Archive for the ‘craft’ Category

Kanile`a: A Joyful Sound

October 16th, 2015

My ukulele teacher Trey Terada suggested I tour a ukulele factory in order to gain a deeper appreciation for how the instrument is made. Since I consider him a ukulele god and I do whatever he tells me to regarding music, I agreed.

Me, Trey, Joe

Me, Trey, Joe

My jujitsu sensei tells us to read books about the arts. This was certainly better than being told to read a book (ha ha.)

We went to Kanile`a Ukulele in Kaneohe, which offers free public tours every weekday at 10:30 a.m. Owner and general manager Joe Souza gave us look at his operations.

Fascinating! Terada, once again, was right. I completely look at the ukulele with new eyes.

It starts outside at the milling area, where a few men are working computerized machines that cut the wood down to the 1/1000th of a millimeter. I learned mahogany is the wood of choice for best sound resonance, though they use different woods for different purposes.

In a win-win move, he partnered with guitar manufacturers to buy any wood they can’t use, which might still be perfectly good for the smaller specs of the ukulele. It saves the wood from going into the garbage, and Kanile`a has steady access to a small supply of premium wood without committing to a cost-prohibitive shipping container.

Souza launched into a speech about also sourcing wood locally, for which he has bought a small forest on Hawaii Island. He and his family travel over regularly to plant and care for koa and other woods they harvest to make their instruments.

This forced him to learn about the world of arboriculture, and he speaks about how koa foliage is one of the best plants to provide nitrogen for the understory. Who knew the craft of lutherie would take someone down the path of ecology?

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We moved into the various assembly rooms to watch the instrument come together. I like bling, so I nosed through the small drawers of mother of pearl dots meant as fret board markers. The best ones, apparently, come from New Zealand, because they’re shiniest and most colorful.

I now know way more about the little instrument than I ever imagined possible! Latest technology tuning keys. A dozen different types of headstock. Different cuts to the body. My novice’s head spun with an encyclopedia of ukulele facts that so easily poured out of Souza’s mouth.


Souza also shared one major secret to his products’ high resonance. “It’s the UV-cured finish. We’re the only ukulele maker we know of that does this in Hawaii.”

He launched into a history lesson about how guitar makers were prompted by environmental concerns to find an alternative to the traditional acrylate finish which lets off harmful VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions. In 1993, Taylor Guitars found the solution in UV curing.

Kanile`a borrowed the technology, and finds the end product durable yet soft, and faster to assemble. Its thinness allows the sound to resonate loudly through the wood.


“A purist believes no finish is best, because you want to hear the vibrations through the wood, but that’s not practical over the life of the instrument. This is so thin, it’s the next best thing,” explains Souza.

It’s amazing how much knowledge one accumulates over decades of working with and around one’s passion. Maybe I know this much about my industry (maybe?), but the difference is underscored for me by my dearth of musical information.


For Souza, it comes naturally. “I’ve loved the ukulele my whole life – first as a player, then as a luthier. My parents, my seven siblings, my aunts and uncles all play the ukulele. We all bring our ukes to family parties,” he recalls.

He started formally taking lessons when he was in the fourth grade, and expanded his passion from playing ukuleles to making them when he was 20. “I apprenticed with master luthier Pete Burmudez for five years. He really taught me to think outside the box. The first ukuele I crafted with him had a concert body with a tenor scale, simply because that’s what I thought would be my ideal uke. I’m still making that today,” he says.

Burmudez taught Souza to embrace innovation, which he says is a thread that runs through his operations even today. He’s proud of creating a fingerboard with a slight radius that gives players’ fingers better access (which Terada loves.) He also brings up his TRU bracing invention that redesigned the soundboard to achieve the best tonal resonance.

He hands me a model with a soft curve on the top right. “This is the Kanile`a bevel. It serves the purpose of the traditional cutaway, which lets the player’s fingers get to the 14th fret and beyond, but it preserves more of the body.” Souza also created an armrest on the bottom left corner, softening the edge to accommodate the player’s arm.

