Skip to content

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

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.”

Read more here:


Del Mar Heights School World Music Program: Building awareness and ability with a variety of musical traditions

Students James, Carmen, Yu Mei, Christian, and Laine with musician Kourosh Taghavi as part of the Del Mar Heights School World Music Program.
Students James, Carmen, Yu Mei, Christian, and Laine with musician Kourosh Taghavi as part of the Del Mar Heights School World Music Program. — Courtesy

Del Mar Heights School embraces the elements that make students unique and celebrates the diversity of the community…

Educators at Del Mar Heights appreciate that technology has made the world an increasingly small place, requiring students to grow in awareness of global ideas and international concepts.

They also seeks to give children the inspiration and instruction to become expressive, creative members of their communities. With this in mind an innovative program was created.

Members of the Del Mar Heights PTA worked with arts teacher Andrew Smith to create the Del Mar Heights World Music Program to increase exposure to, understanding of, and ability with various musical traditions.

Each grade level at Del Mar Heights has multiple instructional sessions with visiting musicians and dancers from various cultures…

Students participate in creating and understanding music using a wide range of instruments. These instructional sessions often culminate with student concerts or presentations of learning.

This school year, students have spent time with Spanish Flamenco dancer and musician Reyes Barrios and Kourosh Taghavi, a masterful persian string-musician. These artists’ unique perspectives allowed our students to engage with traditions that are quite foreign to the western ear.

Later in the year, students will have the opportunity to work with West-African percussionist and dancer Amara Camara and Indonesian Gamelan musician Tyler Yamin, who will lead students in a Gamelan orchestra.

From the Del Mar Times

Shakuhachi Meditations – From JazzTimes Magazine

Among the rustle of newly risen leaves
An inviting sound suddenly appeared

The Shakuhachi is an Asian wind instrument usually made of bamboo and commonly used in meditation

The Shakuhachi is an Asian wind instrument usually made of bamboo and commonly used in meditation

What can be said about meditation? This question is not easy. But what in particular can be said about Shakuhachi meditation? This question can come to a deadlock because how can be described the rustle of spring wind? Or how can be expressed your innermost dream? You just stay alone and you are in the present moment. You feel the blowing of the soft wind and even hear its special sound. But there is a silence inside of you and it can hardly be described by words.

Your mind becomes purified. It is not filled with anxieties and the numerous problems of everyday life and you are able to feel your own essence. The Shakuhachi flute of Rodrigo Rodriguez helps you to achieve this clear state of mind.

He is a true master of playing the traditional Japanese end-blown bamboo flute which is named Shakuhachi. His manner of performing is deeply personal and meditative. The sound of Rodrigo’s Shakuhachi is very rich and at the same time transparent. And the voice of this unique ethnic instrument brings much love because it comes from the bottom of the artist’s heart.

The music of the album by Rodrigo Rodriguez will be perfect for meditation and deep relaxation. It is easy to listen to “Shakuhachi Meditations” and just be at one with this music because it is very natural.

Yet only in the silence
A mind can find solutionsShakuhachi_meditations_span3

New York Times Article On The Ukulele – Those Four Irresistible Strings

RESURGENCE Jake Shimabukuro contributed to the current popularity of the ukulele. More Photos »


Resurgence of the UkuleleSlide Show

Resurgence of the Ukulele

EVERYTHING began falling into place for Jen Kwok once she decided to buy a pink ukulele…

Last summer she was living in Hell’s Kitchen, working as a finance manager for a nonprofit arts company and having little success with her forays into stand-up comedy.Then her boyfriend bought himself a natural wood ukulele. She started strumming it, and found it easy to play with little training.Within a month Ms. Kwok had fulfilled a childhood desire to own a pink instrument, acquiring a ukulele in that color and adding it to her act. Her corny jokes (“I don’t understand why they call it lubricant. It should be lubri-can.”) worked better when she strummed.

By November, NBC was flying her to Burbank, Calif., to perform for casting directors at a talent showcase. She has since quit her job and is now auditioning for sitcoms and movie parts.“The ukulele is a happy instrument,” she said last week. “People’s eyes light up when I step up with it.”Suddenly there’s something irresistible again about ukuleles. What Ms. Kwok stumbled into is an international voraciousness for all things having to do with the tiny four-string instrument.

