FROM THE SPRING 2021 ISSUE OF UKULELE
With the pandemic raging on and club and festival gatherings still on hold just about everywhere, we all need to find new ways to connect in the uke world. A while ago we put out the word that we wanted to hear your stories about how you’re coping in these strange times, and also, more generally, about your connection to the ukulele. So, meet some of your fellow readers, and if the inspiration hits YOU, feel free to drop us a line!
The Joy of Sharing
I am an organist/choirmaster at a church in North Carolina. With the advent of COVID, our choirs took an unwanted hiatus from music-making. In June, somebody came up with the idea of a Wednesday afternoon program for children starting in September, since the schools planned to start remote teaching, and the church could offer some in-person activities, all socially distanced and masked, of course. Somebody said, “What about music?” I went home and I was strumming a cheap uke my brother gave me 20 years ago, and it hit me. “Eureka!” said I. “I’ll do Ukulele Adventures!”
There was a problem, though. I am an organist, pianist, choir conductor, and reluctant fiddler. I don’t play the ukulele. So I started practicing, thinking I could learn enough to stay just a couple of lessons ahead of my students. Little did I know how important the “jumping flea” would become to me. Ukulele practice has become a daily ritual, and I’m learning more than I ever imagined. In addition to the chords I assumed I needed, I’ve learned to read melodies and I’m even working through some of Choan Galvez’s miniature studies. I have supplemented my brother’s uke with two Kala concerts (I love the Bamboo!). And it’s become a treasured quiet time in a confusing world.
Through the generous donations of church folk, we were able to procure 26 ukuleles. They are Flight Travelers, and we have had three classes for the past three Wednesdays. It’s amazing to me to see how excited these young ones, kindergarten through 7th grade, are when they take those ukes out of their cases and show me what they’ve practiced over the week. I am most happy with my new endeavor, and I look forward to leading plenty of children, and possibly adults, in the joys found learning the ukulele.
—Clifford Badgley, New Bern, North Carolina
Before things went the way they did, I taught ukulele at my local library. My students were mainly elderly and came to my classes for company as well as to learn to play the uke. We had some good times and often recorded what we had learned for social media, which got a lot of attention. Then lockdown came along and bit us all in the bum.
Luckily I keep in contact with my students and inbox them private one-on-one lessons. But I still missed my weekly buzz, and so my three-year-old daughter and I decided to start doing personalized musical messages for anyone who we felt needed a bit of cheering up. It was mainly requests for “Happy Birthday” at first, but the requests quickly started flooding in and we found ourselves dealing with all kinds of songs to learn for folks for a whole variety of occasions. It wasn’t long before our quirky videos began to attract attention, and we even made it onto the front page of our local paper.
My daughter Daisy and I have always enjoyed playing music together, and people seem to enjoy the special bond that we have, so please do take a look at some of our videos on our Facebook page—”Uke Dad.” If you like what you see, share it with others and help spread the happiness!
—Russ Petcher, aka “Uke Dad,” Yorkshire, UK
My Dad gave me a plastic uke 58 years ago. I taught myself and then helped my parents learn to play, as well (photo of my happy parents, Earl and Marge, in 1967). Fond memories! While in Hawaii in January 2020, I saw lots of ukuleles.
To my amazement, I recalled enough to play several chords in a short riff. I wanted to buy another ukulele! I began researching. My new Kanile’a arrived in Virginia on April 1st. As an unintended benefit of COVID-19, I’ve had lots of time to learn. And I have enjoyed every day since. There are so many more learning resources now than way back in the early 1960s. Studying, learning, and playing music has ignited my soul during these unusual times. Aaahhh, UKULELE!
—“Tall Steve” Smith, Vienna, VA
I am new to your magazine (a recent subscriber) and have devoured the latest issue. I am actually a bassist, but started dabbling with the ukulele for fun several years ago. I was always a lover of music but was surprised by the amount of joy this four-stringed friend can bring. I love that the easy access and entry point has opened the door to music for two of my children, and the stay-at-home experience has given me time to expand my learning to both the baritone ukulele and U-Bass. We are having a blast!
—Daniel Carpenter, Houston, TX
As is probably the norm for many uke clubs, our CLUES (Canastota Library Ukulele Extraordinary Strummers) club has not met as a large group since last March. Also, my teaching uke to the homeschooling co-op stopped, as did my artist in the classroom series. So, I miss teaching!
Through all of this, one thing has remained constant and rewarding: my work on the Ukulele Support System project. Developing accessories for limb-disabled players is joyful and fulfilling. I love that teachers around the world realized it was a good time to plan ahead for their students. My mission is inclusion, and it is my belief that no child or adult should be left on the sidelines. I have been fielding questions and outfitting new uke friends in the UK, Australia, and British Columbia, and maintaining contact with young players around the U.S., who are playing with waist straps, chord changers, wrist supports, and hand splints with felt picks to make playing possible for those with missing limbs.