“We’re aiming to be the Stradivarius of ukuleles. We want to create perfection,” he says of his still-young company, founded only in 1998. To hear the energy and determination in his voice, it’s clear he has the drive to do his best to make that happen.


It appears all the Kanile`a brand ukuleles are handmade right here in Kaneohe, I notice as we tour the shop. Everything is here.

“That’s right, and we like it that way,” Souza confirms. “There’s something special about making it in Hawaii. We believe mana – spirit – goes into each piece. We tell our staff to step outside and take a break if they’re in a mood when they get to work. Put your best energy into your work.”

He cradles an ukulele. “You can feel it, right? It just feels like, Wow, right? It’s inexplicable but it’s not elusive. The energy is there. We want to put the best mana into our instruments.”

To that end, Souza says he gives his employees two Daydream Breaks a day. “We are artisans. Go outside and look at nature. Give your brain a rest.”

Though his life and his livelihood are all about ukulele, he never tires of it. The same draw that compelled him to play as a child still reels him in today- and every day.

“Music is therapeutic for the soul,” he states. “I can have the most hectic day, but the minute I start playing, it makes a bad day good. It changes my whole spirit.”

Tours of Kanile`a Ukulele
Monday through Friday
10:30 a.m. (60 – 90 minutes)
46-216 Kahuhipa Street in Kaneohe
Make an appointment for group tours at (808) 234-2868 or
Click here for more:

Want to give it a try? Check out Ukulele Club of Hawaii that Souza founded.
First Tuesday of the month
6 – 7 p.m.
Windward Mall Center Stage
Free to join, free sheet music.
Strongly recommended you bring your own ukulele, but there may be a loaner available.

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Dr. Trey and the joy of ukulele

October 14th, 2015

Tracey Terada, aka Dr. Trey, picked up an ukulele at the age of five, and hasn't stopped playing. He sounds amazing: The music flows from his fingers; the ukulele, an extension of him.

He is a musician: a composer, an arranger, a producer, a performer, and above all, he says, a teacher. This year, he became my daughter's and my ukulele teacher.

Courtesy: Trey Terada

Trey Terada. Courtesy: Leslie Kuba

It's amazing being in the presence of someone so skilled at their craft. While I struggle to move my fingers from chord to chord, he talks to me while he plays, fingers moving instinctually.

His playing is vibrant, fluid, emotional, and as second-nature as breathing. Obviously, what you'd expect from a music professional.

Mine is tenuous, irregular, milquetoast, and as awkward as walking on fire. Obviously, what you'd expect from a newbie who is not a prodigy.

Trey Terada. Courtesy: Leslie Kuba

Trey Terada. Courtesy: Leslie Kuba

What I appreciate is his ability to be a teacher. Not everyone is cut out for it.

He's excellent at explaining the chords, patient with children, good at pacing out lessons to provide the right amount of challenge, and encouraging with feedback.

Here's why he does it: "I love that the ukulele can transport you somewhere that you could otherwise never get. I love the way the wood resonates against your chest and the sound vibrates. I feel no inhibitions when I play, as if I can do what I want. Nothing is forbidden. I want to help other people find that!"

Trey & me

Trey & me

Terada cites an oft-quoted study of the neuroscience of jazz musicians' brains. A John's Hopkins University team measured the players' brain waves during improvisation and found it increased creativity while turning off self-censoring parts of the brain.

Trey Terada. Courtesy: Leslie Kuba

Trey Terada. Courtesy: Leslie Kuba

"It's a small, two-octave instrument, but I feel there are no limits, no rules when I play it. I'm free to do what I want. It's the greatest feeling in the world," he says.

His best known student is virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, just 17 years old when he asked Terada to teach him. Shimabukuro is today known around the world for his ukulele music, with appearances on most major US TV outlets as well as the esteemed National Public Radio.  Shimabukuro is an international star, but way back when, he started his career as Terada's pupil.