From wildly popularWeb videos to car commercials and concert stages, the ukulele, born in Hawaii more than a century ago, is gently plunking heartstrings everywhere.“You can’t walk down the street with a ukulele without being asked about it,” said Chris Johnson, who plays the instrument with the Deedle Deedle Dees, a Brooklyn-based rock band for children. “I teach some kids music lessons, usually starting with piano, but they are all interested in ukulele.”

What the world seems to need now is something tiny, fun and inexpensive…

“In darker times there is something appealingly light about it,” said Jim Beloff, who wrote “The Ukulele: A Visual History” and sells ukulele merchandise at “There’s a lightness and a sweetness about the sound, and it doesn’t hurt that the association people have is with Hawaii, which is a beautiful place. It’s kind of a vacation in your mind.”

SALES of ukuleles are up in recent years, said Chris Thomas, a spokesman for C. F. Martin & Company, the guitar maker. After stopping production on high-end ukuleles for about a decade, the company noticed resale prices for its vintage models were rising, reaching up to $8,000. Two years ago the company started making its “3” series again.

“There is an upsurge of interest in this instrument that has already had two major incarnations of popularity,” said Stan Jay, the owner of Mandolin Brothers, an instrument shop on Staten Island.

The ukulele’s first golden age started during World War I, when the instrument was demonstrated at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Soon Tin Pan Alley bands adopted it, and, by the 1920s, Roy Smeck, whose nickname was the Wizard of the Strings, became famous by playing it in early sound movies.

The second era started at the height of the cold war, in the 1950s, when Arthur Godfrey played the ukulele regularly on his show “Arthur Godfrey and His Friends” and recommended a plastic Maccaferri Islander model, which sold millions.

Tiny Tim had a 1968 hit with his ukulele version of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips With Me,” which played as something of a parody of 1950s earnestness, and managed, despite the song’s huge success, to render the instrument uncool, Mr. Beloff said.

When Mr. Beloff, a former associate publisher of Billboard magazine, became fascinated with the ukulele and published his first ukulele songbook in 1992, “people thought we were nuts,” he said. “The uke in 1992 was pretty off the pop culture radar.”

Then suddenly it was back on…

The dawn of this third great ukulele era can be traced to 2006, aficionados say, with the appearance of a video on YouTube by Jake Shimabukuro, a Hawaiian-born ukulele player. He had recorded a video for the New York cable access show “Midnight Ukulele Disco” that shows him sitting in Strawberry Fields in Central Park playing an astonishing virtuoso version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

In a phone interview from Kaimuki, the Honolulu suburb in which he lives, Mr. Shimabukuro, 31, said he had no idea the video had been posted on the Web until he started hearing from friends. As his fame spread, he was booked on Conan O’Brien’s show, went on tour with Jimmy Buffett, and earned the nickname Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele.

“When I was growing up, there was no such thing as a touring ukulele player,” said Mr. Shimabukuro, who last week played at the Newport Jazz Festival. “It’s been an amazing experience.”

“All of those places I go to, the ukulele is huge,” he added. “All these teenagers coming to the show with their ukuleles, asking me to sign them. It’s amazing to see that.”

Read more here:

Should you listen to music while studying?

Music while studying

By Robrt Pela – University of Phoenix,  Phoenix Forward: Student Life

You’re cramming for an exam or finishing a paper that’s due tomorrow while listening to music…

It may be more pleasant to study with the Beatles or Cozy Danger keeping you company, and plenty has been written about how listening to music stimulates different parts of the brain. But if your favorite tunes wake up your senses and make homework less odious, do they also impede your ability to learn?

They can, according to Elizabeth Axford, an online instructor in the University of Phoenix College of Humanities and Sciences. “The jury is still out on a definitive answer,” she says. “Based on everything I’ve read, it really depends on the individual. Some students can study effectively with music playing, while others are distracted by any outside stimulus.”

According to the New Jersey Institute of Technology, students who studied with music playing had lower average tests scores than those who didn’t. But the institute also found that the scores varied depending on whether the student routinely played music while studying and by the type of music played.

Another, more conclusive, study by the University of Wales focused on that last detail: the effect of different types of music on a student’s concentration. Students were asked to recall a series of sounds presented in a specific order in different environments, including absolute quiet, with music they liked playing in the background and with music they didn’t like.

