FROM THE SPRING 2023 ISSUE OF UKULELE
Here’s more from our ongoing Uke Tales file, in which readers like YOU send in stories about their ukulele-related activities and adventures. We love hearing from you! email@example.com
HAVING FUN AND DOING GOOD DEEDS
The attached photo was taken in early 2022 when we, the Sun City Hilton Head Ukulele Band, toured the museum at the Kazoo Factory in Beaufort, South Carolina. The Kazoo Factory is one of only two Kazoo manufacturers in the US of A. This tour was for our newer members to learn the history of and the fine art of playing the kazoo!
Our fun group was formed in 2017 and currently has more than 40 members. We perform at many club events here in Sun City, as well as playing for the many assisted living and memory facilities in the Hardeeville, Richmond, Beaufort, and Hilton Head areas of South Carolina. We start every Friday with an hour of beginner activity where I teach them which side the strings are on and we go from there. Then it’s two hours of fun playing and singing the oldies, and we include a Zoom connection for the members who happen to be out of town or away for the season.
Playing for the assisted living and memory folks remains our favorite activity. The rewards are many. So many times we see the power of music: Some sit with a blank stare, not really knowing where they are, but then they begin to tap their feet and clap their hands as we start playing, and many know every word to “Bill Bailey” and “You Are My Sunshine.” —Jerry White; Sun City, South Carolina
FLOWERS AND FRIENDSHIP
In May, my Princess PooPooLy (and one prince) ukers gave me a real “queen’s crowning.” The crown and lei are made of fresh flowers. We’ve been strumming since 2011. There’s usually a core of 12 or 14. This number rises and falls, but is fairly stable. It’s about so much more than just making music. It’s about friendship. We range in age from about 60 to our prince, who celebrated his 95th birthday in January 2022. We even have a dancer who “taps” her way into our ukulele playing and our hearts. We nicknamed
her Tiny Dancer (because of her small size) after the Elton John tune. We celebrate birthdays and holidays, remember how things used to be on little Martha’s Vineyard, and commiserate over the ill or injured.
We have weathered COVID, lockdowns, shutdowns, and different protocols. Currently, we have a monthly gig at the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living. It’s a lovely facility for people with memory issues. A few participate with us by singing or playing rhythm instruments. It’s so rewarding for me to lead this group. I make up song books, picking my brain for material. I’ve compiled 300 to 500 songs. There’s always something to learn. It’s the best day of the week—I hope we never stop playing.
—Martha Child; Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
[Editor’s note: The “Princess PooPooLy” name comes from a popular 1939 Harry Owens song called “Princess Poo-Poo-Ly Has Plenty Papaya.” Poo-Poo-Ly is a play on “pupule” which means “crazy” in Hawaiian.]
LOOK TO EXPERTS
I have been playing the ukulele for three years. At 73, I was not expecting an invitation to participate in a master class. My instructor suggested performing the “Prelude” to Suite No. 1 in G Major by J.S. Bach. When I woke up that Sunday morning, Master Class Day, I felt that it would be a good day. I had gotten a good night’s sleep. There was no snow to shovel, and the temperature was moderate for a sunny winter day in Michigan. Six students would be performing for a university music professor. The professor could not have been more cordial and caring as he critiqued each student’s performance. I was the fifth performer, and as Barry Green, the author of The Inner Game of Music, warned, “No matter how prepared you are, expect something to go wrong.”
As soon as I began, the notes flew out of my brain. I thought I had memorized the first two pages of the score, so they were not before me, and those were the pages on which the memory slips occurred. Horrified, I pressed on, and completed the piece. The professor exclaimed, “That was fantastic.” I am glad I was wearing a mask so he could not read my lips! I listened calmly to his suggestions, all valid.
The master class was transformative. I now pay particular attention to notation. I appreciate that an opportunity to participate or observe a master class is a privilege, because you receive an expert’s opinion on appropriate techniques and interpretations of your score. More importantly, I understand that the master teacher’s role is not to focus on all that may or may not be wrong with the performance, but instead on what is going well and what can improve the overall performance. I might not have been so nervous if I had embraced that perspective. —Sheila Gaddie; Detroit, Michigan
A WELCOME RETURN
In 1987, I bought a new, standard-size Kamaka Pineapple ukulele for about $280. I intended to learn how to play it but never did. And since it was never used and only collecting dust, in 2004 I sold it to my deceased friend’s mother for the same price, $280.
As the years went by, I often thought about the ukulele and lamented about how I should have kept it even though I knew I was never going to play it. A new Kamaka Pineapple from Bounty Music [in Maui] now retails for $1,370 plus tax!
I wanted to ask my friend’s mother about the uke and didn’t for a long time. Then, I finally saw her one day and asked her about it and held my breath, expecting to hear, “Oh, my grandchildren got a hold of it and destroyed it.” But to my utter surprise, she told me, “I’ve never used it since you sold it to me!” So she sold it back to me for $280! This time around—the second time—I plan to keep it; an unused ukulele from 1987! —Glenn Molina; Kahului, Hawaii
[Hey, Glenn, it’s never too late to learn to actually play that beautiful uke! –Ed.]
IT ALL STARTED WITH A TOY
A few years ago, my wife and I vacationed in Hawaii. We took tours of the islands, including a visit to Pearl Harbor, as my father had been in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. We also did the usual tourist shopping for souvenirs. One evening at dinner, my wife, half-jokingly, presented me with a child’s plastic toy ukulele and suggested that I learn to play it. Thus began my love affair with the ukulele! Though I had learned to play the guitar as a teenager in the 1960s during the British Invasion, on our return trip to Maui, I bought a Mele concert ukulele. I met and bought a CD by Peter Delapinia who was in the Wailuku store playing for the customers. I also purchased two Jim Beloff songbooks: Jumpin’ Jim’s ’60s Uke-in and Gone Hawaiian. I was no Jake Shimbukuro, but I was having fun.
After my retirement as a university economics professor, I was looking for something interesting to do. Perusing a local entertainment magazine, I came across an ad for guitar- and ukulele-building classes taught by a local luthier, Seth Gustin. I really enjoyed playing the ukulele, but building one myself really piqued my curiosity. And my wife was enthusiastic about getting me out of the house on a regular basis. Though I had no woodworking experience, I built my first ukulele—a koa concert—in 2018, and a padauk tenor in 2019.
The pandemic brought a halt to my ukulele-building until the summer of 2022. Makers Bench, a local wood shop, had opened and once again I found myself working with Seth. I started building a pineapple-shaped soprano. It has a koa body, maple neck, bird’s-eye maple fingerboard, gold Grover tuning keys, Aquila Lava low-G strings, and a Mr. Cool Pineapple inlay on the headstock. It sounds great.
My instruments won’t be selling for thousands of dollars. They are not perfect, but there is great satisfaction in building and playing your own handmade ukulele. I’m evidence that anyone can do it—if you have guidance from an experienced luthier. —Ron Phillips; Fort Collins, Colorado
If you learned something new here, will you leave us a tip? We're asking you to give just $2 (or whatever you can afford) to support this site.