Irish Ukulele Hooley: going with a group

Subtitle: how to plan a group trip to the next Irish ukulele festival

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Uke Vox: form an uke band for a festival

As a performer, I’m gratified when members of the audience come up to talk to me. Likewise, I never hesitate to introduce myself and talk to musicians whose performances I enjoy. In the latest case, I sent a Facebook text message to the Finnish ukulele band to welcome them to London and express my intention to see their show, before I had even met or heard them.

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Ukulele Clubs: sing, strum, socialize

It doesn’t take long to learn to play a few basic chords on the ukulele and join an uke club to strum, sing, and socialize. No other instrument allows the beginner to practice playing in the relaxed company of others and travel the world with it.

Or  “play, pluck, and party”

Or “jam, jingle, and joviality”

As an ukulele enthusiast, I consider the existence of so-called ukulele clubs a golden perk of playing the ukulele. I don’t know of any clubs for other instrumentalists that welcome beginners to jam with more advanced players. Perhaps barbershop quartets or multi-instrumental jam sessions may allow for that, but how common are they really? The ukulele clubs’ tradition of group playing is a fun way to push myself to learn new chords and expand my repertoire. I can’t think of a better way to combine practice with socialization.

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Piano Medley on Bach’s Prelude in C

Anne Ku’s Piano Medley on Bach’s Prelude in C from his Well-tempered Clavier is an example of floating different recognizable melodies on top of piano, suitable for voice or violin or flute with a keyboard instrument.

A piece for performance needs to be long enough for the audience to digest. There is such thing as a minimum and optimal length for the listener. Easy piano pieces are often deemed too short. One strategy for beginning piano students to play a piece long enough to satisfy the ear is to combine what they know into a medley.

How does one arrange a medley?

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Hooked on dancing

Dancing makes me feel alive and free. And it also brings back many fond memories.

In the “mixers” the women line up and wait for their turn to dance with a man who leads in a dance around the room until it’s time to join the queue again. This is Maui on a Saturday evening on the parquet wooden floors of the Omori Dance Studios at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC).  In London, it was the opposite — the women were in short supply at Friday night CEROC dances, and the men had to queue for their turn.

The tall gentleman, who led me on my third waltz tonight, gently lifted my left hand from his shoulder and directed it to his shoulder joint. “There,” he said. “Isn’t that more comfortable?” On a previous occasion, an older gentleman kept saying,”Relax. Relax.” It’s been years since I last did ballroom dancing. I finally got the message when I was told, “You’re probably used to being around a lot of women. Please relax and let me lead.”

The regulars were polite and curious. Are you visiting? Where are you from?

I felt embarrassed when I replied that I lived close by and that I actually wanted to participate for quite some time. It was a chance encounter, while looking for my creative writing instructor in the English Lecturers Office, that I learned of “Advance Your Dance.” Verna, the secretary, said, “We meet every week. Several times a week. Are you on Facebook? You can find them there.” That was three months ago. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me on a Saturday evening. The first time is always the hardest. Who dares go into a room full of strangers?

Not disco dancing in Leiden but ballroom dancing in Maui
Not disco dancing in Leiden but ballroom dancing in Maui

The men and women who come dance here are serious about dancing. They bring their dancing shoes and water bottles. From 6 pm, they can sign in and pay $5 per person to dance until 9:45 pm. From 7 to 8 pm, a particular kind of dance is taught. The rest of the evening is a mix of music for jitterbug also known as East Coast Swing, waltz, quick step, cha cha, tango, salsa, West Coast Swing, and other styles. Last Saturday, my first time, I lasted barely two hours after learning three kinds of line dances. Tonight, it was intermediate foxtrot. The hosts Frank and Sandy Hook are back from Connecticut. Apparently, they also give dancing classes on Monday and Wednesdays in Wailuku.

Dance music brings back fond memories. I recall organizing a latin dancing evening so that I could learn new latin dances from my friend Tim, who was leading a fourteen-member band in London. I rented the church hall on my street and charged five pounds at the door. My friend, the late Ayyub Malik, checked everyone in. All was perfect, except there were too many guys and not enough ladies. I learned a few things that night. Guys were fine going alone to a dance. Girls would not go alone. They’d go with another girl or a guy. A girl was okay dancing with another girl. Guys didn’t do that. Not latin, anyway. Being the responsible host, I made sure I danced with every guy so no one was left out. I even threw in a raffle draw to give away my personal things to make it worthwhile. In the end, we broke even. Everyone was happy, except I couldn’t walk for a few days.

Graduation dance at Duke University?
Graduation dance in North Carolina ?

Last Saturday, someone asked me if I had been dancing regularly. “No,” I answered, wishing I was able to say yes. “Not continuously. Just off and on.”

