun, interactive school that will keep the kids polished and polite at all times,” says Charm School owner Malia Gurney. “We offer small classroom settings for boys and girls, starting at age 7 on to adulthood. We can customize a class based on the kid’s interest.”

This fall, the program will incorporate service projects such as painting nails of elderly ladies at nursing homes or cleaning up beaches and schools. For more information, go to artofcharmschool.com. Malia’s students will learn how to make proper introductions, handshakes, and decipher the difference between high noon and afternoon teas — British-style.

“Celebrating a birthday with a tea party and making the boys and girls dress up at the dinner table is thrilling for the kids,” she says. Royal Tea Parties, complete with fine china and frilly wear, give students opportunities to dream and feel like royalty.