NUD-Custom Commemorative Ukulele from Pops

efiscella

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As many of your know, I have been helping Alvin "Pops KoAloha" Okami with his custom ukulele orders since 2016 when I brought a group of High School aged show choir members (Harmony Show Choir) to the Koaloha factory for a tour. The choir was from Mainstage Center for the Arts, in Blackwood, NJ, a non-profit arts center that I started in 1989 to help provide opportunities for kids who want to sing and dance, and not necessarily kick a soccer ball or be on a field. These kids also needed an outlet that would allow them to shine. I was a middle school English teacher for 33 years, and then with Mainstage for 35 years and counting. After meeting Pops and working with him on making the Wow ukulele for the kids, known as the "Harmony Wow," Pops asked me to help him with a website and be a social media contact since he is not on the internet.

This year marks my 35th year as the founder and artistic director at Mainstage and I retired from my artistic director position. We had a huge anniversary show and weekend events and I was touched by the many alumni who returned from all around the world to be a part of this reunion and culminating event for me. What I did not realize was that the team putting together the event wanted to get a gift for me that was significant, and memorable. They secretly reached out to Pops and asked him, "We know how much he (Ed) loves your work on custom ukuleles, so we wanted to see if it would be possible to have a ukulele engraved with our logo and the number 35 as a gift to surprise him with at his retirement party." I cannot begin to tell you the emotions that I felt when they presented me with this beautiful ukulele, handcrafted with love, by Pops.

I think the pictures speak for themselves about how beautiful this ukulele is. The tone is also fabulous. So very different from my Koalohas and Ukesa Tenor. The closest I can compare to is a Koaloha black label. The bracing is unique and slightly different from the traditional KoAloha unibracing. In the near future, I will do a write-up comparing this uke to my Koaloha and Wow tenor, but for now, I just wanted to share this beauty with everyone.
 

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As many of your know, I have been helping Alvin "Pops KoAloha" Okami with his custom ukulele orders since 2016 when I brought a group of High School aged show choir members (Harmony Show Choir) to the Koaloha factory for a tour. The choir was from Mainstage Center for the Arts, in Blackwood, NJ, a non-profit arts center that I started in 1989 to help provide opportunities for kids who want to sing and dance, and not necessarily kick a soccer ball or be on a field. These kids also needed an outlet that would allow them to shine. I was a middle school English teacher for 33 years, and then with Mainstage for 35 years and counting. After meeting Pops and working with him on making the Wow ukulele for the kids, known as the "Harmony Wow," Pops asked me to help him with a website and be a social media contact since he is not on the internet.

This year marks my 35th year as the founder and artistic director at Mainstage and I retired from my artistic director position. We had a huge anniversary show and weekend events and I was touched by the many alumni who returned from all around the world to be a part of this reunion and culminating event for me. What I did not realize was that the team putting together the event wanted to get a gift for me that was significant, and memorable. They secretly reached out to Pops and asked him, "We know how much he (Ed) loves your work on custom ukuleles, so we wanted to see if it would be possible to have a ukulele engraved with our logo and the number 35 as a gift to surprise him with at his retirement party." I cannot begin to tell you the emotions that I felt when they presented me with this beautiful ukulele, handcrafted with love, by Pops.

I think the pictures speak for themselves about how beautiful this ukulele is. The tonal is also fabulous. So very different from my Koalohas and Ukesa Tenor. The closes I can compare to is a Koaloha black label. The bracing is unique and slightly different from the traditional KoAloha unibracing. In the near future, I will do a write-up comparing this uke to my Koaloha and Wow tenor, but for now, I just wanted to share this beauty with everyone.
That's so cool! Congratulations for all good reasons!
 
Wow Ed, what a piece of artwork that uke is, just stunning! And well deserved my friend, both for all your years helping kids and for your labor of love being Pop's "Social Face". You two (and Mom's) make a great team! Enjoy, can't wait to hear your detailed comparisons!
 
Congratulations on your "retirement" Ed. The commemorative ukulele is a wonderful gift for your years of selfless work to improve the lives of so many. And the highest regard that Pops holds for you.

