‘It’s an aloha thing’

LIHUE — Edward Abreu got a personal concert for his birthday this year from Kekaha’s own Ross Barker, who crooned classics from a single chair in the living room.

That was one of three times that the Abreu family has used the Kauai Hospice Transitional Music Program to bring Barker into their home, and with him the likes of Bob Dylan, Waylon Jennings and John Lennon.

That’s not what Barker was expecting to play when he joined the program as a way to give back to his community.

“I had some preconceived ideas, thinking it would be soothing to hear classical music, but through a little bit of experience, I came to realize what’s important isn’t what you love, it’s what resonates with them,” Barker said.

And most of Barker’s regular audience members love country music.

“He (Edward) likes country and the Beatles,” said Abreau’s wife, Nancy. “This is a fantastic program for people who can’t get out to the concerts and the festivals anymore.”

Food and a few friends usually surround the Abreau family when Barker comes to visit with his guitar, providing a chance to talk story and a festive atmosphere in the house.

“Music relaxes the mind and the body,” Nancy said. “It’s comforting and it soothes people.”

Barker is one of the dozen or so musicians who perform in various groupings all over the island, offering live music for families before, during and after a serious illness.

They make up the Transitional Music Program, but separately they’re a group of singers, dancers and instrumentalists who rehearse two Saturdays a month and visit the homes of people when they’re needed.

The program has just completed its first year and members have done shows at more than 40 locations islandwide, performing various types of music and sometimes combining those with hula.

Traditional Hawaiian music, for instance, gets a jazzy twist with the performances of Chuck Reed, who plays songs like He Punahele No’oe by Albert Nahale’a, on the saxophone.

“It’s an anomaly and I was kind of surprised at how well received it is,” Reed said. “The music really lends itself to the instrument with the right approach and many haven’t heard it played in that fashion.”

Dancing hula for people through the Transitional Music Program is one of the highlights of performances for Penny Prior, who sings with the group.

“In the Hawaiian culture music is a gift you give, whether it is the voice or singing or chanting or playing an instrument,” Prior said. “It’s a gift to others, but it’s also a gift to myself to be able to do the music.”

Performing is uplifting for all of the members in the Transitional Music Program because they get to give back to the community while doing something they love.

“The way I look at it, it’s an aloha thing,” Reed said. “It’s giving to people without wanting to get something back, but it turns out you do get something back.”

New lessons and opportunities to grow are also part of being a member of the Transitional Music Program.

Petra Sundheim, for instance, joined the program as an opportunity to begin singing regularly after the loss of her voice several years prior.

Sylvia Partridge found an opportunity to do some of her own expanding during a visit to one family home, when the music wasn’t received in the way she’d expected.

“As musicians, we like to be appreciated, that’s just part of it,” Partridge said. “Sometimes there are opportunities to set your ego aside and grow from that.”

Bob Smith, one of the instigators of the program, said that’s one of the best things about being part of the Hospice Transitional Music program.

“It’s a place where your ego isn’t involved. It’s almost sacred, coming together around music,” Smith said.

The Kauai Hospice Transitional Music Program is open to all musicians and is accepting applications. Participation requires a 4-hour volunteer training with hospice.

In addition to singing for hospice clients, members will offer music for nursing and group homes as well as at select events. Program organizers are looking for volunteers.

“Families tell us what type of music their loved ones love, and we do our best to match up performers to their needs,” said Jeffrey Pears, program coordinator. “The more musicians and varieties of talents we have, the wider our repertoire.”

Info: Jeffrey Pears at (808) 977-8498, or jpears@kauaihospice.org.

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