Running songs for marathon

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?

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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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Three chord songs for ukulele and guitar

“What? I just need to know three chords to play a song?”

“Actually, you can play ‘Frere Jacques’ with just one chord. There are many songs with only two chords. I have identified at least thirty of these.”

I tell my ukulele students that 80% of all songs use only 20% of all chords. I apply the 80-20 rule to many situations, often to help with management of expectations.

So far I have collected over 60 songs that use only C, F, and G or G7 chords. My list of three chord songs that use three other chords, such as Riptide (Am, G, C), is nearly as long. This is wonderful news for beginners.

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Why are ukulele sales booming?

The only instrument that did not suffer a downturn in sales in London during the recent recession was the ukulele. The person who told me this has been researching ukulele clubs in the U.K. for her doctorate thesis. I have a hunch that it’s like chocolates during difficult times. People still want to reward themselves and feel good. The ukulele is that instrument. Am I right?

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99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and counting

There seems to be an inverse correlation between construction and longevity. The longer lasting the song, the simpler you can expect the harmonic and melodic structures to be.

A song I sang as a teenager on long and winding road trips was a riddle in counting backwards from 99 to one. The idea is that the more you drink, the harder it is to count backwards in a group. [Note: Back then, there was no such thing as drinking age, especially on the island of Okinawa!] Add another dimension of modulating it through the major triads based on the twelve notes in a chromatic scale and you will be sure to stay sober!

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A holiday away from paradise

Where do you go on holiday if you already live in paradise?

Most people, I daresay, imagine going on holiday as going somewhere to escape the daily routine, somewhere very different from their usual existence.

You can conjure up an image of sipping on an exotic cocktail at sunset in some mosquito-free tropical paradise. Or going on a ski holiday in the Swiss alps. Or a yoga holiday in the Himalayas.

A holiday is a place away from the hustle-bustle, far from the madding crowd.

When you work in a place as beautiful, clean, and uncrowded as the island of Maui, which has been voted the top traveller’s choice for 16 consecutive years by Conde Nast readers, it’s hard to imagine going anywhere for a holiday. Anywhere else would be “suboptimal” so to speak.

Where would I go on holiday if everyday is a holiday?

As I write, I am in an non-descript hotel in Taichung, Taiwan, on holiday. For the past 3 hours, I have been sitting on my single bed, reading articles on my iPad and listening to the heavy drops of rain and downpour.

Never mind the noise pollution, air pollution, and visual pollution (i.e. clutter). Urban traffic prevents a straight path on the sidewalk from the hotel to my destination.

But I am as happy as I can be.

Just yesterday, my friend in Taipei introduced me to the best eateries in her neighborhood. I was sad I couldn’t stay longer to sample them all. Before I left, we took photos of piano sheet music she’s collected over the years. [Bookmark this for a future blog post!]

In Taichung, the sunset market carried my favorite Chinese delicacies: pickled boneless chicken feet, pickled fish skin, green seaweed, steamed Shanghainese dumplings, home-made soya milk, and pearl bubble milk tea. Tomorrow we will feast on stir-fried eel. I count the number of meals I have left and hope I have enough time to digest each one before the next and that I won’t waste a meal opportunity on a bad choice.

It’s the contrast that we want between work and holiday. It’s also getting a distance from work to reflect upon life in a different environment, one in which you’re a temporary visitor.