2017 Maui County ‘ukulele classChristmas recital.

2017 Maui County ‘ukulele class Christmas recital.

Back in 2017, just after retiring to Moloka‘i, I stumbled upon a group of kūpuna having a lot of fun. Seated around tables at the Coffees of Hawaii plantation store, they were playing ‘ukulele and singing, much to the delight of onlookers. One gentleman in the audience on a group outing from the local retirement home leapt up and picked a partner before dancing to the tune.

So, when the Maui County Department of Parks & Recreation began offering free ‘ukulele classes for kūpuna, I signed up. It was one of the best things I ever did! Although the county classes shut down at the beginning of the COVID lockdowns, our kumu, Kaleo Bishaw, continues to this day to offer lessons to various groups of kūpuna — big and small — across the island. Our most recent recital at Christmastime featured around 60 players, including some of his keiki students.

These days, I’m in the advanced class at the Mālama Molokai Wellness Center. It’s a small space and a small class, which is something my fellow student, Annette English, really appreciates. “It’s good for learning new techniques and I like the challenge,” she says. Learning how lyrics and music fit together has given her the confidence to begin putting the poetry one of her girls writes to music. In class, we learn to tune our ears and wean ourselves off playing from song sheets so we can play any number we hear and like — maybe even join in an informal jam session, known in Hawai‘i as a kanikapila.

2024 Friendsfrom Kanikapila Group Therapy jammin’
at home. (Courtesy Paula Scott)

2024 Friends from Kanikapila Group Therapy jammin’ at home. (Courtesy Paula Scott)

The Kanikapila Group Therapy players, who nowadays meet at the Kualapu‘u Recreation Center, are continuing those sessions I first saw back in 2017. Everyone is invited, even if they don’t play ‘ukulele. Beginners are welcome: “We bomb together, and we play well together. No judgment!” says Paula Scott. They play from song sheets provided by the group leader, but maintain the spirit of kanikapila, which is simply to have fun in enjoyable company.

Research has shown that learning an instrument after the age of 60 has many benefits. Improved information retention is one Paula has noticed; for others, it might be manual dexterity. Playing ‘ukulele isn’t physically demanding and may even reduce stress and blood pressure. For everyone, making friends and socializing are proven to benefit emotional health and wellbeing.

‘Ukulele are easy to transport, easy to learn and they’re affordable. Plus, you’ll be participating in one of the aspects of Hawai‘i that makes living here special . Music brings us all together. So, what are you waiting for! County parks and recreation departments on all islands offer kūpuna ‘ukulele classes. They’re also usually offered at senior centers. Don’t miss out on the fun that performing with others can bring!

Molokai Kanikapila Group Therapy:
Ukulele Underground’s play-along videos:
Ukulele Underground’s play-along for “Aloha ‘Oe:”