When musicians meet, they play together

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.

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Review: Melodic Meditations by Daniel Ward

What a delight and a surprise to see the melodic counterpart to Daniel Ward’s first book “Arpeggio Meditations” — six of which serve as accompaniment to the pieces in his new book “Melodic Meditations.”  Like the previous book, each piece is carefully noted and represented in both notation, tablature, chord name (diagram), fingerings for right and left hands.

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Yiddish songs with ukulele self-accompaniment

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.

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Review: The Ukestration Manual

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 ukulele group performance

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?

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Song sheets: the barebones to guide music making

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?

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Guitar meets piano; guitar orchestra & ukulele club

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.

Nearly two decades later, the guitarist is conductor of a guitar orchestra while I have founded my own ukulele group. How do we combine the two? Is it possible?

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Ukulele jam sessions: what to expect

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.

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Review: Arpeggio Meditations for Ukulele

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.

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When I’m Sixty-Four or 64

What next, after “Let It Be”?

Can we squeeze in another song from the Beatles Carpool Karaoke before our usual break at half-time?

Jim, the bassist from Jamaica Plain, scrolled through the song list on my iPad with me and spotted something that’s a bit more upbeat.

I said, “How about ‘When I’m Thirty-Four” ?”

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