Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ukulele Loving from the 12 year old within

The Young Women (at our house we call them Young Lemons, because they get pretty sassy and sour at that age) had an activity last night. Each girl was to invite a grandma or someone of that age to come to Young Lemons and share what their life was like at 12. I went with Bobo, because I am old enough to be a grandmother. And thank goodness i am not.

It was funny thinking back at my life at 12. It's really not that different. I loved messing with the ukuleles, even though I wasn't any good. I loved Kermit the Frog (still do) and I was writing C.C. Otter (Just finished up another rewrite).

The big question is why am I playing the ukulele again? It started a couple of years ago. I was sharing an office with a colleague who was running the Utah History Grant. This is a grant that helps fourth and fifth grade teachers develop quality instruction for history. My colleague brought in a ukulele to demonstrate how to teach WW I and WWII. She was having trouble tuning it.

I tuned it for her, and then my hands remembered. They remembered how to get sound out of that little instrument. I could tell I was driving her crazy, and she wanted her instrument back, but I wanted more than anything to keep playing. After work, I swung by a music store and purchased a ukulele of my own. Two years later, it hasn't lost it's luster -- well the music hasn't the ukulele is somewhere in Mexico with Macey. I have enough ukulele's now that all my kids (and their friends) can play along with me.

But when I tell people I play the ukulele, it's almost as bad as when I tell them I play the organ. (Some people think big-note rhythm machine when they hear the word "organ") Worse, they think "Tiny Tim" when I say ukulele. Today i am going to share some of my favorite ukulele artists.

I love Bella Hemming. She seems to be greatly unappreciated, but I think that will change. Her song, "Play Guitar" was one that I had to learn just a soon as I heard it. And while I was practicing, Bobo heard it and insisted on learning it too. We played it for Macey at his "Farewell Concert"

Bella credits the style of her video to Charlie McDonnell. He has a wonderful video called "Duet With Myself". While I love this video, I love even more his Doctor Who based music. He has a song called "Blink" which is intense, but I super duper love "The Big Bang 2"

These are great little folk songs that a "regular person" can learn to play, but check out the virtuosos online. If you haven't seen Jake Shimakuburo play "My Guitar Gently Weeps", you should check it out here. But my favorite of the maestros is James Hill. He is an educator and grew up in Canada where they teach ukulele instead of recorders in the elementary schools. He is in the forefront of developing curriculum that can teach students linear, chordal, and ensemble playing. And he made sense out of a song that never made sense to me. This is his interpretation of "Billie Jean". (Man, can he play)

And then of course there is the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Their arrangements make me feel inadequate at every level. Here is an interpretation of Handel -- and then some.

I hope I haven't over shared. I read a comment someone made about the ukulele being just the right size to fit in a web cam -- thus promoting its popularity right now. That might be some of it. But some of it has got to be a happy backlash against some of the more maudlin, overproduced songs of the last three decades.


  1. Young Lemons huh? I can relate. I certainly was a young lemon at 14(kids today seem to go through those stages earlier than we did). I am so sorry can't relate to the music. I don't have a musical bone in my body. I think I gave my share of musical talent to you.

  2. I always learn something when I read your blog. I enjoyed the Learn to Play Guitar, and was blown away by the ukulele orchestra of Great Britain. That was so much fun! I wonder if my band could do something similar. (But easier). I, too am fond of the uke. Verlene gave me her ukulele, which I have loved and treasured all these years. Ed and I heard Jake Shimabukuro play My Guitar Gently Weeps live a few years ago. It was very beautiful. I would like to add to the the list of great ukulele performances this video of IZ playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It is one of my favorites!

  3. I do love IZ. That's another one that isn't too hard to play, in fact, there are oodles of tutorials on line. I just find it very difficult to sing.

    "Play Guitar" was tabbed out by Ukulele Hunt and with a little practice, it's not too bad.

    The UOGB wanted to make a world record of uke players and so they tabbed out three easy parts to Ode to Joy and Ukelele Hunt has that as well Your band might enjoy doing that.