Sunday, July 25, 2010



My three cousins have been role models for me for many years. The sisters, May Okazaki, Ethel and Grace Kitagawa have been volunteering through their church, the Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin on Pali Highway. The church has many outreach programs for the community, including services provided to the aged. These services include but are not limited to home care, visitation, providing transportation for doctor's appointments, and caregivers' respite relief.

If one isn't confident enough to venture on his/her own, join in with a church that has community outreach that focuses on providing services rather than religious recruitment. Hospices are always looking for volunteers in all phases of providing support for those facing death. And, provide counseling for the adjustment period after the passing of a loved one. I know of many cases where a person goes into a deep depression following the death of a parent. And these people are so dysfunctional that they aren't able to leave the house unless they're heavily medicated.

My cousins even participate in a group that brings the Buddhists' celebration of the Obon season to nursing and care homes. Obon is where they welcome loved ones back to this world during August. After the season, they send send them back to their world on lanterns set in rivers, lakes and the ocean. The patients in care homes can't get out to the Obon festivities so they bring the festivities to them. What a kind and wonderful gesture.

May Okazaki, left and sister Ethel Kitagawa getting ready for their dance
They were having so much fun that I was getting ready to jump in and join them. But a well-placed stink-eye from my cousins kept me from making the usual fool of myself.

If you don't believe you have any talent where you can entertain, let me be an example of someone who can't play the piano or sing, but have not let that technical detail stop me. And I do it quite enthusiastically, by the way. I'm so bad, that I have to make up for my lack of musical abilities by performing as an entertainer and banter with the audience. And we all laugh together.

A few patients asked for a recording of my songs so I made a CD of 12 ballads and gave them out. Whether they wanted it or not. I'm fair that way. So they get to enjoy the music even when I'm not there.

Lately, I've been experimenting with slide shows using some of the music I recorded. I'm not as technically talented as others are, but I do my best, with the help of Adobe Photoshop and Elements. One of the husbands at the care home is there every day, caring for his wife. And he's always holding her hand and hugging her even though she isn't able to react because of the multiple strokes she has suffered. The love he has for her is obvious. So, I'm trying to get him to give me pictures of the both of them throughout the years and I'll make a DVD slide show using my recording of Godfather (Speak Softly) or Love Story as the musical backdrop.

Another pianist made a video DVD of ethnic (Japanese and Filipino) songs and put the words on the screen for the patients to read and sing along. The patients love it and can play the karaoke DVD every day and it's almost as if he was there entertaining them. So if you have abilities besides entertaining, like barber skills, you can still volunteer. And our kupunas will be deeply grateful for a haircut. They still want to look good.

Lanakila is always looking for volunteers, particularly their "Meals on Wheels" program where they deliver meals to the elderly who cannot get out. Hospice Hawaii is beginning a new round of training for volunteers in August. Here is a link you may want to browse through to see what volunteering opportunities are available.

I guarantee that it'll change you as a person. And we'll be making our community better, one volunteer at a time. I'll even bet that you may be inspiring someone else to volunteer, just as my cousins have been inspirational to me.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


MUSIC AS THERAPY... Jake Shimabukuro

We have featured many big-name entertainers who quietly perform at nursing/care homes believing that they are feeding the souls of people through their music. Another such entertainer is Jake Shimabukuro.

I ran across his Facebook page "Music Is Good Medicine" the other day and found that he entertains both the young and the elderly. He believes that music soothes the soul of everyone, young and old. Music can be used to inspire, heal and influence everyone to better their community.

Many of those in nursing/care homes are elderly and have not heard of Jake. That changes real fast once he begins strumming and plucking his ukulele with his lightning fast fingers. As his music has matured, his style has changed to where he now brings out the soul of the song and the instrument, rather than try to put as many notes into each measure.

What a thrill it is for the elderly to have someone of Jake's stature and talent to come and give them an hour of live entertainment. It's unusual for someone so young to give back to the community this way.

Read his bio:

I did not interview Jake for this feature. His webpage and his Facebook page gives most of the information you need so writing this feature was a slam dunk.

I thought it was important for you to know what people in our community are doing to make this a better place to live.

Sunday, July 11, 2010



I got a call the other day from Kelly from Ka Punawai Ola asking if I would entertain their patients/residents. She was referred to me by my piano tuner and asked if I had a CD of my singing. So, I mailed her a demo that I had recorded of my Sinatra standards that some patients previously asked for.

Kelly called back and asked me to perform on Friday, July 2 and I agreed. While they wanted the Sinatra music, I thought I'd combine that with patriotic music that I had already worked through for other gigs for Independence Day.
Lots of dust on the Roland piano

Ka Punawai Ola is an open facility that is spread out in a one story structure in the middle of Kapolei's business district. They have a lot of open spaces for the residents/patients to enjoy, including courtyards, tropical foliage and sitting areas. A very impressive setting.

When I arrived there, they set me up in the dining area where they have an old upright piano and a Roland electric piano. Both pianos faced the wall but the upright was an upright grand at over 4 feet so I chose to move the electric, which was much lighter, so I could face the audience. As an entertainer and a singer, it's no fun talking to the wall. I did that a lot in grade school where I had to stand in the corner for the amusement of the teachers.

