Wounded, ill and injured Soldiers in the Army Recovery Care Program who are assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii have unique opportunities to learn more about local culture as they recover and overcome from their medical challenges. One such activity being offered is learning to play the traditional Hawaiian instrument, the ukulele.
The ukulele, traditionally pronounced ooh-koo-lay-lay, is largely associated with Hawaiian culture and is the Hawaiian name of a Portuguese instrument called the machete. Portuguese immigrants brought the instrument to the island when they came to work in the sugar cane fields in the late 1800s. King David Kalakauau, the Hawaiian monarch at the time, fell in love with the ukulele and made it popular by incorporating it into royal events and Luaus. The ukulele continues to be a staple in Hawaiian music and it can be heard every other Tuesday afternoon, when the Soldiers take part in a Kanikapila, or “jam session”, with ukulele class instructor, Aaron Crowell.
For a year and a half, Crowell has been leading the Kanikapila and teaching the Soldiers at the WTB the ukulele. Crowell says he was sent by the Ukulele Guild to teach the class because of his strong family connection, interest in the military, and to be an instructor of healing.
“I feel music is very healing and the ukulele is fun because it’s small and has a bright, happy sound to it,” Crowell said. “[Some] people say it’s the happiest instrument in the world.”
During his time teaching the class, Crowell has heard many Soldiers say the same thing “I’m not musically inclined” or “I’ve never done this before” and he always tells them, they can all learn together.
Staff Sgt. Juan Cruz never played before and after attending five classes, he says he is already making progress.
“I’m learning the chords, I’m strumming and I’m making noise already! You know you can make noise, but I’m making good noise. It’s not that hard because it’s only four strings compared to the six of a guitar,” said Cruz who has been working to learn the instrument to share with his family in Guam. “I’m excited to go back home and show my kids. I haven’t talked to my extended family much since I’ve had [post-traumatic stress disorder] so they don’t know I’m learning this and I’m excited to show them what I can do.”
Crowell says his favorite thing about teaching the class is seeing Soldiers connect with the music. “At first it’s hard [learning the ukulele], but little by little they make connections and then they have that moment where they bring in their own song and learn how to play it or finally connect.”
Some Soldiers that attend the class don’t even come to play the ukulele. “I like to sing along with them, even if I don’t play,” said Spc. Quinn Mazepa. “I’m in the Hawaii National Guard and some Soldiers I know attend the class so I’ve been going as one of my [adaptive reconditioning] options.”