This week I am extremely grateful to Dr Todd Fiegel for this post which he has so kindly written for my website. Todd and I are 'cyber' friends and we got chatting about ukuleles. Todd mentioned that he once got to work with a hero of mine, Kimo Hussey, and when I asked him to elaborate, he very kindly offered to do a guest blog on Kimo and his playing - and here it is. I have attached a video of Kimo's wonderful playing too - for those who have not heard him before.
I thank Paul Mansell for the invitation to write a few words about working with ukulele artist and master teacher Kimo Hussey. I first met Kimo when I attended a retreat in Mexico in January. Based on that experience, our group in Salt Lake City invited him to be the featured artist/clinician at our own inaugural retreat in July.
We are fortunate in our world of ukulele to have many fine artists and teachers who generously help us learn the techniques needed to play our instrument. Kimo is one of those, of course, but there’s something else that comes along with the wonderful experience of working with him. It is unstated by him and it is invisible to most. But in the very essence of Kimo as a teacher resides something that enables us to be transported to a deeper understanding and personal experience with music in its much more comprehensive sense, a broader level of which “ukulele" is merely a part. And because we reach it without being told to do so, its value is immeasurable.
Kimo intentionally and subtly establishes some specific words that we come to identify in a certain way. He incorporates phrases that lead us to unexpected realizations because of their context in his use. At the core of his methodology is his absolute love of music, of teaching, and of the human spirit. And we come to realize that very quickly.
Without conscious awareness, we become better listeners. He says things like “Listen to your ukulele,” and “What’s your ukulele telling you?” when we play. He demonstrates how music has movement and direction by coaching us to “listen for the resolution” that inevitably arrives after we sense our ear being led somewhere by the music. And by coaxing us to start anticipating that resolution before it arrives, we grow in our own creativity as musicians.
Through demonstrating ways we can easily devise introductions—and then how they can also be used as transitions within a song (“midtroductions,” he humorously calls them) and as bookends that close the song when appropriate (“outtroductions”)—he makes us aware of the importance of musical form in our own performances. We begin to realize how the sharing of our music is akin to presenting to someone a carefully and beautifully wrapped gift. The sense of splendor is much greater to the recipient than when simply told, “Here, take this box.”
And without being informed that we’re learning ear-training and relevant music theory, all of a sudden we are doing just that—and we’re doing it with eager anticipation and involvement! Because of how he gets us there, the stigmas and intimidation that usually accompany those topics are nowhere to be seen, and even the most inexperienced and musically-unknowledgeable in the room are lapping up the experience like a dog enjoying his water bowl on a hot day.
From the very first meeting, Kimo persuades us subconsciously to drop any reservations, any inhibitions. His classroom dynamic is reserved but inviting. He is a gentle man. He is warm to all. And he is soft-spoken. When he first speaks in class, these qualities create an immediate intimacy with all in the room. It is almost as if he is sharing a secret with each person individually. A camaraderie forms—and not just between student and teacher, but also among all the students, for each is suddenly a member of that special group with whom he has chosen to share his secret. He places his hands over his heart and welcomes us into the “love" that is music, the “sharing" that is music, the “spirit" that is music. He invites us to participate in all of this with him. "This is why we are all here,” he says, and then he tells us how he also cherishes the opportunity to learn from us as we learn from him.
We know intrinsically and without question that what we see is genuine. This is the love and the way that is Kimo Hussey. And we are virtually compelled to respond in kind. With his subsequent utilization of those same “anchor” words throughout his days with us, they become signposts that quietly and relentlessly steer us toward the greater understanding and experience of “music” that literally envelops everything Kimo teaches. Within just the first few moments, he has created an almost mystical aura of openness and personal experience that will hover over us for the entire retreat and which essence will linger long after.
Bio: Dr. Todd Fiegel is a retired professor of conducting, trumpet, music education, and director of university bands. He remains active as a conductor, arranger, and lecturer, but spends most of his time now with his newfound passion for the ukulele.