On a chilly wet spring evening, I fought the drizzle and the descending darkness to get to a church near the bust stop. Jamaica Plain, or JP for short, was dead quiet, save those going into the famous ice cream shop.
I intercepted a young woman in a fluffy pink dress carrying what looked like a ukulele case. Concerned that I might have missed the event entirely, I asked if Bryan Tolentino was still inside. She nodded and pointed at the entrance to the First Baptist Church on Centre Street.
If you are as fanatic about playing the ukulele as I am, getting to and from a jam session could be an issue if the venue is relatively far and inconvenient and if it’s the first time (in case you get lost). If the jam experience is worth it, you’d find an alternative way to get there to make it less painful and arduous. I’m always surprised when seasoned ukulele players drive more than an hour through rush hour to come to our weekly ukulele jam sessions. It’s not always easy to find parking in our area. The first time, they say they are curious. If they come again, it’s a compliment. We’re doing something right.
It’s a mouthful, but every single word is significant. Today is the official summer solstice in 2018, otherwise known as the longest day of the year. Yesterday, being the Wednesday that my ukulele group meets each week, we gave our first public performance for the senior residents and staff members of a nearby building. Sunset is that magical time when you know the deadline of darkness is approaching, and everything must get done by then. To make it participative, we called our gig a singalong so the audience would be encouraged to join us in the singing. Standish Village is an award-winning assisted senior living residence, housed in a historic landmark building (no. 24 in this document), in Historic Lower Mills, just a short walk from Walter Baker Artists Lofts where we regularly meet to jam (or rehearse).
What’s noteworthy? One person had just learned how to play the ukulele three weeks ago in my crash course, four others had never performed on the ukulele before, and it was our first performance as a group.
If we celebrate birthdays, why not one for Mother Earth? Every April 22nd, people all over the world celebrate Earth Day in different ways. While I was living on Maui, I started using music to gather community and raise awareness for sustainability through concerts and jam sessions. It’s a combination of entertainment and education. The last one was my piano class joining forces with the ukulele class (video below). This year, Earth Day falls on Sunday 22nd April 2018, and I’m determined to do something special.
Eight years ago, I gave a paper on “house concerts for art music” to economists in love with music in Copenhagen. Today, Groupmuse is one of the grassroot initiatives that intermediates between artists and venue owners to realise such a concept. On Maui, I know of a clarinettist who produces these concerts from his home — always sold out. In and around Utrecht, I know of at least two. What are the issues that confront turning your private space into a concert venue for the public?
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.
This past January, I introduced myself in Joel Katz‘s intermediate ʻukulele class by announcing that I was downsizing from the nine foot grand piano to the less than two foot ʻukulele. People laughed.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t giving up the piano by any means. Rather, I was embracing the ʻukulele. It has my namesake after all: KU in ʻukulele.
In truth, I didn’t know what I was getting into. A few of my music students had shared their love of the instrument. One even gave me a hand-built ʻukulele stand as a parting gift. Eventually I succumbed to my usual thirst for novelty and variety.
A love song played over loud speakers at the 2015 annual Maui Okinawan Festival brought back memories of growing up on Okinawa.
At the annual Maui Okinawan Festival, I heard three youngsters announce the songs they would be dancing to. When one of them added “and this one is my favorite,” I took out my iPhone to record it and began my journey of discovering this famous song about the Okinawan instrument. Continue reading “The flower of sanshin: san shin no hana 三線の花”