Song for Anna"
Night of 'Ukulele Jazz"
was a late-comer to the full appreciation of the gifts of
I'd always liked its sweet and innocent, clean
sound, but admittedly, I was stuck for a long time on the superficial, plinkety-plink
Not so for my
dear husband, known in this journal as DH. Named for his
grandfather, his middle name is Bill. As Keoki is for George
and Kimo is for Jim, Pila is the Hawaiian transliteration of
DH's middle name, Bill.
Not William. Just plain
Bill. And therefore, in Hawaiian, it's not Wiliama. Just
play significant roles in my husband's life. Like Grandfather Bill.
Like his father. Like son, my husband. Three generations of guitar
players. The guitar was his first steady girlfriend, his college
sweetheart, and remains to this day his
In Hawaiian culture, the
meanings of names as prognosticators have greater importance than in the Western
culture. Prognostically for my husband, "pila" is the Hawaiian
word that is used to refer to "stringed instruments."
Some things -- and names
-- are just meant to be.
Early in our marriage, I
resented this interloper and I can admit now, I was more than a bit
jealous. He cuddled and stroked his guitar like a lover, and
oh, the beautiful music they made together! In time, enjoying
their music together, I matured and
learned to share. I came to the realization that his guitar
and its notes make him happy, bring him joy. Just as books --
my "gigolos" -- and their words fill and satisfy me. I
Life is a patient teacher,
and this, I've come to learn from life: Pila's happiness is my happiness, cascading into
our happiness. We've been together for 30 years, and these
days, his guitar is a lover for whom I feel neither animosity, nor
jealousy. All of us are now on very friendly terms.
Over the last few years,
however, Pila has taken up with another. His first love. The
'ukulele. Most evenings, if he's not strumming and picking on his
guitar, he's playing his 'ukulele, his little sweetheart. And
they called it puppy love...
These days, he
has several fillies in his collection of stringed instruments,
including the original "baby"
of his childhood. With a little 4-stringed 'ukulele that cost them
$32.00 in 1960, his parents also gifted their son with a lifelong
love for music. Miraculously, it survived the head bashings
These days, that same Martin 'ukulele would
sell for $500 or more. To Pila, it is priceless.
So what better than for
a 'ukulele player than to spend the last 48 hours of his spring
vacation (he's a professor), immersed in the music of his 'ukulele
hero, Ohta San?
Joseph & BJ
Thank goodness for our
friends, Joseph and
BJ, who let us know by email that the Hawai`i
Daughters Guild, an exclusive, 32-year old group of thirty native Hawaiian
women, were hosting their annual Holoku
Ball at the beautiful Omni
Hotel in downtown Los Angeles with Ohta San as the featured
performer at this private gala.
Would we like to go?
Little did they know
that Pila may well be one of Ohta San's biggest fans. Ohta is not,
by the way, his first name, and San is not his last. Herb Ohta is
affectionately known as "Ohta
San." Call it his stage name. It literally means "Honorable
Ohta," as the word "San" is the honorific suffix
that follows the surname, conveying respect. (Amazing how
prognosticating names can be!)
As long as I can
remember, it's been Ohta San.
Pila has been in awe of Ohta
San, his artistry, talent and musical genius for a long, long time.
We last saw
Ohta San in performance at the Aloha Jam Concert in Long
Beach in 1996, an outdoor venue that is less-than-ideal for a
concert 'ukulele virtuoso. It was, nonetheless, at this live
performance that I was turned on to Ohta San's intricate and precision
'ukulele picking and musical artistry.
March 1997 was the last time we saw Ohta San,
and only in passing. Home to see Keali'i Reichel in concert,
we were getting off the
elevator at the New Otani Kaimana Hotel in WaikÓkÓ, just as Ohta San
We were dumbstruck.
Looking at each other incredulously, without words, we
uttered the same thought, "Did you see who that was?"
We just nodded to each other, smiling at our good fortune to be
within mere inches of Ohta San.
Since, my husband has
waited patiently to see Ohta San perform again. Five, long
years. Success rewards those who wait patiently...
