Sunday, May 30, 2010


A good friend told me there was a person who sang like Brother Iz who spends days in the lobby at Queen's Medical Center accompanying himself with his tenor ukulele and entertaining the patients, staff and visitors. I decided to call him last week Sunday and he called back that evening.

Steve singing Brother Iz's "Rainbow/Wonderful World"

We talked for a bit and he asked if he could accompany me at the V.A. Center for the Aging at Tripler the next day where I perform every Monday. I hesitated because I usually have my CRV packed with my keyboard and sound system for that gig. He told me he would catch the bus and meet me there. So, I told him I'd repack things and pick him up and away we went.

I normally also like to hear a person play or sing before I invite anyone to perform with me because I have a slew of bad experiences with people who are decent karaoke singers but can't keep time or pitch when singing live. So, I was a bit apprehensive because while these are free gigs, I can't subject my audience to someone who can't sing. Even someone like me has standards. Especially when applied to others.

I decided to open up with a couple of instrumental tunes and he followed the chords reasonably well. Then, I sang "Hawaii" which has some very difficult chords and he was able to fake his way through. If it turned out that he couldn't follow my chords, I could always crank up the volume on my keyboard. I was playing with an amplifier and he was acoustic. Har! Then, I asked him to sing "Kamalani" and if you closed your eyes, it sounded just like Brother Iz singing. We were all pleasantly surprised. That was enough for me. I ditched my keyboard, joined the audience and Steve finished the hour by himself.

Steve first began volunteering at Queen's Medical when his sister was hospitalized about two and a half years ago. He is there every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from about 8 in the morning to 12 noon. On Thursdays, he catches the bus from his home in Palisades and goes to Kailua and performs at Ann Pearl Nursing Home. In fact, Steve catches the bus everywhere, even to the 2 - 3 wedding gigs he does each week.

Steve wrote a song for the 29th brigade, Hawaii Army National Guard when his daughter was called to duty in the Middle East. He was featured on the T.V. show, "Living local" where he performed that song. My old unit, the 111th Army Band, Hawaii Army National Guard also featured him when they had the Aloha ceremony for the 29th Brigade at the Stadium before they shipped out. He is even in a commercial on local T.V. where he sort of resembles Sam Choy.

Steve is very professional and interacts with the audience well. I've received positive feedback not just from the audience in the room, but also from those who listened in from the hallways and from their offices. Heck, the folks at Tripler may not want me back after listening to Steve. Better practice some more.

I'm still in awe as to how many people give of themselves to make our community a better one.

Sunday, May 23, 2010



Wallen plays the accordion and the bamboo flute. I'm guessing not at the same time. He also gets paid to climb trees. Actually, he trims trees and has been doing that for the past 25 years. That impresses me because at my age, just climbing up a ten foot ladder gets my legs shaking.

Wallen with his accordion

Wallen has been a fulltime caregiver for his mom for the past three years with the help of his brother. So Wallen has had to put a stop to his gigging as a musician because watching over his family takes up most of his time. He has also cut back his tree-trimming work to two days a week... just enough to pay the bills to support the family.

As a musician, he played mostly at private functions and joined others at Oktoberfest celebrations. The accordion is made for German, Polka, Italian, Tangos, etc. music and shines when used in those types of venues. I would have a difficult time figuring the fingering on the chords, the notes and then have to worry about squeezing it back and forth to keep the sound going. So I have a lot of admiration for those who can play this instrument. I've also been a fan of Lawrence Welk and the chromatic runs he uses. Guess that ages me a bit.

A few months back, Wallen's mother took a turn for the worse and was hospitalized and then was placed in Palolo Chinese Home. So he and his brother began spending much of their time there every day, visiting, doing crossword puzzles and keeping her mentally active.

