Friday, 31 July 2009

Babes and Ballads

More from the enterprising Fiona Clarke, who has been filling her house with ukulele players (see earlier post).

Her excellent Babes and Ballads website, which chronicles the goings-on of the only ladies-only choir in Salisbury, provides a link to a site full of Ukulele Beatles Fun, which offers 'self-improvement for free'.

I feel a huge bout of self-improvement coming on as I discover a brilliant collection of Beatles hits, complete with lyrics, chords, and - this is the clever bit - a wacking great picture of a uke showing you where to put your banana fingers.

As I head for another ukulele retreat over the next few days, I wonder whether Beethoven's Odey-oh-do is going to get a look in.

Ukes go viral

It’s official: the ukulele has gone viral. The Los Angeles Times reveals that demand for the plucky little instrument is outstripping supply.

‘The number of new players keeps going up,’ Mike DaSilva of Berkeley, who ditched a 20-year software career to make ukuleles, tells reporter Dan Fost.

Meanwhile, guitar maker C.F. Martin & Co, which stopped producing ukes in 1994 because they had become so unpopular, resumed in 2001 and is selling some of the handmade instruments for as much as $10,000 – which puts my 20-quid beauty slightly in the shade.

Last year, reports Fost, ‘rock journalist and self-described "ukuholic" Sylvie Simmons called for a "Million Uke March" – online only – in support of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.’

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro sums up the spirit of the thing, telling Dan Fost: ‘If everyone owned an ukulele, this world would be such a peaceful place.’ Right on, Shima.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Roger the Dodger

A chance meeting with uke-toting Proms director Roger Wright (right) before Haitink's Mahler on Monday night. 'I'm sorry,' he says cheerily, 'I haven't got time to give you a ukulele lesson now.' Blooming cheek.

But I can reveal that just like me, the jolly Roger has decided to become a tune man, eschewing the Ode to Joy chords. See his fingers and you understand why. Good and sturdy for holding a cricket bat, bit of a challenge on the pesky little frets of a ukulele.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Report from the front

The very wonderful Fiona Clarke left a comment here on 10 July with the startling news that she had 67 ukuleles all over her house in preparation for a mass uke workshop. I am glad to learn that she survived the experience and she sends this report:

'Boy, am I glad I don't run an orchestra. The tuning, the constant fiddling about with instruments would drive me ROUND THE BEND!

'However, we had a great evening and there was much amusement to be had with G string jokes all part of the evening's entertainment. There were around 75 people there and those who hadn't ordered a ukulele were given a complimentary kazoo. We did the chords for Israel Kamikawiwo's
Over the Rainbow and sang it through with the colours of the ukuleles being given a chord to play if they were unconfident with playing all six chords.'

Fiona sends this jolly picture of some of the merry ukers, adding cheekily: 'I hope your own plucking is giving you all the satisfaction you desire.' It certainly is, Fiona.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Discount Beethoven

Apologies for absence, ukulele enthusiasts. Affairs of state, and all that. But I am now on retreat and am happy to report a fevered rehearsal with my purple-uke toting accomplice. It was slightly delayed by a sudden need to play the entire repertoire for violin and piano, which took a while, but when the ukes had their turn there were some interesting discoveries.

For starters, I have confirmed my suspicion that some of the chords needed for the Beethoven are physically impossible to play, since they involve lots of fingers, and in very odd places. I've decided therefore that I am a tune man. Hang the accompaniment. My accomplice, however, being blessed with more graceful digits, can play the impossible, and is clearly a chord woman. Annoyingly, she can play the tune too, which I consider very bad form and nothing but Showing Off.

What's worse, not content to play the tune, the accomplice has taken to playing a descant instead. I feel this a cheap trick, and will now refer to it as discount Beethoven. So there.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Dressed for the part

All this concern about G strings has turned my mind to appropriate concert dress for joining a ukulele ensemble. Shades, obviously, as the uke has now been deemed cool. (Today's Metro reports that Rood End Primary School in Oldbury, West Midlands, has ditched its descant recorders and ordered 60 ukes because, says head teacher Barbara Carter, 'It's got more sreet cred'.)

Turning to YouTube for sartorial guidance I am impressed by a truly elegant ensemble across the Atlantic. Could this sort of thing catch on at the Proms?