(December 8, 2017) `Ukulele jam sessions are amazing, but they take on a whole new meaning when it’s for a great cause. Mahalo to Bryan Tolentino for inviting Hawaii’s top `ukulele players to gather and play for the young patients of Shriners Hospital for Children Honolulu. Many of these children, who come from all parts of the Pacific, suffer from painful physical disorders. Shriners works diligently to help them, body and spirit, regardless of their family’s ability to pay.
When asked how it all started, Bryan shared, “I always wanted to give back somehow so I was pondering on a way to do that. I talked with Kelly Boy [DeLima of Kapena], Jake [Shimabukuro] and they were all in! We just needed to find an organization.”
It was Chino Montero who suggested Shriners Hospital for Children. That set-in motion a whirlwind of activity. When asked about marketing ideas for the event, Bryan flat out refused. “We don’t want any publicity. This is not about us…it’s about the kids.”
A week later found Hawaii’s award-winning recording stars and `ukulele players in a memorable indoors kanikapila session just for patients and staff: Sonny Lim, Pomaika`i Lyman, Raiatea Helm, Kalei Gamiao, Benny Chong joined Chino, Kelly Boy, Jake Bryan and others in singing and playing Christmas songs.
In one poignant moment, the artists sang Silent Night in English, then Hawaiian. And in an impromptu moment of sharing, a number of the patients sang back to them in their native tongue of Fijian. “There was not a dry eye in the whole place,” Bryan remembered.
Since then, the event has grown to include snacks for the patients and families, visits by costumed characters and tons of snow dropped on the front lawn for the children to play in, even a Snowman building competition. And, of course, the sound of the `ukulele can be heard as the pool of invited artists has grown to include the `Ukulele Hale `ohana of Jody Kamisato, Honoka & Azita, Karlie G and musical groups such as Vaihi, Nā Hoa and Nā Waiho`olu`u o ke Ānuenue.
How is it possible to gather so many professional entertainers in one place with no publicity, no pay and no other instruments allowed except for the `ukulele? Bryan smiles. “Everyone checks their ego at the door and we just play.”
He continues, “Every year, I cry at some point. The joy you see on [the children’s] faces…and it’s not only for the kids but for their families, too. For a moment they get to see their child, who is normally uncomfortable or in pain, happy. And it makes them happy.
“Putting smiles on people’s hearts. That’s what it’s all about.”