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San Diego Union-Tribune Article – Ukulele program strikes a chord

March 31, 2015
Ukulele instructor Pablo Cantua goes over a lesson plan with fourth-graders (left) Raymond Rada, 10, and (right) Jarron Galuz, 9, at Ocean View Hills School's new after-school program. Misael Virgen/ UT San Diego
Ukulele instructor Pablo Cantua goes over a lesson plan with fourth-graders (left) Raymond Rada, 10, and (right) Jarron Galuz, 9, at Ocean View Hills School’s new after-school program. Misael Virgen/ UT San Diego — Misael Virgen


By Christine Huard

It’s hard not to feel happy when you hear a ukulele…

The sound just has a way of putting a smile on everyone’s face. And in Pablo Cantua’s ukulele class at Ocean View Hills School, everyone is smiling. And laughing, and tapping their feet.

It’s happiness playing out in four simple chords, three times a week for more than two dozen students in the fledgling after-school program.

Cantua — lanky, long-haired and dressed in black — is part rock star, part doting uncle. An accomplished musician who has performed at the House of Blues and the Latin Grammys, he has played guitar and ukulele for years.

He has taught individuals, but this is the first time he has taught ukulele in a group setting. After just a month of practice, the youngsters are able to strum their way through “I’m Yours” and “La Bamba,” which they performed for San Ysidro School District trustees at a board meeting Feb. 12.

“They’re picking it up very quickly,” he said. “These kids are pretty smart.”

The music program was funded with $8,500 from the district’s Local Control Accountability Plan, or LCAP, which includes state money for intervention and enrichment programs. The school used the money to buy 30 ukuleles and electronic tuners, which help the students tune the ukulele to a digital display. Cantua said that eventually they’ll be able to tune by ear — but that’s a skill he said took him three years to learn.

The money also pays his salary for teaching the one-hour class each Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

Principal Neil Egasani said the ukulele class is one of a handful of new after-school opportunities at Ocean View Hills, a fourth- through eighth-grade campus serving about 700 children. There are also sports and a comics illustration program that is taught by a former DC Comics artist.

“My goal is to have these programs in the school day,” Egasani said.

Research has long shown the positive connection between early music instruction and cognitive development…

Children learn much more than how to play an instrument. They learn dexterity and self-discipline, and how to think, listen and express themselves. And, they gain self-esteem.

Egasani said he hopes the confidence students build learning to play ukulele will carry over into the classroom. He’s already seeing changes.

“One of our students who struggles academically is flourishing here,” he said.

Cantua underscores the importance of having music programs in schools. He said it allows students to expand their minds into other areas.

“If they can learn to learn, they can apply that to any subject,” Cantua said.

Right now, he’s getting to know the youngsters’ musical tastes and the kinds of songs they want to play. He says the ukulele is a good instrument to introduce children to music because of its small size. With only four strings, it’s easy to learn and handle. Students are working with four chords — C, D, A minor and F — which he calls out as the kids practice, and Cantua sings, the Jason Mraz hit “I’m Yours.”

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