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news News Friday, June 26, 2020 Friday, June 26, 2020 3:33 PM - Friday, June 26, 2020 3:33 PM

‘Ukulele Program earns applause from patients and staff

Instrument recognized as important to both local island culture and patients’ healing journeys

‘Ukulele Program earns applause from patients and staff

The four strings of the Hawaiian ukulele possess a magical ability to illicit a smile from visitors from across the world. Be it through a pluck or a strum, the notes produced by this iconic instrument have the ability to sooth, invigorate and heal.

At Shriners Hospitals for Children — Honolulu, we recognize the importance of the ‘ukulele not only to our local island culture, but to our patients’ healing journeys, and so have incorporated the instrument into several initiatives.

Our ‘Ukulele Program is a coordinated effort between the Honolulu Shriners Hospital and various local musicians who volunteer on a weekly basis to make patients smile through music therapy.

“It is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life. To see the joy that music brings to the children is the ultimate reward,” said instructor Zanuck Lindsey, a member of the ‘Ukulele Guild of Hawai‘i.

The majority of volunteers are musicians with local organizations such as the ‘Ukulele Guild of Hawai‘i and Make ‘Em Smile, but other entertainers also get involved. In the past, break dancers and even a puppeteer have lent their talents to the program.

“The musicians who play ‘ukulele have been great role models for our patients, and they have all expressed great joy in teaching and engaging with our patients,” said recreation therapy manager Helene Freni-Rogers, noting that Make ‘Em Smile recently donated several new ‘ukulele to the hospital so that patients can practice on their own time.

“Presently, we have about a handful of teens who are learning how to play. On any given afternoon, you can see and hear them jamming in rec therapy,” Freni-Rogers added.

“This is the first time I’ve learned how to play an instrument,” said an 18-year-old patient. “When I play the ‘ukulele, I stop thinking about my pain.”

Other organizations have donated ‘ukulele throughout the years for patients who are passionate about learning to play the instrument. In 2019, Hilton Hotels celebrated its 100th anniversary by donating 100 ‘ukulele to the hospital. World-renowned ‘ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro made a surprise appearance and even taught a group of patients how to play a few songs.

The program not only encourages appreciation for music, but builds patients’ confidence and interpersonal skills. These can be seen when patients perform – with beaming smiles – at special events, including the Honolulu Shriners Hospital's annual May Day program and tea parties hosted by the Ladies Oriental Shrine of North America.

“Music is therapeutic and is definitely a part of their overall healing process,” Freni-Rogers said. “Many patients return home with a newfound interest and love for the ‘ukulele instrument, and the love and joy that can be shared and gained from its music.”