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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 31, 2005

Sakuma vows had strings attached

BY Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Kathy Sakuma learned 29 years ago how vital the 'ukulele was to her then husband-to-be, Roy Sakuma. Today, they have four 'ukulele studios.


10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. today Kapi'olani Park bandstand Free 732-3739 Featuring: James Ingram, Raiatea Helm, Herb "Ohta-san" Ohta, Lyle Ritz, Daniel Ho, James Hill, Joy, Holunape, the Keala 'Ohana, Yuji Igarashi, George Matsushita, Yasuhiko Ariga, Nihon 'Ukulele Association and Rocky Brown; Danny Kaleikini emcees

Kathy Sakuma has lived and breathed the Starbucks 'Ukulele Festival, working alongside Roy Sakuma, her husband of 29 years.

"We don't have children, but the students at our studios are all our kids," said Kathy Sakuma, who is part of the teaching staff at one of the four Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studios on O'ahu.

She's involved in planning the event, which attracts a core group of pupils, along with other players eager to strum along.

As the 35th annual 'ukulele festival unfolds today at Kapi'olani Park bandstand, Sakuma reflected on how the stringed instrument, which she didn't know how to play before her marriage, became a vital part of her life.

When they first met, she was working in a real-estate office and taking University of Hawai'i classes, and he was already devoted to teaching.

"The first time I picked up a uke, Roy was teaching at a rec center," said Sakuma. "He was starting to build his business; it got to the point where I would come after work, just to help out with his classes.

"He was so busy teaching others, I don't think I had any lessons from him; it was on-the-job training. I watched as the business grew, and I grew within the company."

And she learned to play.

They got married in her senior year at UH, where she was a Japanese major, in 1976.

She and Roy get along well — because they're so different, she said.

"He's really an outgoing person, who's comfortable on stage," said Sakuma. "Me, I stay behind the stage, and I'm perfectly happy. But I'm a detail person, where Roy is an idea person. He'll tell me what to do — and he knows I will get it done."

Festival plans are launched each December for the July event. Sakuma works with a staff of four instructors, all former uke students who learned from her husband.

They huddle over all aspects of mounting the annual event, which draws several thousand spectators and at least 800 students who appear in one exhilarating segment of the program.

"Our goal is to make it a positive experience for the amateur player," said Sakuma. "The professionals know what to do."

The festival has expanded to include participants beyond Hawai'i — from the Mainland and from Japan. The Nihon 'Ukulele Association will send 50 this year.

The uke studios in Kaimuki, 'Aiea, Kane'ohe and Mililani boast a teaching staff of about 15, but no one can estimate how many strummers, young and old, have taken classes in the past three-plus decades. Many take lessons over seven or eight years; some leave, but return for a brush-up.

"The children are the biggest inspiration," said Sakuma. "Adults come to us and say, 'I saw all those kids playing ... and I figured if they can do it, then so can I.'

"That's the charm of this instrument. Anyone can learn to play the 'ukulele."