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.
In planning the birthday of Chifuru Noda for this evening, I remember visiting him at the hospital in Boston on December 11, 2018. In the semi-darkness, an attendant was asking what he’d like to eat for lunch. His breakfast sat still on the movable trolley, covered and untouched. After she left, I asked if I could eat some of his breakfast. I had no idea what he was about to tell me in the next two hours I spent alone with him.
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?
Very little original material has been written for the ukulele, compared to the piano and other instruments. As such, most of the music for the ukulele consists of transcriptions. The journey to make a song sheet work for ukulele groups to read and use is one of reducing and simplifying the musical material to its barebones. After interviewing various transcribers who share their song sheets online for my research, I now share my way of transcribing songs for the ukulele.
A thought occurred to me while playing for the recent half-marathon. We ukulele players shouldn’t be having song breaks when marathon runners don’t. When we are the foreground music, such as a concert or gig, it’s natural to have beginnings and endings. It not only gives us time to flip to the next song sheet but also let the audience react with applause.
For background music or as support for marathons and other races, however, we need to keep going. How does one keep going when the average song length is 3 minutes?
Now that I’ve been sold on the idea of ukestras and ukestration, I turn to the companion book by the same authors: “The Business of Being a Community Musician.”
In this 58-page e-book, Mark Jackson and Jane Jelbart explain how to set up a business and more importantly, how to stay in business as a community musician. The latter is the reason for writing a business plan, to avoid burn out and financial distress.
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.