Some students can study effectively with music playing, while others are distracted by any outside stimulus…

Although the results showed no significant difference in the test scores of students who listened to music they liked and students who heard music they didn’t enjoy, those who studied in silence scored significantly higher than students in both other groups. But the study used only music with vocals for the comparison, something Axford says can make a difference.

“Many of my students have told me that they listen to classical music while they study,” Axford says, pointing to the so-called Mozart Effect, a set of research results that asserts listening to classical music provides short-term enhancement of mental tasks — including memorization — known as “spatial-temporal reasoning.”

A USA Today story last September reported that listening to music with lyrics is an especially bad idea when studying languages, because lyrics affect the same parts of the brain that comprehend language. “You think you’re focused on your Spanish lesson,” Axford says, “but your brain is also hearing — and is distracted by — the words to the song playing in the background.”

Because study results and student preferences vary widely, Axford recommends that you take a “trial-and-error approach” to determine the best studying environment for you. “If you’re someone who excels at multitasking and does better with homework while there’s a music file playing,” she notes, “then by all means, continue. Otherwise, seek a quiet place with no distraction when you’re studying.”


Great Article About Dementia Therapy and Music

 From The American Music Therapy Association



The man had not spoken in three or four years…

An older man in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, he could no longer care for himself and required a high level of assistance in his daily activities of living.

But on one particular day, Concetta Tomaino, DA, a certified music therapist, offered a different kind of dementia therapy-she sang an old Yiddish song to him and some of her other patients. “You could tell by his face that he was watching,” recalls Tomaino. From a man in his condition, attention was a lot to ask for. “Whenever I got a chance I played this song to him and sang to him. Within a month of doing this, he was making an attempt to speak, and he eventually started singing the song himself. He also started talking again. He continued talking and lived for many years after that.”

The Brain and Music…

Just how the brain and body process music remains mysterious. Tomaino, director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function at Beth Abraham Family of Health Services in New York, says we at least know music is processed on many levels at once.

“Why it’s so positive is that we process music with almost every part of our brain,” she says. “Music that has personal significance to someone or is connected with historical events is a strong stimulus to engage responses in people, even in late stages of dementia. Even if they’re not necessarily able to tell you what the song is, they are able to be moved and feel the associations.”

Tomaino and other researchers have found a strong connection between the human brain’s auditory cortex and its limbic system, where emotions are processed. “This biological link makes it possible for sound to be processed almost immediately by the areas of the brain that are associated with long-term memory and the emotions,” she says.

The Institute for Music and Neurologic Function was founded on Tomaino’s observations, together with those of noted neurologist and colleague Dr. Oliver Sacks and others, that many people with neurological damage learned to move better, remember more, and even regain speech through listening to and playing music. In numerous clinical studies of older adults with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, familiar and likable music, not medication, has reduced depression; lessened agitation increased sociability, movement, and cognitive ability; and decreased problem behaviors.

In a small 1986 study, only music elicited a physical response from those with final-stage Alzheimer’s as measured in heart rate, breathing, eye blinking, and mouth movement. A later study that used music in palliative care found the combination of language, which is processed by one part of the brain, and music, processed by many parts of the brain, increases the chance of activating neurological pathways that language alone cannot.

“There are certain areas of the brain that are still relatively intact even as a progressive disease like Alzheimer’s takes effect,” says Suzanne Hanser, PhD, department chair of music therapy at Berklee College of Music in Boston and former program director of San Francisco’s Alzheimer’s Association. “In particular, the limbic system. And specifically, the hippocampus, which retains long-term memory and has retained emotional impact. Music triggers these long-term memories. So we see people who have not spoken in years begin to sing songs that they knew in their early teens and early adulthood.”

Hanser says that when we actively make music, as opposed to passively listening to it, we activate another part of the brain that controls balance and movement-the cerebellum-in addition to cognitive and limbic areas. “Music therapists may begin with passive listening but soon we engage the person so there’s more parts of the body involved,” she says.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s now affects more than 5 million Americans…

For those who suffer from its progression, a number that doubles every fives years among seniors according to The National Institute on Aging, music can not only be a pleasant link to the past, but a nourishing connection to the present.