Wallen began taking his accordion and flute to the Home and found that the residents came alive when he played for them. For people in their 80s, the accordion was a very popular instrument to learn when they were young, just as the ukulele or guitar is popular with today's generation. So when Wallen plays for them, their faces light up. That positive feedback, in turn, made Wallen more committed to play for the patients. He's looking for other musicians to join him so he can play both the accordion and the bamboo flute. The accordion itself is a stand-alone instrument but he needs someone to lay the chords and rhythm while he plays the flute.

In spite of the hardships of caring for a family member, Wallen still looks to making life better for patients and residents at the home. And he's convinced that he can reach more through music as evidenced by the appreciation and feedback he's received thus far.

You can contact Wallen at ELLINGSONG@HAWAII.RR.COM.

There still are amazing and giving folks in this world. I am grateful to you readers for referring such giving people to me so I may be able to feature what they do in this blog. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


THERESA SALVADOR... From bright lights of show biz to Kupuna Care

Theresa Salvador once lived the glamorous life as a singer in a band, performing in various Far East nightclubs. I first noticed her while performing at the Pearl City Nursing Home where she works. I am highlighting her to honor all the nurses and health care professionals (last week was National Nurses Appreciation Week) who have the innate desire to care for those who cannot care for themselves.

Theresa often uses her talent as a singer to perform for the patients.

At most of the places that I perform, the staff sometimes feel inconvenienced because they have to wheel the patients into the hall and have to listen to my bad piano playing and lousy singing. Theresa, being an entertainer herself (much better than I am) does what she can to get the patients involved in the performances.

When one performs solo as I do, one has to worry about the music, lyrics, chords and the piano solos while trying to interact with the audience. Much different than when one performs with a group where one can pass the ball on to other group members. It helps a lot to have staff like Theresa who can help to carry the ball for me.

Whenever Theresa isn't busy giving snacks and refreshments, her patients often ask her to perform. In the picture above, she was asked to sing Streisand's "The Way We Were" and when she finished, the patients kept her up there to do another song. So she obliged with a great rendition of "Dahil Sa Iyo". I believe she was even dancing a bit which charged up the patients.

Then I had to follow with my inept singing. But, fortunately, I have no sense of shame so it doesn't bother me to have to follow someone who is a legitimate singer like Theresa.

When staff members get involved with the program as Theresa does, then the performance is no longer passive entertainment, but music therapy. The song choices bring the kupunas on a journey down memory lane, but when handed bells or other percussion instruments (or even clapping their hands), they become engaged mentally and physically as well. Getting them engaged that way is good therapy.

I have performed at numerous facilities and often, the staff looks at the hour of entertainment as an opportunity to take a break and talk to each other in the back corner. Some even leave the room hoping that I can watch over the patients while they do other tasks. Of course, the patients are usually wired with alarms in the event they slip off their wheelchair, but, I'm an entertainer and am usually concentrating on the music and can't be depended upon to watch them.

Not so, at Pearl City Nursing Home, where they always have 2 or more staff members in the room at all times. A tip of the hat to them and all the professionals there.

Visit their website.

Makes me want to hug every nurse that I see. Well..... better not.....

Theresa was not interviewed for this feature.

Sunday, May 9, 2010



Dale is the person who had the most influence over persuading me to entertain at nursing homes. Some may not agree that this is a good thing, but nevertheless, I had been out of music since 1991 and when I got a piano for $100 in 2001, he literally taught me how to play via email and phone conversations.

Dale Retired from the Royal Hawaiian Band at the end of 2009 where he also was awarded the C & C of Honolulu Employee of the Year

Dale has been entertaining at nursing homes since 1991. He and Henry "Boxhead" Yoshino, a noted saxophonist in Hawaii were regulars at Leahi and Kuakini Hospitals among others. Currently, Dale plays solo at the Avalon Nursing Home. He even made a special DVD especially for the Avalon patients in a "karaoke" format, where the patients sing along to old Japanese and Filipino songs. He specifically put the words in large letters so that everyone could read from the T.V. screen and sing along.