Terada describes Shimabukuro as a one-in-a-million talent. "He's the best player in the world. Nobody can touch him. It's the way he touches the strings, not just the speed of his fingers. He has a certain caress."

What Terada likes most about him, though, is his character. "He's very responsible in carrying the burden of being the torchbearer. He shows the world what the ukulele can do, and he always reminds people it's Hawaiian. He brings it back home. He's brilliant."

Terada tells a story that illustrates Shimabukuro's gift: "The first day we met, I asked him to play Yesterday by the Beatles, but not focusing on the lead string. That's hard to do. I didn't think he could do it. He called the next day and played it perfectly for me over the phone. I was blown away."

Shimabukuro returns the compliment. "Trey is an amazing teacher. I learned so much from him over the years and still love chatting about the ukulele with him from time to time. He is a dear friend and I owe most of my accomplishments to Trey. He taught me how to feel the music and to not be afraid to try new things. Trey is an amazing ukulele player, and I miss the many jam sessions we would have back in the day."

Terada's musical career has taken many twists and turns in his life, probably not unlike the careers of many artists. His parents signed him up for lessons at the Richards St. YWCA when he was five, and he stayed for about two years.

He continued playing on his own, listening to music on the radio and copying what he heard. He tuned in to the Ukulele Festival on KCCN-FM religiously every year to expose himself to new styles of playing.

In seventh grade at Kawananakoa Intermediate, he played trumpet in the band. "That was big for me. I learned to appreciate different types of music and how chords worked. I realized I could translate the chords to the ukulele," he recalls.

At McKinley High School, he played the euphonium in the band and started arranging music. "I arranged Mozart for the brass quintet," he says.

Terada also learned to play the piano, bass, guitar, and the Baroque recorder. He ended both his intermediate and high school band stints with Outstanding Bandsman awards.

When he attended Arizona State University on a partial music scholarship, he intended to become a band director, though switched majors to music history after a year because he realized he was fascinated with Baroque and Renaissance styles.

After two years, he missed Hawaii and returned home. He wanted to become more deeply involved in the music industry, and took a couple jobs at music stores. That's where he met Peter Moon, legendary ukulele and slack-key guitar player.

Terada started taking lessons from Moon in the early 1990s. "It was like the Karate Kid. I would show up at his house, vacuum, bring him dinner, and after all the work was done, we'd sit and play," he laughs.

Sadly, Moon suffered a stroke and is unable to contribute to this interview, but his guitarist Dwight Kanae remembers the period well. "Trey was around frequently and sometimes Peter would hang out with Trey more than with me!"

Terada describes it as "old school." "Peter expected me to hear it and repeat it. He wouldn't explain the chords."

Kanae agrees. "Trey hit the nail on the head. That's exactly Peter's teaching style."

One day, Moon commanded Terada to play him a song. Terada played Ahi Wela.

"Then he said, 'Now play it in ten different styles.' I was like, 'What?!'" Terada recounts.

"Peter said, 'What music do you listen to? Latin, classical, what?' So I went home and only came up with three styles: jazz, bossa nova, and Hawaiian. I played it for him at my next visit, and he approved. Only then, he started teaching me!" elaborates Terada.

One day, though, the teacher became the student. "Trey taught Peter a few songs. He played The Devil Went Down To Georgia by Charlie Daniels and Peter thought that was so cool. We almost used it on one of our recordings."

Today, Kanae says he absolutely hears Moon's influence on Terada's playing style - and he likes it. "On a scale of one to ten? Trey's an 11. I love the way that little bulldog plays!"

Of their year together as teacher and student, Terada says, "It feels so good to have learned from Peter. He oozes music. I see nobody playing like him. Through Peter, I learned the ukulele has so much more potential than I realized."

Terada's next formative experience came from a year of training with classical guitarist Lisa Smith, herself a former student of the iconic flamenco guitarist Pepe Romero. "I realized I could make the ukulele sound like a classical guitar," he says.

In his early 30s, Terada finally felt ready to act on a decade-old goal of opening a music school. He hung his shingle as Four Strings Ukulele Studio and used his stage name, Dr. Trey (a joking play on rapper Dr. Dre's name; the joke stuck.)

