Music can soothe, heal, and unite. The song that comes to mind is “Ode to Joy” in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Unlike other symphonies, this one features the human voice. Its power is discussed in the documentary “Following the Ninth” – which I hope to get the link for everyone to watch BEFORE our Sunday global virtual jam session of “Ode to Joy” in its original key. See my blogpost.
Today five virtuoso musicians met for the first time. Quartet San Francisco (QSF) was warming up in Gilman Chapel in Cedar Grove Cemetery. They had just driven up from Rhode Island where they were staying for a string workshop and concert at the university in their concert tour of Rhode Island, Boston, Lexington, and Martha’s Vineyard.
Robert Bekkers, who gave the inaugural concert of this new concert series, walked into the church and shook hands with them. He and Jeremy Cohen, founder and leader of QSF, had corresponded by e-mail after my introduction. One member of my ukulele pluck ensemble had told me about QSF, and after watching their videos, I was hooked.
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?
Going to your first ukulele jam session may be a daunting experience if you go alone and don’t expect to know anybody there. Like crashing a stranger’s wedding party, you simply don’t know what to expect. If it’s a small jam session, you will feel like an intruder for it would seem that everyone else knows everybody there, except you. If it’s a large session, you might feel totally invisible and unwelcome.
What can you do to make your first ukulele jam an enjoyable experience?
The only instrument that did not suffer a downturn in sales in London during the recent recession was the ukulele. The person who told me this has been researching ukulele clubs in the U.K. for her doctorate thesis. I have a hunch that it’s like chocolates during difficult times. People still want to reward themselves and feel good. The ukulele is that instrument. Am I right?
“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”
As usual, I began our 7 o’clock ukulele jam session with an easy song, one that everyone knows with few easy chords. This being the Beatles Carpool Karaoke, I chose “Let It Be,” using San Jose Ukulele Club’s version in the original key of C major, with just four chords, rather than the G-major transposition with nine chords in the version in Richard G’s Songbook.
What can you do with “Let It Be” if you already know it very well?
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.
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).
For some time now, I’ve wanted to start my own ukulele club so that I can craft and steer it the way I like. As I love preparing themed concerts for the piano, why not research, arrange, and organise songs on a theme for ukulele players? By theme, I mean relating to the time of the year (holiday) or current events.