“Family members who every day see losses and degeneration first hand need some kind of hope, need to see there are ways to access the human being they loved,” says Hanser. “For a caregiver or family member to dance or sing with that person brings them much more a sense that there is [someone] within the shell the disease has caused.”

A Cross-Cultural Language…

I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.-Billy Joel

Some say math is the language of the universe, but on earth it is music. Bone flutes, jaw harps, and percussive instruments were already being used more than 30,000 years ago to express qualities of human experience. Music, like food, is central to virtually every culture on earth, and in fact might be considered a type of food for the brain. Ancient Greeks believed music’s mathematic progressions and its harmonic qualities, ratios, and scales made for a better mind, so its study was required as part of a good education.

Read more here:

Article From The Jewish Week – Singing The Blues, Greek-Jewish Style

Special To The Jewish Week
The Kol Dodi Orchestra brings rebetica to the Lower East Side. Courtesy of Museum at Eldridge Street
The Kol Dodi Orchestra brings rebetica to the Lower East Side. Courtesy of Museum at Eldridge Street

 When he was a child growing up in Israel, Yaron Hanoka would sit in the back of the family car with his brother and sister…

and when their father would play Greek songs on the radio or tape deck they would bristle.

“We would say, ‘Ewwww, what’s that stuff?’” the 43-year-old Hanoka recalls, laughing. “It was old and in a different language that we didn’t understand.”

He understands it now. He sings in Greek, as well as Ladino, Hebrew and Arabic, as the audience will find out on Aug. 13 when Hanoka and the Kol Dodi Orchestra perform at the Museum at Eldridge Street.

“Today, all three of us admit that we love this music,” Hanoka says. “It took charge of us.”

The family came to the United States when he was 9 and settled in Queens, where he still lives. Even as a child he was constantly singing, an avid participant in the choir at the Solomon Schechter school he attended, even appearing on a nationally televised talk show. He continued long after, performing regularly at local synagogues, and working as a wedding singer. But his dream was to have his own band and to perform the Greek music of his father and grandfather, both of whom were from Salonika.

Rebetica was at the heart of the music he learned growing up. A powerful indigenous folk music that came out of the slums and underworld of Greek cities between the wars, rebetica numbered among its most famous proponents many Jews. Perhaps the greatest of these was Rosa Ezkenazi, whose nephew, bouzuki virtuoso and singer Avram Pengas, is a member of Kol Dodi.

“I had a book full of Greek melodies, songs I’d been hearing all my life, and I wrote different lyrics to these tunes…”

”Hanoka explains. He was trying to make secular Greek and Greek-Jewish music kosher, so to speak, by drawing on traditional texts. He met Steve Schwab, a giant-sized bass player — “he’s 6-foot-10, he’s huge,” Hanoka says with a laugh — through friends from his synagogue and Schwab liked his singing. They added Pengas to the mix and suddenly they had the beginnings of a band.

“Avram had played at my wedding,” Hanoka recalls. “He knew me as soon as he saw me, and he knew my whole family. He had played with my grand-uncle, he loved my singing and the whole project.”

That was three years ago and although progress has been painstakingly slow, the Kol Dodi Orchestra has persevered.

“We’ve done shows in all the five boroughs except the Bronx,” Hanoka says. “We have done Purim parties, Chanukah [gigs], a few weddings even. We’d like to put out a CD but there just doesn’t seem to be a market for recordings anymore. It would serve as a sort of business card for the band.”

Hanoka brings a certain intensity to discussions of the music itself.

“I’m trying to respect the heritage of my family; they were Jews and they were from Greece…” 

“I knew Holocaust survivors from Auschwitz, people from Salonika who grew up with my father, who knew my grandfather. They said that in the camps they waited for the day that they could turn on a radio or a phonograph and hear rebetica.”

Those people and their longing affect Hanoka’s musical mission powerfully, he readily acknowledges.

“I try to look through the eyes of the people that were behind those barbed-wire fences during World War II,” he says.

The Kol Dodi Orchestra will perform “Rebetica Sings the Blues,” a concert of traditional Greek and Middle Eastern music at the Museum at Eldridge Street (12 Eldridge St., between Canal and Division St.) on Wednesday, Aug. 13, at 7 p.m. For information call (212) 219-0888 or go to