Summer Solstice Sunset Singalong at Standish Village

It’s a mouthful, but every single word is significant. Today is the official summer solstice in 2018, otherwise known as the longest day of the year. Yesterday, being the Wednesday that my ukulele group meets each week, we gave our first public performance for the senior residents and staff members of a nearby building. Sunset is that magical time when you know the deadline of darkness is approaching, and everything must get done by then. To make it participative, we called our gig a singalong so the audience would be encouraged to join us in the singing. Standish Village is an award-winning assisted senior living residence, housed in a historic landmark building (no. 24 in this document), in Historic Lower Mills, just a short walk from Walter Baker Artists Lofts where we regularly meet to jam (or rehearse).

What’s noteworthy? One person had just learned how to play the ukulele three weeks ago in my crash course, four others had never performed on the ukulele before, and it was our first performance as a group.

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99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and counting

There seems to be an inverse correlation between construction and longevity. The longer lasting the song, the simpler you can expect the harmonic and melodic structures to be.

A song I sang as a teenager on long and winding road trips was a riddle in counting backwards from 99 to one. The idea is that the more you drink, the harder it is to count backwards in a group. [Note: Back then, there was no such thing as drinking age, especially on the island of Okinawa!] Add another dimension of modulating it through the major triads based on the twelve notes in a chromatic scale and you will be sure to stay sober!

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Effective rehearsal, excellent performance

The one time I was proud of my playing as a member of the guitar orchestra and the combined sound we produced was also the one instance that I had forgotten to bring equipment to video or audio record ourselves. The three pieces we played in the concert of 27th April 2018 were much easier than the repertoire of the two previous concerts. I felt in control. I felt like a contributing member of the ensemble. We started and ended at the same time, no extra noises. My only regret was that I did not record it, and we won’t be giving this concert again.

From the reaction of the audience (loud and instant applause after each piece and the prolonged applause at the end; individual compliments after the concert), I gather we didn’t do badly at all. What makes an excellent performance? The first clue, we had an effective rehearsal only four nights earlier.

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Guitar rehearsal in public library

Yesterday, the Boston Guitar Orchestra held its first open rehearsal at the Somerville Public Library. I dare take credit for suggesting it to Robert, the conductor and artistic director. Rehearsing in a public space will draw attention to who we are. This idea was born years ago when I proposed to situate new digital pianos from my innovation grant in the library and other places outside the classroom. Visibility raises awareness.

So what was it like to rehearse in the open?

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Premiering new work for guitar orchestra: Beaser’s Chaconne

Premiering a new work is always a nerve-wracking experience, especially in front of the composer and an unknown public. I’m not sure who has the greater pressure, the composer or the performer, or in this case, the conductor.

On Sunday 18th March 2018, the Boston Festival Guitar Orchestra, made up of several regional guitar ensembles, including Boston Guitar Orchestra, gave the world premiere of Robert Beaser‘s Chaconne, a piece commissioned by the Boston Classical Guitar Society for the New England Guitar Ensemble Festival (NEGEF).

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Two Chord Songs

If you’re a complete beginner to playing the ukulele, you’re probably wondering how many chords you need to know before you can accompany yourself to a song. Did you know, there are songs with one chord in it? You can play the one-fingered C major chord for “Frère Jacques” (same tune as “Are You Sleeping, Brother John”) and “Row, row, row your boat.”

Of course, knowing a second chord will expand your horizons.

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Ukulele for Blues Brothers

The 2017 theme for the annual Hanwell Carnival in London is Blues Brothers. I have my sunglasses and just need to borrow a man’s jacket, a thin tie, and a black hat. I can’t wait to join the Hanwell Ukulele Group (HUG) to strum and sing together on a float in the parade.

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