Friday, July 29, 2011

Ukulele Melee

It should be noted (since I post on uke-related things from time to time) that my initial approach to the instrument was primarily practical.  I needed something "musical" for worship.  It needed to be informal and welcoming to reflect the nature and tone of our shorter and more sparsely-attended services in July and August.  It needed to be relatively easy to get started playing and--as I hopefully improve--it mustn't ever make me seem to say "Hey!  Look at me!  Awesome show-off musician here!".  Even today, when my enthusiasm for the instrument has grown, this remains its primary function.  I am a preacher, not a musician.  The uke is a tool for worship.

Of course, I do also love to play.  I usually find the time to "practice" every day.  I noodle about on it even more, drifting about the house with one of the sopranos.  This annoys the family very much.   Therefore, when my wife noticed that the first annual "Ukulele Melee" at the De Cordova museum was happening this Thursday (yesterday) it seemed worth checking out.  At the very least, it would give me a chance to see other people with the same interest.

I have been around enough to know that uke players rarely get invited to jam with other people.  Folks don't get together in Burbania and say "gee, what we need is more uke in this song".  They should, of course, but they don't.  Perhaps some day there will be a band for those of us who play weird instruments.  A uke, cowbell (and other odd percussion), recorder, wash-tub bass ensemble would rock!  Until then, ukists play with each other in loosely formed clubs and "meetups".  The "Melee" was an event sponsored by just such a group.

My travelling companion  was Son #3, who very much appreciated the free uke lesson.  While it wasn't an event for children per se, there were lots of kids.  Some were brought by their uke-obsessed parents.  Others were themselves uke-obsessed.  Then there were the kids of tired Burbanians looking for a distraction.  I should note that we were a mixed group in many ways.  The gender split was even.  The young hipsters mingled well with the aging sailors sporting banjo-ukes.  The Boomers were embraced as well.  My son got many pats on the head from the old men, particularly when he made me go back to the car so he could carry our Johnson soprano around.

There was also a uke builder there.  Daddy's Music was letting folks borrow Lanikai ukes for the strum-along.  The folks from Flea Market Music were also there.  It was a small market, but a nice one.  Jumpin' Jim Beloff was "in the building" selling his wares (the Flea and the Fluke as well as various other items).  Some folks were very excited to see him.  Yep, a genuine uke celebrity...

One guy was so excited he kept tugging at his partner yelling "That's him!  That's the guy!"

So, anyway, we came, we listened, and we played along.  The open-mic was a bit intimidating.  The strum-along was more my speed.  There was a group leader (playing a Flea) and a guy on wash-tub (see...synergy!) to keep the 40 (or so) uke-players--and the 80 (or so) singers--together.  The sound was quite awesome.  Son #3 enjoyed it and so did I.

While maneuvering toward my car (many players has set up their own mini-concerts and workshops all over De Cordova's lawn) I had to ask myself how church could be more like this.  Sure, this was the "Christmas and Easter" crowd.  Still, it was a group of people, both the dedicated and merely curious, who came together to hang out, have a good time, learn, and (possibly) form a community around a shared interest.  No doubt some folks made connections there that will help them on their journeys. People may "bowl alone" but they still play together, don't they?

 If I have the chance, I will go again.


Pau Hana 'Ukulele were the folks who make ukes.

Flea Market Music have that new, stunning banjo-uke.  I got to play it.  It is very, very nice.


...and finally, the Ukulele Union of Boston who sponsored the event.

PS...I am serious about the recorder thing.  Get in touch with me...really....


  1. Hey, we're just gearing for another Ukulele Melee--what a treat to read your post from a few years ago. Hope you can make it out again--that son should be old enough to drive you now!

  2. Sounds great Danno! Let us know where it will be (I think I "liked" you folks on FB so that may help. You should check out the other posts in the ukulele section. We started a Ukestra! ;-)