If you travel through the London Underground and hear harp music being played, consider yourself lucky, for you will want to stop and chat with the harpist and buy his CD. Why? He is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. His story will inspire you.
Leading a group of ukulele players to play and sing together in front of an audience is quite different from 1) leading a group with whom you’ve been rehearsing for awhile, 2) leading a group without a separate audience listening, and 3) playing in the group as a member and not as a leader of the group. This morning I had the first time experience of leading my West London ukulele group in an outdoor performance at a charity event in Southall. It was a last minute invitation to lead, confirmed only this morning. I didn’t have time to think but made plenty of assumptions.
What did I learn?
When musicians meet, they want to play together. They exchange recordings of themselves. Playing together is a way to establish whether they are compatible, whether they want to collaborate, whether there is a future together.
Such was the case when I met a classical guitarist more than seventeen years ago. He copied a recording of his guitar quartet on CD as a takeaway gift.
The next time we met, I brought the only piano guitar piece I owned — an arrangement of Vivaldi’s guitar concerto for guitar and piano. Eager to find more pieces to play, I visited music bookshops in my travel as magazine editor. He arranged music for us to play. Before long, we had collected and arranged enough sheet music to give a concert. Soon composers started writing for our piano guitar duo.
The subtitle of our first concert at the Makawao Union Church in Maui, in December 2007, was “four centuries of music for piano and guitar” —- which comprised of arrangements, original compositions, and commissions. We released the live recording of the concert as a CD in January 2011.
“What shall we call ourselves?”
Until recently, there was no need to give ourselves a name. Then, we gave our first gig. The audience was thrilled and appreciative, but they didn’t know how to address us.
Not long afterwards, some of us played in another ukulele group’s gig, for which we bought and wore T-shirts bearing their name. I felt like an imposter at that moment.
Our next gig is coming up soon. What name shall we use to play in porchfests and farmer’s markets? Continue reading “Name for a band and a brand”
How do ukulele groups approach the task of song selection to serve the dual purpose
of attracting and retaining members and audiences? This question addresses both repertoire development and concert programming.
- Members are those who attend the meet-ups to play ukuleles and/or sing along
- Audiences are those who attend the performances, and may sing along from where they sit or stand but don’t play with the group
Does the responsibility for choosing songs, finding, creating, or altering existing song sheets, making them available online or in print, as links, individual song sheets, compiled songbook, etc rest on one individual such as the leader? Does an official “gig book” or “song book” exist for the group, from which participants call out their choice of song? Or does a new songbook or song list get compiled for each gathering? Alternatively, do participants bring copies of the song sheet of their own choosing to distribute to others?
Also known as “from participation to presentation”
Getting together to play music together is akin to everyone chatting musically at the same time. In my ukulele jam sessions, we accompany ourselves on our ukuleles to songs we pretty much know how to sing already. It may seem like sight reading, for we don’t usually practice or know what we will be doing beforehand. In one two-hour jam session, we could go through as many as thirty songs without a break.
There is a subtle difference between a jam and a gig. While there may be onlookers watching and hearing us from the sidelines, we aren’t playing to an audience other than ourselves. A jam session is participatory music making, where everyone is participating by singing and or playing. A gig, on the other hand, is presentational where we play to an audience.
With great expectations since I first received the score in early spring, I looked forward to the second performance of Robert Beaser‘s Chaconne. It’s a new work that I had studied and played in a large guitar orchestra for its premiere in April 2018. This time, Robert Bekkers, the conductor of our Boston Guitar Orchestra, played it with eight other musicians. Knowing that the nine guitarists rehearsed nearly every day of the Boston Guitar Festival confirmed my earlier belief that it was not an easy piece at all.