Ukulele donation helps Kealakehe Intermediate School start new program

  • Kealakehe Intermediate School Band teacher Bernaldo Evangelista tunes one of the ukulele donated to the school. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Kealakehe Intermediate School Band teacher Bernaldo Evangelista plays one of the ukuleles donated to the school. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — The research is clear: music education is a boon for children.

And to keep arts programs alive in schools right here in Kailua-Kona, the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival and the Hawaii-based Music for Life Foundation have come together to improve students’ access to music education with a donation of 20 Kala Brand Music Co. Waterman ukuleles to Kealakehe Intermediate School.


Bernaldo Evangelista, Kealakehe Intermediate School’s band, orchestra and Japanese language teacher, said the ukuleles will help support an after-school intergenerational ukulele program he plans to start after the start of the new year.

“I think having an older person with them, a relative or something, will be helping them to learn,” he said, adding he was excited about the donation as it’s especially hard to get donations for musical instruments.

The Music for Life Foundation is a nonprofit with the goal “to do anything, everything we can to try to keep music alive in education, keep it alive in school curriculums,” said founder and executive director Leo Daquioag.

Aside from hosting events like musical instrument donation drives to collect instruments for schools in need and attempts to break the world record for largest ukulele ensemble, the foundation has also donated close to 5,000 ukuleles since its start in 2010.

Most of those have gone to schools, Daquioag said, but the group has also made donations to Weinberg Village, a transitional housing program in Waimanalo, and a teen shelter in Waikiki.

“We’re talking about the future of these kids,” Daquioag said. “We’re bettering their lives, bettering their future and I think that if we better their future, the subsequent result is it’s a better future for the rest of us.”

The effort to get the new ukuleles into students’ hands was a multi-pronged effort, also involving the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival.

“We feel like it’s really important for kids — especially in that middle school age — to be involved in music education,” said Genette Freeman, development director for the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival.

Daquioag got connected with the festival during an effort to get tickets to see a local performance by Jake Shimabukuro, who is an honorary board member at Music for Life.

That led to a referral to Freeman, with whom he discussed his desire to expand the foundation’s efforts beyond Oahu.

“We are a Hawaii-based organization,” Daquioag said, “but Hawaii, it means not just Oahu but neighboring islands.”

Freeman said helping to facilitate the donation falls right in line with the festival’s mission to promote music education at local schools.

Even the festival itself is more than just a festival, she said, explaining that it’s also a training and performance program for young artists.

“The very core of our mission is to train and then encourage young artists to perform and then get experience performing,” she said.

Evangelista, Freeman and Daquioag all touted the importance of music education and the troubling trend of it fading away from schools, with Daquioag calling it “a dying subject” and Evangelista mentioning the difficulty of getting support from the state for music programs.

Here, Evangelista said, the focus of schools and education at-large is STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. But many schools on the mainland make it STEAM, with an “A” for arts.

Research into the issue has regularly shown that music education teaches kids not just how to play an instrument or learn a tune, but also promotes a wide range of skills such as enhanced memory, abstract thinking, improved achievement in math and increased creativity, according to the Arts Education Partnership, a network of organizations established through an agreement between the National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Department of Education.

Freeman, citing research into the issue, said it “would be a shame” for a student to go through school without an opportunity that ultimately leads to becoming an overall more well-rounded student.

It also keeps kids busy and out of trouble, she added.

And beyond the hard academic skills students develop through arts education, Evangelista said, arts programs teach interpersonal skills other courses don’t, and go toward developing students’ personalities, reacting to other people and how to deal with disappointment.

In his experience, Evangelista said, once kids pick up an instrument, “something changes about them.”

And the ukulele is an excellent instrument to learn with, he added, given its portability and ease of use.

“You can’t bring a tuba everywhere you go,” Evangelista said.

Moreover, the instrument encourages students to find their own voice and style.


“Everybody wants to be like somebody else,” he said. “They want to be like Jake Shimabukuro; they want to be like Brother Iz (Kamakawiwoole), things like that.”

“I always tell the kids, ‘You are your own person,’” he added. “‘You have to be Michael; you have to be Janet; you have to be you.’”

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