Once I set up, I noticed three aunties sitting in front of me waiting for me to start. Heck, they demanded that I begin even though I had another 15 minutes before my start time. As most of you know, it's no fun getting scolded by aunties so I asked them to sing. They looked Filipino so I did "Dahil Saiyo". One knew all the words and the other two aunties followed.

Then, I asked them to help me by making jungle sounds. One was in charge of the monkey sound, another was in charge of the bird calls and another made sounds that pigeons make. So, off we went into "Quiet Village". The staff was still wheeling patients into the room and they wondered what the heck we were doing, making these strange noises. Many wanted to participate so I followed that number with "Yellow Bird".

One auntie was expecting Christian music and was raring to go. I suppose most entertainers at these homes are from church groups and it's expected that it would be like a Christian revival. I explained that I don't do church music, mostly because the patients who aren't Christians frequently feel imposed upon as captive members of the audience. So, I thought I'd be different from everyone else.

As it turned out, when I began singing Sinatra ballads, more people began coming into the room. Of course, when I did the patriotic music, most of the songs talked about God since the Nation was founded on Judeo-Christian philosophies. And, of course, the gospels, called "slave music" are religious based.

The auntie on the left did a sit-down hula all through the performance. I purposely sang "Manuela Boy" just to see her go through the motion for "house",  "five cents" "moi", etc. I was having so much fun watching her that I forgot my place and repeated a whole verse.

Overall, I had a good time and I think the patients/residents did too. While I don't want to add another gig to my 3 per week, I often go to different nursing/care homes on Fridays when scheduling permits. I hope Ka Punawai Ola calls me back. I miss the aunties.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


V.A. CENTER FOR THE AGING.... Caring for our vets.

The Spark Matsunaga V.A. Center for the Aging is located on the grounds of Tripler Army Medical Center and is in a building that is physically detached from the main V.A. Center and is on the Ewa side of the main building. It is a geriatric center with 60 beds for inpatient care. Additionally, the Center also services veterans who need rehabilitation physical therapy and psychological treatment as outpatients.

I first began entertaining there in late 2002 or early 2003. I wasn't very good, having only learned to play the piano about 18 months earlier. I was self-taught to boot. But, the patients/residents were forgiving.

These are folks who are combat-tested, tough, crusty and in spite of their broken bodies, minds or spirits, stand tall in defending their dignity. Many went through the period during the Viet Nam era where they were ordered not to wear their uniforms off base. Civilians would yell obscenities and sometimes threw human waste on soldiers in uniforms. If they defended themselves, they faced court martial or at the very least, Article 15.

They watched me and tested me to see if I was volunteering just to feed my ego. Some would run their wheelchair up against my keyboard just to see how I would react. They were, and continue to be warriors. Warriors don't ask for help. They are trained to make do and improvise.

I tried to guess as to why I was being treated so rudely. First, of course, was the possibility that I was plain bad as a musician. Second, was that they didn't trust me and third, was that their medication caused a change in their personality that made them mean-spirited. Of course, I chose the third.

The truth is that they likely didn't want me there performing if I did so because I felt pity for them. When they realized that I was coming every Monday morning, rain or shine, they began to trust that I was there because I enjoyed their company. Or, I suspect that they just resigned themselves to accept me because I wasn't going away.

Each had his own song that he wanted to hear. One gunny from Texas was the mildest and kindest individual you could meet. If I ended my program, however, without singing his song, "Your Cheating Heart", he would go into a tirade and he would shout the harshest profanities only a marine gunny would know. Gunny was always the first person in the room when I arrived, reading his book (he went through a book a day sometimes), and waited patiently for his song.

Every year, the Center holds a memorial ceremony for those who passed away during the previous 12 months. I've had the privileged of providing 30 minutes of pre-ceremony music for the past 3-4 years. I did mostly patriotic and gospel music.

In years past, I've performed in a gazebo which is about 30 feet away from the audience, who were seated in the courtyard under a tent. The courtyard overlooked the ocean, airport and the Sand Island Lagoon. I had no opportunity to interact with the audience while performing.

On June 25, they held the ceremony indoors because of potential inclement weather. The audience was about 5 feet from my keyboard. For the first time, I could see and hear the tears and sobs as I went through my songs. America, Battle hymn, God Bless the USA, America the Beautiful and Amazing Grace were particularly emotional for family members. A couple of veterans had to leave the room because they didn't want anyone to see them cry. They truly love this country. For those who wonder why I'm there every Monday morning, it is because I get to touch their souls like this.

For a slide show of the event:

The ceremony was a typical military one, with honor guards doing a slow salute as each of the 100+ names are called followed by a ringing of a bell by Cecil Meadows, a retired veteran. Family members placed a flag at the altar when their deceased's name was called. Opening and closing Hawaiian chants were done by Liane Davidson, colors were posted and Gerry Vincent sang the National Anthem and Hawai'i Pono'i. A Navy bugler played Taps.

More about the facility:

For those who want to help by volunteering:

Some people don't have the time to volunteer but want to help. If that's your situation, the V.A. accepts monetary donations. Or, do both as I do.

To all our veterans, I salute you on this 4th of July.