Dale retired from the Royal Hawaiian Band after more than 31 years of service. He played the French horn but was more noted for his arrangements that the Band continues to use in their performances. Dale is an accomplished pianist, having backed some of the biggest names in Hawaiian entertainment like Don Ho, Gabe Baltazar, Aiko, the Young Brothers (not the shipping company, but Imai and the late Moku), among many others.

He had not been active in the entertainment community as a pianist while he was fulfilling his duties as an arranger for the Band, so it wasn't until he retired that he is being "rediscovered" as a darn good pianist by some of the top musicians in Hawaii.

Dale's legacy in the music world may come as a result of his arrangements of Polynesian songs and music from the Asian and Pacific Basin. Most of the musicians and music lovers look towards Brahms, Mozart and others as the standard of "good" music. Dale has explored what Hawaii has to offer by creating orchestral arrangements using Hawaiian, Korean, Japanese, Polynesian, Filipino, etc. songs and presenting these pieces for all music lovers to enjoy. Take a listen.

Besides the pieces arranged for the Royal Hawaiian Band, Dale has arranged for the University of Hawaii Orchestra and the Hawaii Youth Symphony. His reward for his donated efforts, according to Dale, is that he has an opportunity to expose young musicians to the beauty of the music and cultures from the Pacific. With the struggling Honolulu Symphony in a state of recess, tourists and residents will become increasingly exposed to Dale's musical creativity through the University Symphony and the Hawaii Youth Symphony and, of course, the Royal Hawaiian Band, where they will continue playing Dale's arrangements through the new century.

This is perhaps my first feature where I didn't have to conduct an interview since I've known Dale for about 45 years. When he was in the Hawaii National Guard Band, he was my roommate whenever the band traveled. If you're ever forced to have to listen to me play the piano and sing, you would do well to remember that Dale was the only music teacher I've ever had.

Sunday, May 2, 2010



Da Mayor was a controversial figure in Honolulu's history. Certainly no one affected the residents of Honolulu more than he did in the 20th century. And whether you agreed with his politics or not, we can all agree that he got things done.

He always respected the elderly and did whatever he could do to make our kupunas' lives easier. He made sure that the elderly had a bus pass so that they could get around to do their daily activities and not be housebound due to a lack of transportation. Then, he went further and brought City Hall to them so they wouldn't have to negotiate transportation into town. He called them "Satellite City Halls".

Many of the elderly lived in urban areas and he provided land to allow them to grow their own produce and work the soil as they did in the old days. He even provided free fertilizer, mulch and other things to help them grow their gardens. Then he gave them an opportunity to buy produce from truck farmers by opening up the "People's Open Markets" across Honolulu.

I got to know the mayor at a low point in his life when he was out of office during 1980 - 1984. And yes, I got involved in his gubernatorial campaign in 1982 and to a lesser degree, others, later on. I found him to be principled and lived every moment with fire in his belly. He loved to debate issues and if you disagreed with him, you had to be prepared to defend your position because he wasn't about to back down. We got along because I didn't have enough brains to back down from him.

He was also somewhat shy in social settings. If there's an issue to debate, the shyness disappeared. During those days, he had lots of free time and he would play gin ever day. When he walked in, he would not offer salutation to anyone and would growl. "let me see your money!". And you were required to produce proof of cash before he would deal the first hand. He would often intimidate you into making mistakes during the game and wondered out loud, "How did you ever get through high school... making stupid moves like that?". The more he's losing, the more insulting his intimidations got.

Where he came from, the East Coast Italian neighborhoods, they called that "busting your b***s". Fortunately for me, I grew up in Kalihi where we all used trash talk in everyday conversation. If he noticed someone who couldn't handle his insulting behavior, he truly felt badly. Early on, I would feign being hurt and he'd feel so badly that he let up on his game and I'd beat him. It didn't take him long to catch on.

The kupunas in Honolulu are grateful that Frank Fasi touched their lives.