So early this Saturday
morning, as I eased into a leisurely morning listening to Aloha
Joe's online radio show, Pila was back on the freeway, heading out
to the city. As l listened to Israel
"IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole's soulful and rhythmic 'ukulele playing,
I thought about Ohta San's influence on every 'ukulele player who
has followed him.
Ohta San is 'ukulele's
"mover and shaker." Combining the 'ukulele with
different genres, he has shaken people's expectations of what is
'ukulele music and challenged
the status quo.
What an inspiration!
At the Omni Hotel in
downtown LA, Pila spent blissful hours as a student at a `ukulele workshop
presented by Ohta San himself. He was joined by avid
students: our friend, Joseph; Greg,
husband of Aunty
Maebelle (of the Aloha Joe radio show); John, husband of HDG
member, Lei; Peter with his Fluke Uke; and others in the 'ukulele community.
returned home AGLOW.
With enthusiasm and detail, he shared his morning with Ohta San with
me. The workshop was not just a sharing of technical
expertise; Ohta San "talked story" about his life and
career, generously sharing snippets of his experiences, pearls of wisdom, and
tidbits during a Q&A session.
with Ohta San,
'Ukulele Workshop, Los Angeles
As I listened to Pila, I got a
wave from Heaven.
Ohta San told his students that
'ukulele wizard Eddie
Kamae was his mentor and inspiration. I did not
Ohta San took his mentor's advice of
developing his own musical style to heart and the rest, as they say,
is history. Ohta San became the virtuoso
of the 'ukulele.
I was once again reminded
that life is full of
intertwining circles. The spiritual inspiration behind the hawaiianlanguage.com
website is Mary Kawena Pukui, master of the Hawaiian
language. She is my mentor in spirit and she continues to
inspire me to take
action, use my humble gifts, and do my best to help keep the
language alive and vital.
Aunty Kawena was Eddie
Kamae's mentor and inspiration in life. I see today that Eddie
and I share the
same Hawaiian name: Leilani. Yes, Eddie Kamae's
middle name is Leilani.
Perhaps. I prefer to think of these promptings as heavenly taps on the shoulder.
by Madge Tennant, 1944,
Donald Angus Collection, Bishop Museum
Mary Kawena Pukui
I hear you, Aunty!
It was then that I was
inspired into action. I hung on to every word that Pila shared with
Ohta San. He became less a far and distant, famous celebrity, and
more a human being who maximized his God-given gifts.
Hungry to learn
more about him, I tapped his name into google.com and scoured the
list of links, only to quickly discover that the online
information on Ohta San is woefully sparse.
He's a musical genius
and virtuoso, for goodness sake!
"The world should
have the opportunity to learn about him," I thought. "I'd like to help extend his
musical reach and influence, if I can."
I decided then and there
(By Golly!) to share the magnificence of this man, his talent and
accomplishments. At least, in my little way. To Ohta
San's "talk story" information, I've added information gleaned from online
sites, liner notes, and George Kanahele's book. Within a month
or two, the search engines will pick up the webpage, and those
hungry for info will have a bit more to satisfy their curiosity.
Humble, Ohta San won't himself elaborate on his laurels. That's
for sure. But
as his fan, I can take the liberty of braggin', although
it is not bragging at all, just laying out the facts for display. In the details
of this master's life
is the stuff that enriches the Ohta
San music experience.
Just minutes of
"researching" his life with the limited info that is
accessible to me has
expanded the breadth and depth of my Ohta San music appreciation.
I was amazed with his life accomplishments, heretofore unknown to
Perhaps getting to know
Ohta San and his life will inspire
present and future musicians, professionals and hobbyists alike.
Maybe, you, too.
His life lessons are
simple, yet profound. Here a few that I have discerned from
learning about him: Success is in the details... precision
counts... help others... exceed expectations... keep your
humility... success comes to those who are patient... live
life... "smile though your heart is breaking"...
hang in, hang tough when the going gets rough, as the best may be
yet to come, maybe even right around the corner.
A few short hours later,
showered and cleaned up, Pila was back on the freeway with
me in tow. And what an evening we had! It was rich in
every way, and far more than we'd expected.