I did ballet when I was six. It morphed into Chinese Folk Dancing. In high school, I was voted “Dancing Queen” at age sixteen. In college, I took a social dancing course to satisfy half of the physical education requirement. My partner and I worked out cha cha moves to KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Give It Up.” During my junior year abroad in Montreal, the overseas Chinese crowd got me interested in ballroom dancing. With this minimal experience, I was invited to organize social dancing classes in my second job in Singapore. It became so popular that my colleagues asked if that was my real job at the bank. Seeing how it flattened the organizational hierarchy and made a community out of my colleagues, I proposed to start a social club to engage the single foreigners from forty different countries at the London offices of another employer. And that’s how I learned to salsa, lambada, and merengue.

What is so fun about dancing? It makes me feel alive and free. It also brings back fond memories, such as the night I crashed a London Business School Annual Ball with a friend who was in town on business. According to Facebook, he is now a serious ballroom dancer.

My next mission? Bring guys so that the ladies don’t have to wait.

Dancing in the mother of all fortresses in Naarden Vesting, October 2005
Dancing in the mother of all fortresses in Naarden Vesting, October 2005

3 things I dislike about long haul travel

Long haul travel is great except for three things: it takes time to …..

As much as I love to travel, there are several things I dislike about long haul travel.

First, it takes time to get ready.

Not only do you have to prepare for the trip, you also have to clear and clean up your home so that you can have a peace of mind while you’re gone. I’ve often made the mistake of hiding important documents for safe keeping only to forget where I’ve put them upon my return.

For my most recent trip, I had to pack the right clothes for the different weather: warm in Knoxville, possibly cool in Boston, cold in London, hot and dry in Davis, and variable in San Francisco. It was spring and the pollen forecast was important for hayfever sufferers. I carried sufficient antihistamines to ward off allergies that are nearly non-existent in Hawaii.

Second, it takes time to unpack after you return.

For the same reasons that it takes a long time to prepare for your trip, it will take time to unpack all that you’ve accumulated and attend to the backlog built up during your absence.

It took me a day to do two loads of laundry, clean the floor, and unpack my two suitcases. It took another day to review my snail mail, water the garden, and get myself back on track.

Third, it takes time to shed the weight you’ve gained during your travels.

What a paradox it is to gain weight while traveling! The lack of routine and exercise combined with the temptation of eating out all cause water retention and the build up of fat. On this trip, I attributed the weight gain to having to wear a lot of clothes to keep warm — and subconsciously having to consume more food to feel warm and comfortable.

So now I am on a strict regimen. I wake up by dawn. Walk to the office. Do the one-hour workout class. Yoga. Swim if possible. Eat often but little. Abstain from alcohol. Aim to lose 10 pounds.

If it takes 2 days to pack, 2 days to unpack, and 2 weeks to lose weight for a 4 week trip, I suppose it’s worth it. Oh — did I mention jetlag? Time to get over your jetlag?

Other than these three items, I could list a hundred things I love about traveling. I will save that for another blog post.

Mozart’s Requiem to mourn a loss

Listen to Mozart’s Requiem on full blast to experience and mourn a loss.

Can anyone tell me the name of the movie in which a man and a woman date, get into a relationship, and split — the man listens to Mozart’s Requiem to cope with the break-up? The woman can read minds, so he is never private?

I watched that movie a long time ago — and developed a habit of listening to Mozart’s Requiem whenever I wanted to feel the sadness and tragedy of a situation.

When I returned to Maui recently, I came upon such an occasion. But my CD of Herbert von Karajan’s conducting Mozart’s Requiem was no longer with me. It’s probably among the entire collection of CDs that have vanished from my life — in Utrecht.

That in itself is cause for mourning.

Thanks to the Internet, I googled “Mozart’s Requiem” and listened to a version on Youtube. Much to my dissatisfaction at the slower pace and thinner texture, I searched for “Mozart’s Requiem Karajan” to find that particular version I knew and yearned.

Not only was I able to listen to the entire Requiem but also see the performers on Youtube. This nearly beats listening to the CD, except I have no stereo system. That too is gone.

What am I mourning? The loss of what is meaningful because the situation dictates it. What is meaningful comes from intention, be it a gift or purposeful acquisition. Over time, even that which was not intentionally and deliberately acquired could become meaningful if dwelled upon and appreciated.

Two weeks ago, I returned to London and took out what I had stored in suitcases, photo albums, and boxes — everything that I had wanted to keep and preserve in the secret loft. I was like a child again, returning home, surrounding myself with everything familiar and nearly forgotten in the years I’ve been away.

Sadly, after reducing my possessions by half, I had to store the remaining half away, boxed up and sealed. I don’t know when I will return again.

In the 10 hour flight to San Francisco, I bid farewell via two onboard movies and a nap. Flying westbound was a journey of goodbye, mourning of a reluctant loss.

Listen to Mozart’s Requiem on full blast — and you will experience a great tragedy.