One of Terada's learning techniques included recording his students in the studio to give them the full experience of hearing themselves. He invited Shimabukuro to record with the students to enhance the illusion of being professional.

"Jake wanted his band at the time, Pure Heart, to come in with him. When I heard them, I was blown away. They filled a niche in the Hawaiian music genre that had been empty since the Ka`au Crater Boys broke up. I thought they were so amazing, I decided I would represent them. That's when Four Strings became a record label," recaps Terada.

This collaboration earned Pure Heart a Na Hoku Hanohano Award in 1999 for Best Album of the Year; Terada was listed as Pure Heart's producer. He's also recorded two albums and toured with singer/ songwriter Mailani.

"I'll never forget that experience. Girls ran up to me after the shows and just wanted to touch my hand! I'd seen that when I toured with Jake, but I never thought that'd be me! What a trip!" he laughs.

For colleagues watching his career, Terada's turn as a producer and teacher was expected. "Trey went exactly where we thought he would go: to become instrumental in other people's lives," Kanae had predicted.

It was a surprise for me to learn Terada doesn't actually like to perform. "It makes me nervous!" he admits. "I will still do it on occasion with singer/ songwriter Johnny Helm, but my focus now is on teaching."

Helm says he's flattered by the revelation. "Trey adds a level of energy that's infectious when he plays. He turns heads with all his positive energy. But what I think makes him so special is how he's taken his skills and taught others to play. I'm inspired by that."

Trey Terada and Kanile`a GM Joe Souza

Trey Terada and Kanile`a GM Joe Souza

Terada hopes to write an instructional book on how to play ukulele, and he continues a years-long partnership with Kanile`a Ukulele in Kaneohe to represent its brand.

"I wanted to sponsor Trey because he's undeniably a master. He's dynamic when he plays, and his students become dynamic," says general manager and owner Joe Souza. "I've known him for a long time, and he's honest, professional, and sincere. I like that his philosophy and ours line up: to spread aloha through music. Trey is the epitome of that."

Teaching, though, remains Terada's passion. He says, "While I love spreading the joy of ukulele to anybody, I really love teaching children. When I see that 'aha' moment when kids get it, I think, Wow, that's something special. That could change the world."

Dr. Trey can be reached at or at (808) 721-7248. Facebook: doctortreymusic. Twitter @doctrey.

Watch some snippets of Terada at:

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

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YouTube Direkt

2016 World Gelato Championships

September 16th, 2015

A Hawaii man is leading the charge to bring home the gold in the upcoming World Gelato Championships. Il Gelato Hawaii owner Dirk Koeppenkastrop, Ph.D. is Captain of Gelato Team USA.

His team members include:
John S. Hui, CEPC, AAC – Team Manager (Corporate Pastry Chef, Pebble Beach Resorts, CA)
Michele Pompei – Lead Team Pastry Chef  (Baking & Pastry Instructor, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Art, WA)
Tim Brown, B.A. –Team Pastry Chef (Baking & Pastry Instructor, Johnson & Wales University, RI)
Chris Foltz –World Champion Ice Carver (Culinary Instructor, Oregon Coast Culinary Institute, OR)

2014: Chef Dirk & organizer Sergio Dondole

2014: Chef Dirk & organizer Sergio Dondole. Courtesy: Dirk Koeppenkastrop, Ph.D.

The USA is one of fourteen countries from around the world. The five-member team formed under the American Culinary Federation Chapter from Oregon. “We are very excited to have world class and competitive chefs, and one of the world’s best ice carvers on our team,” says Koeppenkastrop. He's referring to Foltz, who holds three ice carving and four wood carving world champion titles.

Since 2006, the USA has participated in seven gelato world competitions. Gelato Team USA received “Best Gelato Cake” award in 2006 and “Best Gelato Tub” award in 2008.

Team USA received the International “Best Taste Award” and the “People’s Choice Award” in 2012.

