The first time I saw the name of the festival “Ukulele Melee” I thought there was a typo or misspelling. I knew that “mele” was the word for music in Hawaiian. What then was “melee”?
“Melee” means a confused fight or mass of people, a word that originated from 1640 French mêlée and Old French meslee meaning “brawl, confused fight; mixture, blend.” It wasn’t until the one-hour drive to the festival in Hamilton, Massachusetts that morning of Friday 27th April that I learned the origins of the festival name.
I do admit there’s a certain ring to “ukulele mele” or “ukulele melee” – that is, the rhyme is obvious. Where is the reason?
To my delight, I discovered that Charlie, who gave us both a lift, was one of the co-founders of the festival. Just as I learned when I sent out my first notice to my community of starting a ukulele club, Charlie, who had come forward to help launch our first meeting, was one of the original founders of the loosely-knit group known as the Ukulele Union of Boston (UUoB). While driving me and Linda to the festival, he explained how he came up with the term melee.
“Kiyoshi and I wanted to create an event where lots of things were happening at the same time. Performances, workshops, strum sessions, open mics, etc.” The term “melee” conveyed exactly that. It’s also a sonic pun on the Hawaiian word for music.
Kiyoshi had gotten me the teaching gig at the local library, where I began giving weekly ukulele workshops to teenagers just recently. Were it not for this opportunity, I might not have pushed myself to start the ukulele jam sessions and workshops in January 2018.
Having attended Roy Sakuma’s annual Hawaiian ukulele festival when I lived on Maui and the annual Irish Hooley south of Dublin last August, I was very much looking forward to giving my first workshop at a festival — that also being the first ukulele festival I’d attend on mainland USA.
When Charlie arrived in his red festival shirt to pick us up, I immediately wanted one myself. As a rule, you can never be short of ukulele T-shirts. Get them at every opportunity. I regret not getting one from Ireland or Hawaii.
The way I learned about the ukulele melee in northeast Massachusetts was through the UUoB Meetup Site. Different people offered to give workshops, lead strum sessions, and sign up for the open mic. I followed suit. I offered a “Transpose to Compose” workshop for non-beginners. Kiyoshi asked if I’d like to lead a singalong to island themed songs. The festival organiser Melissa thought Hawaiian songs would be a good idea.
When we arrived at the Cutler School in Hamilton, Massachusetts before noon, we met John and Alison who also drove up from Milton. Altogether the five of us came from our weekly Wednesday ukulele group in Historic Lower Mills.
We were greeted by the Palm Court Serenaders, a Hawaiian band based in New Hampshire. They played John Denver’s Calypso and several well-known Hawaiian songs. The schedule was packed with five or six parallel sessions per 40-minute slot.
Before the main stage, I recorded the fifth-grader’s String Jam performance of “Count on Me” and decided it will be a good song for my teenage ukulele workshop in Dorchester. To save memory and storage space on my iPad, I made live video recordings on my Facebook Page. Those that would like to download them, please do. Thereafter I plan to change the privacy settings.
Amy Kucharik was the main attraction. She was an inspiration to us all. I particularly love the song about heartbreak. I can’t remember the title, but the refrain was sticky and effective.
I daresay the best part was the after melee dinner at the Black Cow Restaurant in Hamilton, MA. I got to know a ukulele builder from Chicopee, an actor/musician and his wife from Salem, a technical production manager, Charlie, Kiyoshi, and Jim. I hope they will come to our ABBA GOLD jam session on Tuesday 1st May 2018!