Steely Determination

Alan Akaka takes academic approach when teaching students Hawaiian music.

Courtesy Ke Kula Mele

For three years, Mark Prucha had a standing Skype date. Once a week for 30 minutes, the Naperville, Illinois native would connect his webcam and “chat” with his instructor, Alan Akaka, who was teaching the then-19-year-old aspiring steel guitar artist the techniques of this unmistakable Hawaiian instrument.

“It worked pretty well but we had to move the webcams around a lot so I could see his fingers,” Prucha said during a phone interview. “Alan is a patient teacher and very methodical. I’ve learned a ton from him.”

After retiring from Kamehameha Schools as its marching band instructor, Akaka continued his role as a teacher when he established Ke Kula Mele, a school focused on Hawaiian music. According to Akaka, the school is a place where creative and musical ideas can be developed and nurtured, and shared in a safe, fun, and supportive environment that’s firmly built on a foundation of hō‘ihi (respect), kuleana (responsibility), mālama (care for) and aloha.

“I was trained by legends and I want to pass that knowledge on to the younger generation,” Akaka asserted. “It’s carrying on their tradition and perpetuating the Hawaiian culture.”

Alan Akaka, director of Ke Kula Mele has been performing since 1983. (©Colleen Ricci)

Because of his educational experience, Akaka’s approach leans more academic when teaching his students Hawaiian music. He not only instructs them on how to play the instruments and sing the Hawaiian songs, but he also provides the cultural background behind the songs.

“They sing and learn the Hawaiian words but I teach them to visualize what they’re singing,” Akaka explained. “It’s understanding the stories and not just learning how to read music.”

For Prucha, it was also about learning how to arrange Hawaiian music.

“He would send me a different arrangement each week and I would practice it like crazy and try to memorize it for the following week’s class,” said Prucha, who now performs in Naperville with the band Hoapili. “It really helped me understand how to arrange Hawaiian music, which you can imagine isn’t really available around here.”

Students from Ke Kula Mele, along with Akaka, Jeff Au Hoy, Bobby Ingano and Greg Sardinha & Po‘okelo will perform a concert March 18, starting at 1 p.m., at Ka Makana Ali‘i in Kapolei.

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