My New Ukulele
There’s an exciting new trend sweeping the nation. Have you noticed, over the past few years, more ukuleles around you?
In 2011, the New York Times said the ukulele craze had reached a “saturation point.” That’s when Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam released his solo album, “Ukulele Songs.”
Vedder isn’t the only musician to help spread the fame of the ukulele. The uke may owe much of its current favor to a track recorded in 1988 by Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, a medley of Judy Garland’s “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” Over the next two decades, that track was featured in numerous movie and television soundtracks, including one of my favorite movies, “Fifty First Dates.”
Here in my community, we have a “Ukulele Orchestra.” That’s not as odd as it sounds. There are countless uke groups, classes and meetups throughout the country.
I play a little guitar. I mean, I play a normal-sized guitar, but only a little bit. I could have gone the easy way and bought a baritone ukulele, which has the same fingering as guitar. I decided that learning different chord shapes would make me a better musician, so I got a tenor ukulele.
I’m finding that playing uke is a lot different than guitar, but in many ways, easier. Soon, I’ll be joining the uke orchestra for our first meeting of the season. What will it be like to play ukulele with ten or more other people? I can’t help but think it will be silly, and that’s the point.
The uke is a happy, silly, instrument. We could use more happy and silly in the world right now.
I got my uke from Compass Music in Madeira Beach. The owner, Chris Rooney, is a fabulous musician with a soft spot for ukuleles. He helped me narrow down my uke choices by playing old rock songs on each one for me. I have yet to be able to make the uke I chose, a Kala, create any of the sounds he made it make, but I’m hopeful for the future.
Before he put my new uke in its case, he played me one more song on it, accompanying himself with a kazoo. I snapped a picture. You have to love a guy who can play a kazoo with class.
I think the ukulele trend is a good thing for America. Ukuleles are inexpensive, easy to learn and fun to play. Playing music is creative, meditative and social.
My father played ukulele. I remember him in his church pulpit, leading the congregation in old hymns with his uke. At the time, he made me cringe. Now, it’s a sweet memory. Perhaps I can make my kids cringe, too.
I’ve learned a few chords, and am working out the strumming. We’ll see what happens next.