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.
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?
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 exactly happens in a ukulele jam session?
The word “jam” conjures up images of people playing music together, on different instruments in a frenzy. As ukuleles come in different sizes, they naturally sound different. Often there are complementary instruments such as the cajon, bass guitar, tambourine, kazoo, harmonica, and violin. The word “jam” also sounds loud rather than soft but it doesn’t have to be. Coining the words “jam session” makes it sound more sophisticated than the technical description: a group play and sing along. It’s not karaoke, because it’s not about people taking turns singing on the microphone, rather, everyone plays and sings together. As you may expect, not all jam sessions are the same.
Daniel Ward’s 30-page “Arpeggio Meditations for Ukulele” for ukulele players reminds me of the Hanon exercises I played every day as a budding piano player. That’s how I built my technique, after playing the scales and arpeggios in the key I was assigned, I’d play one piece from Hanon for the entire week. This sort of repetitive finger exercise gets you into a trance. However, I daresay, Ward’s music is a lot more interesting and pleasing to the ear than Hanon’s.