2014 Cake and ice carving. Courtesy: Dirk Koeppenkastrop, Ph.D.

2014 Cake and ice carving. Courtesy: Dirk Koeppenkastrop, Ph.D.

The World Gelato Championship, a prestigious event in the culinary industry, is held every two years as part of the International Exhibition of Artisan Gelato, Confectionery and Bakery Goods in Rimini, Italy. The Championships will take place from January 23 - 25, 2016.

The countries competing for the world title are Argentina, Australia, Chile, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Poland, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States. Each team will choose a theme, which has to be reflected in seven different championship tests including a decorated “coppa” (sundae), gelato cake, four assorted miniature chocolate gelatos, an entrée serving a savory gelato, a center piece croccante sculpture, an ice sculpture, and its final presentation.

2014 Gelato cone. Courtesy: Dirk Koeppenkastrop, Ph.D.

2014 Gelato cone. Courtesy: Dirk Koeppenkastrop, Ph.D.

The entire contest is streamed live in Italian and English.

When Maestro Gelatiere Koeppenkastrop isn't busy winning culinary titles, he's working at his three gelaterias in Kahala Mall, Kalihi and Haleiwa. He is no stranger to fame, either.

Il Gelato Hawaii served its Haupia Coconut Gelato at the final APEC conference hosted by President Barack Obama, and its Mango Sorbetto to the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet when His Holiness was here in 2012. Koeppenkastrop also competed in the last championships for Team USA in which its theme was 'aloha spirit.'


Lava lamp: A new cocktail!

July 15th, 2015

At Summer Fun, the kids made a lava lamp. Olivia brought it home and put it on the counter, unbeknownst to either of us parents.

Homemade lava lamp, aka my husband's post-workout beverage

Homemade lava lamp, aka my husband's post-workout beverage

It's in a recycled beverage container, and just set it down at the same time she put her lunch bag on the counter. Claus assumed it was some weird drink concoction.

"It was very clear at the top, red on the bottom, and I thought it was fruit punch," he explained to me. He'd just come back from the gym, was thirsty, and wanted to take a swig.

"Well, it's full and she'll notice and get mad at me for drinking her drink," he thought, and decided not to.

Later, she came over with an Alka-Seltzer tablet and asked us to watch her drop it inside. "What's that for?" we asked.

"It's a lava lamp!" Then she dropped the tablets in and delighted in seeing the fizz. "Look!"

Claus and I looked at each other and laughed so hard that he nearly drank a lava lamp.

"What's in that?" I asked.

Water, oil, and food coloring, she answered.

"Well, you wouldn't have died," I assured my husband. "And you would have looked really cool if lit up from the inside!"

Mother's Day 2015

May 13th, 2015

I love Mother's Day because I love being Olivia's mother, and I love my own mother.

Mother's Day is really for the kids, I have come to realize. Olivia took great pleasure in making and giving me gifts, and since seven-year-olds can't keep a secret, I got to hear all about it in the week leading up to it.

That was like a gift to me too - I love hearing her get excited about what she's planning for me. In her art class, she made a coin purse for me with a potpourri sachet inside. I'm required to wear this on my purse.

photo 1

Later in the week, I got a beautiful, hand-made note pad holder. The night before, she laboriously wrapped four gifts for me in secret in her room. JUST - SO - CUTE.

Sunday morning, so woke up early and got her dad out of bed so they could make me breakfast. I was instructed not to come into the kitchen until they called me, which is a little funny since my weekend habit is to have a cup of coffee and wake up slowly while I drink it. I don't usually eat for a while until I have had coffee. So I'm skulking about my room waiting to be told I could come out.

Olivia had taken such great care to make everything perfect and set the table with my place setting in the middle of the counter. She glowed in my praise for her attention to detail, thoughtfulness, and creativity.

photo 2

I remember doing similar for my mother, and it always being such a lovely moment. The daily grind of parenting has its challenges but a day like this reminds me of why it's well worth it!

How was your Mother's Day? I hope it was a good one!