Here it is in photo form
(do try Yahoo's spiffy slideshow feature):
After an elegant holokŻ
competition; a formal sit-down dinner with fine Pinot Grigio wine at
the table of Guild President, Sharon Ku`uipo Kana`e Paulo
formerly from Maui, who went to school at Baldwin and Kamehameha
Schools; and a lively, entertaining pageant celebrating the
'ukulele with song, narrative and dance, it was time for the
featured artist's performance.
Ohta San opened with those strikingly familiar notes from his signature
Song for Anna". Notes so familiar to
those of us who remember...
In 1974, this song, written expressly for Ohta San
French composer and conductor Andrť
Popp, became an international
hit, eventually selling upward
of 6 million copies.
An auspicious year,
1974, for Ohta San and for us. The year we married. Now
that's got to mean something.
Ohta San literally
performed magic on that diminutive fingerboard. A
superb magician-artist, he makes the beauty and power of the music
coming out of the 'ukulele startlingly alive. And seemingly
autumn years of my life, Ohta San's beautifully dreamy rendition
Leaves" captivated me.
The falling leaves drift by the
The autumn leaves of red and gold....
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sunburned hands, I used to hold
Since you went away, the days grow long
And soon I'll hear ol' winter's song.
But I miss you most of all my darling,
When autumn leaves start to fall.
Since you went away, the days
And soon I'll hear ol' winter's song.
But I miss you most of all my darling,
When autumn leaves start to fall.
lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Music by Joseph Kosma
played a beautiful
Lililehua" by Mary Kawena Pukui.
After he playing it masterfully, he said,
"I really like that song, because it
e Aunty Kawena for once again bringing us together, full-circle.
Yes, it is so pretty.
Ohta San's evocative
renditions of unforgettable songs possess an uncanny
ability to hold me spellbound. Time flew and although it was
a full evening, I could have listened to Ohta San's lush chord
melodies and sweet finger-picking all night long.
song list included: My
Little Grass Shack; One
from the Broadway play, "A Chorus Line"; Jimmy Van
Heusen's song, Like
Someone In Love; Kui Lee's Where is My Love
Tonight?; a Latin Samba -- Begin the Beguine;
Paoakalani by Queen
Hihiwai and a medley of Pua
Hone and Wahine
'Ilikea by Dennis Kamakahi; Irving Berlin's Sayonara,
and his encore number, Sukiyaki.
he played Sukiyaki, he invited the audience to join in, "Sing
along if you know the words. If you don't, no sing."
hummed. "Mm mm mm, mm mm mm mmm."
few months ago, I chanced upon Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto's website to learn that he
had perished in a 1985 plane crash. Saddened, with
the words to Sukiyaki in front of me, I sang his song to honor him. Hearing Ohta San
play this delightful song tonight, I am now motivated to
learn the words, so next time, I can really accompany Ohta San.
International: Listen to clips from Ohta San's "Where is
My Love Tonight" CD
Before we took our
leave, Pila insisted that I meet Roy
Sakuma. He was so taken by him. I saw "it"
glance. The similarities between them are striking.
Not by looks, but hearts. Soul kin, those two.
I've since found out, both
were kolohe in school, and no one who knew them back then
would ever believe the distance and direction each has traveled in life.
DH/Pila's high school counselor told him, "Don't bother
applying to college. You're not college material."
Today, Pila and Roy are
educators. With uncommon empathy, they help the youth find their places and
joys in life. With the help of their caring mentors, they found
their niches and joys. These days, they give back
as mentors and teachers, themselves.
Some things don't
change. Both are still kolohe
sometimes. Look at their eyes. See those glimmers of kolohe-ness?
DH/Pila & Roy,
once and always, kolohe buggahs
What a difference an
evening makes, as I will more fully appreciate
'ukulele musicianry on a whole different level. I can't wait
for tomorrow; Ohta San will be in concert in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles.
intimate concert hall, air-conditioned, and with excellent acoustics
and great sightlines, the Aratani/Japan America Theatre is the perfect venue for
Sleep well, dear
husband, there's one more trip to downtown LA to go....
Sunday with Ohta San
Story" with Ohta San from His 'Ukulele Workshop. LA
on Ohta San
info on Ohta San
"Ohta San" Ohta from HAWAIIAN MUSIC AND MUSICIANS, edited by
George S. Kanahele
"Life is a Gift."
only gift is a portion of thyself..."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
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