Ukulele classes at BYUH and PCC fuse Hawaiian culture with learning the instrument

Written by: 
Helam Lau

 BYU-Hawaii and the Polynesian Culture Center offer ukulele classes that not only teach students how to play, but also encourages students to learn more about the Hawaiian culture.

“Teaching the culture and history behind ukulele is as important as teaching them how to play it,"  said Kaipo Manoa, the special instructor for the BYUH ukulele class. "A lot of students in my class are neither from Hawaii nor Polynesia. That could be the only opportunity and time for them to learn something about Hawaiians."

Manoa said, “The ukulele class is under the Hawaiian Studies program. I expect students to learn how to play the instrument… I want them to know about the basic ideas of the history and culture of ukulele and how Hawaiians have been influenced by it."

Debbie Kwok, a senior from Hong Kong majoring in psychology, said even though she has been in Hawaii for a long time, she just recently learned about the culture from joining the ukulele class.

Kwok said, “Studying in Hawaii, I feel like I should make good use of this rare opportunity to learn more about the Hawaiian culture. The teacher taught us how to play ukulele for the most part, but he still talked a lot about the culture.”

Manoa mentioned how Hawaiian poetry is also included in the ukulele class. “Hawaiian poetry shows Hawaiian thinking that is related to nature. Nevertheless, I not only teach Hawaiian music, but also try to teach music of different styles like pop music and some classical pieces.

“At the beginning of the semester, a lot of students didn’t know music and even the concepts of beat, tempo, and chord. They were just mimicking. Whatever I play, they play.

“However, at the end of the semester it was amazing that the students were not just only playing and singing, but also dancing around while playing [the] ukulele.”

He said the class’s final exam is a performance of all the songs they learned and is performed at the end of each semester in the Aloha Center Ballroom. He said the class has been available to students since 1980. 

At the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Mission Settlement building, free ukulele classes are available and taught by senior missionaries. Bruce Brereton, a senior missionary from Washington, said he has been teaching the free ukulele class for two months.

Brereton said, “The class lasts for 10 minutes and is available throughout the day. We teach them how to strum the ukulele, play simple chords, and sing a song. Whoever comes in and is interested in learning, we teach. The size of the class could be one person or up to ten people.

“[The PCC] has been selling ukuleles and giving lessons for at least 10 years… Most people who come haven’t even held a ukulele [before]. It is a fun experience for people who are brand new to it, and they can get more information about Hawaii because [the] ukulele is such a common Hawaiian instrument.”

Date Published: 
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Last Edited: 
Tuesday, October 17, 2017