Since lockdowns cascaded across Europe and America, I have been hosting an online, interactive song session called “Three Chord Thursdays.” Each Thursday, we ukulele enthusiasts (whether vocalists or instrumentalists) meet for an hour to share songs of a particular theme, category, or era. It’s entirely free to join by registering in advance for the login/password details. Volunteers submit their requests to perform in advance. We aim to fit up to 10 songs for the hour-long session in Zoom.
We welcome everybody everywhere in the world. Restated, that’s anybody anywhere in the world.
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.
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.
On a chilly wet spring evening, I fought the drizzle and the descending darkness to get to a church near the bust stop. Jamaica Plain, or JP for short, was dead quiet, save those going into the famous ice cream shop.
I intercepted a young woman in a fluffy pink dress carrying what looked like a ukulele case. Concerned that I might have missed the event entirely, I asked if Bryan Tolentino was still inside. She nodded and pointed at the entrance to the First Baptist Church on Centre Street.
Who is a non-beginner? Someone who is comfortable with his instrument. Ukulele players , often self-taught or have taken a few beginner workshops, are non-beginners if they already know how to tune, play the basic chords from memory (C, F, G7, Am, C7) and strum instinctively. They know how to read a chord diagram. They know how to look at a song sheet and finger the chords indicated with the lyrics.
What would a “ukulele for the non-beginner / busy adult” course include?
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.
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.
It’s hard to focus when the smell of chicken and sausages grilling outdoors reminds you that you haven’t had lunch. We are playing two sets under a big yellow tent next to Kew Gardens Rail Station. It’s the second time I’m playing with the Hanwell Ukulele Group (HUG) at Kew Village Market. The famous Kew Gardens is nearby. I am wearing a blue Hawaiian dress over a white T-shirt, hiding behind a row of tall English guys.