Wear it in good health. If you use a strap. Otherwise, play it in good health. ;) For many active years to come.
 
Beautiful!
 
Ed, I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know and understand, but stopping to think about how cool it is that not only have you accomplished so much, you’ve done it with the full trust of one of the legends of the business, man, what an experience.
 
How wonderful to have an instrument that is not only totally stunning, but also connects your relationship with Pops to the many relationships you developed through Mainstage. Congratulations, Ed! You are truly deserving of this gem.
 
I wanted to take a moment to express my profound gratitude for all the warmth and kindness shown to me during this extraordinary time in my life. The love and support I've received from the amazing kids, dedicated alumni, and incredibly talented staff at Mainstage, as well as the treasured connection I've had with the Moms and Pops, have touched me deeply. It's also been an honor to be part of this incredible UU community since 2011, and I am truly humbled by the friendships I've cultivated along the way.


In addition to my work in Pops' endeavors, where I focus on keeping the builds on track, I've also found great joy in my involvement with UKESA. While some may spend their free time on golf courses or building in basements, my passion lies in collaborating with Moms and Pops. The trust they've bestowed upon me is a rare and glorious gift, and I'm forever grateful for the opportunity to share in this beautiful friendship.


I recall the excitement of reaching out to KoAloha in 2012 to acquire my first KoAloha ukulele, a factory second. Little did I know that this step would eventually lead me to the dream of meeting Pops in person. It's incredible how life unfolds.


A heartwarming and unexpected turn of events occurred when the young people at Mainstage reached out to Pops privately to secure a memorable gift for my retirement. They might not have fully comprehended the concept of a "custom ukulele" or its cost, but their desire for me to have one was truly moving. At the time, Pops shared with me that he received an order for a new build, not through me, and he had to start working on it to meet the tight deadline. I'll admit, I might have been a bit too focused on getting @ailevin ’s concert Wow completed, not realizing the strain put on Pops to finish and deliver my commemorative uke in time for my retirement weekend.


Then Moms and Pops contracted COVID-19, which required them to be in quarantine for weeks. During this time, Pops couldn't work on the uke, adding to the anticipation. Luckily, the uke was completed two days before my retirement event, and my daughter, who resides and works on Oahu, delivered the completed uke in time, a beautiful symbol of perseverance and dedication.


Looking back to February, I had the incredible opportunity to visit my daughter in Hawaii. It was also a chance to spend precious days at the KoAloha factory, soaking in the wonderful atmosphere with Moms and Pops, along with the KoAloha crew. During that memorable month, together we built and shipped nine custom ukuleles. One of these was particularly special, a breathtaking all-Koa tenor uke for UU member @Kei (see pic attached). Pops graciously allowed me to participate in selecting the finest Koa wood and contribute to the design. The experience was unforgettable, and I was awed by the uke's beauty.


I'll forever cherish the moment I shared with Pops, expressing my awe and admiration for the uke we created. I said to Pops, "I have a good number of ukuleles, but nothing as beautiful as this. Some day, I am going to ask you to build an ukulele like this for me." He remembered our conversation and went above and beyond, crafting an ukulele that surpassed my expectations, even those of the folks at Mainstage. The true magic was revealed when Pops insisted that the funds raised for the uke be redirected to support the kids' programs at Mainstage. This uke became a heartfelt gift from Moms and Pops, a testament to their generosity and love.


I consider myself an incredibly fortunate man. My life's journey has involved teaching, directing theatrical productions, and founding a community arts program for kids, but the friendships I've formed here and in Hawaii have elevated my blessings to unimaginable heights. Also, the love, trust, and friendships you all have shared with me here at the UU community have enriched my life in ways I never thought possible.

With boundless Aloha,


Ed
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What a story! And what a uke!
 
Congratulations Ed and thanks for sharing the photos. That is so much nicer than a retirement watch or plaque or bookends. However the gift for all of us is the beautiful story of so much giving and appreciation. It is as you said, Boundless Aloha.

I am really looking forward to your comparison of the sound of this one compared to KoAloha and Wow tenors.
 
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