Most recently, I have been working with more players with cerebral palsy and finding ways to support their needs and issues, which include weakness and fatigue. I’m tickled to be presently working with a college student out in Montana through emails and messaging from here in my Central New York home. She was given the choice of opting out of the ukulele segment but found the Ukulele Support Facebook page and contacted me. She didn’t want to opt out—she wanted to play! So along with outfitting an ukulele with accessories for her, she is working with her PT clinicians to develop the coordination and strength to play. As she said, ukulele is giving her a reason to work on things that have been painful and difficult. Ukulele is the magic ingredient that aids all of us in living happy, healthy lives.
—Deb Guarneiri, Ukulele Support System for upper limb disabilities
I am a jazz vocalist, actress, and tap dancer based in Rome, Italy. I have been performing on stage for many years, starting when I was 18, and just few years ago I discovered the ukulele. Back in 2012, I was chatting with a friend on Facebook and he mentioned an American vocalist and ukulele player, Janet Klein, and I got intrigued with that little instrument she played. I bought an ukulele—a very cheap one. I had no idea how to play it, but I checked on the internet and found some books and videos. I only played it once in a while, sometimes leaving it in its case for months.
Then, after searching for a serious tutorial, I came across Aldrine Guerrero at Ukulele Underground. I subscribed in May 2015 and started to practice every day. In the meantime, I was still playing gigs in jazz clubs with my band—traditional jazz—and having by then purchased a better-quality uke, I started to add it to my performances on one or two tunes; the ones with an easy key.
I continued self-teaching for about three years following the Aldrine lessons and also stayed in touch with him and the guys on the staff. Then, watching some UU master classes, I became intrigued by a Neal Chin video. I liked his approach to the scales and modes. So I tried a lesson with him, and November 2020 marked three years that I have studied with him.
From the moment I started with Neal, my practicing has become a daily total immersion for hours and hours. I bought the Jim Tranquada book, and books by Jim Beloff and Ian Whitcomb. I started to listen to all music genres played with ukulele. The uke is my breakfast, lunch and dinner!
—Francesca Biagi, Rome, Italy
It’s Never too Late
After reading my new Ukulele mag [Winter 2020] cover to cover, I felt compelled to write. What an amazing issue this is; it really spoke to me!
You see, four years ago, I was going through a bit of a turbulent time. For some unknown reason, my husband felt a compulsion to order me a ukulele. I had never played anything but keyboard so, of course, I thought it was a joke.
“What am I supposed to do with that?” I asked in total consternation.
“I’m quite sure you can look it up online and learn to play,” he answered, with a gleam in his eye. I was less than happy.
The first two people I found who were teaching total newbies were Cynthia Lin and Ukulenny. Within a few days I was playing several chords, although not very well. I kept at it and progressed and found that every time I picked it up, though frustrated that I wasn’t making faster progress, I became giddy about the instrument and my new passion. I was so grateful to Cynthia and Lenny for my new-found happiness, I sent them some money for my free lessons.
I played every day for hours, and a few months later, my husband and I went to a senior education center to see if they might have some activities that people in our age group might enjoy. We were both in our late 60s. We signed up for a few classes that interested us and after going there a few times, I had a brainstorm: What if I could teach people ukulele and they could experience the joy I had found playing the instrument? My hands shook as I talked to the director about becoming a teacher. She didn’t even ask me to audition. The announcement for a beginner class was posted and within four days we had 80 people sign up!
I had never taught anything aside from teaching my girls to cook and do laundry, so I was nervous, to say the least. However, the class was an immediate hit, and now, four years later, I have taught over 400 people to play. None of us are great, but we’ve had such wonderful stories come back about the joy it has helped create, how families have come together, and amazing healing. I also had an opportunity to meet Cynthia when she did an intimate Sunday afternoon jam in Austin, and she’s as sweet in person as you would expect.
COVID-19 has stopped us, but many of us still keep in touch and do some Zoom play-alongs. We are planning to resume our get-togethers as soon as we feel it’s safe.
To sum it all up, I never would have thought something as simple as a
ukulele would bring such joy to so many, including me. All of my daughters, granddaughters, and great granddaughters have learned to play, as well. Thanks to the hard-working musicians who share their knowledge with us and have enriched the lives of so many in my little corner of the world.
—C. J. Maust, Houston, TX
You’ve Got Uke Mail!
I am a 73-year-old who has been learning and playing the ukulele for about eight years. I belong to a neighborhood choral group, which performs in adult living facilities in our area. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck back in March, it essentially closed our group down.
It was also in March that I decided to record and post videos every Monday called “Monday Morning Melodies.” Originally it was intended as a novelty, but I have continued the process every Monday since. I pick a song each week, record it, and offer it up with a message of hope to my family, friends, neighbors, and choir members. I consider myself a beginner/intermediate strummer and enjoy doing it. It gives me pleasure to provide a little happiness at the beginning of each week.
—John D. Berger, Fayetteville, PA