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Thursday, July 22, 2004



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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Bree Castillo perfects her strum at the Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studio in Aiea. Sakuma's 800-piece Ukulele Band will perform Sunday at the 34th Ukulele Festival in Kapiolani Park.


No sweat, no fret

Roy Sakuma’s unique lesson plan
has helped thousands of students
master the ukulele since 1974


SEQUESTERED in a private room at Roy Sakuma's ukulele studio in Aiea, his tiny feet in rubber slippers dangling from his chair, 8-year-old Andrew Phomsouvanh proudly strums a joyous rendition of Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World" over his lap.

"Now, I don't claim to be an 'A' student, but I'm trying to be," he chirps with confidence. "For maybe by being an 'A' student, baby, I can win your love for me."

"Andrew loves to sing," says instructor Kathy Sakuma, wife of Roy Sakuma, the celebrated ukulele maestro whose student-powered Ukulele Festival has drawn flocks of devotees of the four-stringed instrument to Kapiolani Park each year. Andrew's task before this Sunday's concert is to memorize a song recently penned for the event by Grammy Award-winning crooner James Ingram, a longtime Ukulele Festival supporter and this year's guest of honor. With principles gleaned from a unique learning method pioneered by Roy Sakuma, it should be a piece of cake.

For the last 30 years, tens of thousands of students have quickly mastered the ukulele through weekly half-hour classes at Sakuma's studios in Honolulu, Aiea, Kaneohe and Mililani. Soon after opening his first school in 1974 with a curriculum centered on reading sheet music, Sakuma and his staff learned that for young beginners, special methods were required to hold their interest.

"We could get the kids to play up to a certain level, and then they would drop like flies," Kathy Sakuma recalls. "It was slow, and it took a lot of studying."


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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
At the Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studio in Aiea, Candyce Narimatsu uses the school's special techniques to get students performing songs right away to build pride and accomplishment. Narimatsu's students are Brent Love, center, and Kaeo Sugimura.


Within a year, Roy Sakuma had devised an alphabet-based course that was easy for kids to understand. "By doing this, I saw that I was able to overcome this barrier and get students to get to the next level," he says. "The key to teaching is communication."

The formula cemented his reputation as a first-rate instructor and impressed even renowned guitar master and teacher Howard Roberts, who, when introduced to Sakuma's teaching system years ago, praised the method for its innovation and practicality.

"He said, 'Had I introduced this 40 years ago, this could have become a universal concept,'" Sakuma said. "He could see how it made so much sense, the way it was put together. I was very happy to hear that, and it made me know that we were on the right track in our philosophy of teaching."

"Our goal is to get kids to play right away and get them to enjoy playing a piece of music," adds Kathy Sakuma. "Even with 5- or 6-year-olds, by their second lesson we've got them playing the melody to 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.'"


art
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Grammy Award-winning R&B artist James Ingram, right, penned a song for Roy Sakuma's, left, Ukulele Fest. Ingram will attend this year's event, taking place Sunday at Kapiolani Park.


The students, who are grouped by age and experience, can expect to conquer hundreds of pop, jazz and Hawaiian standards within a few years. It's a gratifying thing for many children, who often achieve their first taste of success through the ukulele lessons.

"I wasn't really involved in anything, and I wanted to play an instrument, so I chose the ukulele because it's more like Hawaiian culture," explained 13-year-old Cherie Hew Len, who has since taken up the piano, violin and clarinet. She is part of a learning group of four that meets every Saturday morning at the school's Aiea location. She joins classmates Aly Rosen, 12, Jensen Tabil, 11, and Krystal Sales, 12, as part of the 800-plus student orchestra performing at this weekend's festival.

"When my mom was young, she didn't get to play instruments that she wanted to, so she wanted me to play something," added Jensen, who says performing before crowds has become easier with each show. "Once you get to do more and more, you get used to it."

Students' progress is also a source of delight for parents like Calvin Amoy, who says his 11-year-old daughter, Bronte, has come a long way in a year.

"I brought her here because she expressed an interest in ukulele, and Roy Sakuma has a great reputation. He and his wife are great with kids," Amoy said. "This is the first time she's performing, and we're very happy because she's very shy and doesn't like performing onstage or in front of people. When you see your kids take an interest in something, it's a good idea to encourage them. The decision was hers alone, so we're very proud of her."


Everything Ukulele

Starbucks 34th annual Ukulele Festival

Featuring James Ingram, Ohta-San, Uluwehi Guerrero, Daniel Ho, Troy Fernandez, Keale Ohana, James Hill (Canada), Yuji Igarashi (Japan), Da Hawaii Seniors Club of Cerritos (California), Kaoru Kohonoike & KK Hawaiian Groove (Japan), Rocky Brown, Roy Sakuma 800-piece Ukulele Band and emcee Danny Kaleikini

Where: Kapiolani Park Bandstand

When: From 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday

Admission: Free

Call: 732-3739

PLUS MORE
» Daniel Ho and other guest artists will be performing at the Waikiki Parc Hotel's Parc Cafe from 6 to 7:30 p.m. today to help promote the Sunday Ukulele Festival. There will be no cover charge, and a prime rib dinner buffet will be available for purchase, along with the usual menu items. The Waikiki Parc Hotel is at 2233 Helumoa Road. Call 931-6643 for reservations. Seating is limited.

>> Canadian ukulele virtuoso James Hill will make his Atherton Performing Arts Studio debut at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, prior to performing in the 34th annual Ukulele Festival. Hill has performed as a soloist throughout North America and in Japan, and has recorded two CDs, "On the Other Hand" and "Playing It Like It Isn't." Tickets are $17.50 general, $15 for Hawaii Public Radio members and $10 for students. For reservations, call 955-8821.

» Na Mea Hawai'i continues its free Sunday Na Mele Nei concert series at the Ward Warehouse Amphitheatre from 1 to 3 p.m. this weekend, with performances by Pono, Buckz Boyz, and James Hill at about 2 p.m. For more information, call 596-8885.



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