In the run up to St Patrick’s Day, I was looking for songs suitable for our “Fun with Ukulele” jam session at the local library in Dorchester, Massachusetts (part of Boston). St Patrick’s Day is celebrated like any other big holiday such as Christmas and Fourth of July in Boston. Coincidentally, Austin-based Kevin Carroll had just published “Ukulele Ceilidh: 18 Traditional Celtic Tunes arranged for Ukulele Session Playing.” The 67-page spiral-bound book is an amazing resource for the ukulele player.
One of the most popular songs for beginning ukulele and guitar players is “You Are My Sunshine” which was first recorded in 1939 and has become the official state song of Louisiana. At the minimum, you need three chords to accompany yourself singing. To spice up the harmony accompaniment, you can add minor, sevenths, major sevenths and even a diminished chord. To spice up the rhythm, apply accent (emphasis) and syncopation in your strumming. Watch different versions of videos of this popular song to get ideas for what you can do.
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?
Reading about the legendary London Yiddish Ukulele Group (LYUG) at the Open Mic in the Jewish Museum in London reminded me to write about the way I learned to sing in Yiddish. I learned those Yiddish songs by listening and singing to an audio recording, in the days leading up to the live performance.
This Sunday 30th September 2018, my ukulele group in West London will be playing for two hours at UK’s number one half-marathon — Ealing Half-Marathon. We will be at the corner of Cuckoo Lane and Greenford Avenue in Hanwell. I missed it last year while transiting in Dublin. What songs will we sing to cheer them on?
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.
subtitle: Orchestrating Music Making in Ukulele Groups
After playing in various ukulele groups and starting my own, I had a burning question. “What can we do differently to get more out of our ukulele jam sessions?”
The answer lies in “The Ukestration Manual: Creating Music Making Communities with the Ukulele and Ukestra Method” by Mark Jackson and Jane Jelbart. Continue reading “Review: The Ukestration Manual”
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?
On my first day of taking the intermediate ukulele course in Hawaii, I was surprised to witness the entire class playing and singing along. We were sight reading and sight singing, skills that take years to master for musicians.
That morning at Maui College in January 2016, all we had in front of us was a single sheet of paper that contained the lyrics, chord names, and chord diagrams. No music notation. No Italian words about tempo and dynamics in italic. No tablature. No abbreviations. No other music symbols. How could a single sheet of paper with minimal information guide music making?