I get to…. I get it.

I used to have to practice…I used to prop a book on the piano to ease the drudgery of scales.  Now I get to practice. As someone points out in the documentary ‘The Mighty Uke’,  no one ever remembers feeling bad during a ukulele lesson.

No one says you have to play more than 5 minutes at a stretch, to start with.  Small and soft enough to hide in a group. Surprisingly beautiful. Personal.  As much of a challenge as you wish.  Sweet sound.  If you can’t find a group to play with, in a coffee shop or a bar, buy your friend a uke and start your own group.

Or tune into the internet, a generous place to practice. You get to practice with some of the worst and the best teachers in the world. Some of the lessons are simple, someone just like you, posting a hard-won lesson.  On other sites…. 10 minutes…and you’ve got a new song. Inspiration, technique, a place to play along.

  • Two chord songs for beginners
  • Bach Partitas with John King
  • Over the Rainbow with Mike Lynch
  • Duets and trios with Guido Heistek
  • Feelin Groovy with James Hill
  • Ten-finger strum with James Shimabukuro….the best in the world.

I get to … try that simple word change, the next time you feel you ‘have’ to do something. I get to go to work.  I get to vote. I get to go home. I get to eat broccoli with cheese sauce. We get to go to the hospital.  We get to do chemo…or choose chemo.  My hundred year old friend in a nursing home is quarantined against visitors 50% of the year. When 5 people in her 200 person establishment have the flu,  she would die of loneliness if I didn’t decide that I get to break the rules sometimes.

Try it sometime…I get to, instead of I have to.

Try the ukulele sometime. Start by looking up two chord songs for beginners.  Or that song you always wanted to sing… for sure it’s on youtube with an easy ukulele version attached.  Or pick something way too difficult, start, try it, give it up, and try it again in a month.

These days I get to practice Fisher’s Hornpipe…with with Mark  O-Connor, Yoyo Ma and Edgar Meyers.  They’ve published their arrangement on the internet and I get to play along. Not on my fiddle, that may never happen, but I can chord along on the ukulele.

The difference between a fiddle and a violin?... you don't spill beer on a violin

The difference between a fiddle and a violin?… you don’t spill beer on a violin

Is everything about the music you ask… could be.  There’s a handy set of rules that go along with playing the fiddle or the uke that could fit anywhere. Play whenever you can. Play too hard and the sound suffers.  Start slow and work up to speed.  Play too loud and your friends won’t play with you.  Start with something easy.  It’s hard to practice, but it’s harder when you don’t practice.

I get to practice.  I finally get it.

youtube link….Fisher’s Hornpipe:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcRxMTw80e4

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Ukelele…the happiness fix

Ukelele…the unexpected fix of happiness. The sweetness of the sound counteracts the snobbishness you’ve been carrying since Tiny Tim. This instrument is like a little love affair, a hug, a belly laugh, a yearning to play under a Hawaiian sun, as relaxing as the happy dog at the end of a day.  After a week, the three basic chords are suddenly easy. After a month, you find you can sing three songs.  You start a group and meet every Monday night.  You each know one song. After six months you figure out how to transpose to an easier key, and can’t wait to learn another song.  After a year you try a Hawaiian strumming technique. You learn about the two-finger strum, the five-finger strum…yup, there’s a 10 finger strum. You live for more time…for more music.  The ukuleles outnumber the guitars in the group.

Yes 5...including a potlid banjolele.

We’re busy writing words for songs we don’t know how to say…in Hawaiian.  I start planning a long slow holiday walk. My ukelele case will double as a backpack. Who needs clothes. We singalong with 200 other people in a hall in Vancouver. We badger our friends to buy their own ipad so we can send them bluegrass songs. We sing, scratch, growl…breathy, out of tune….but we don’t actually care.

Never played an instrument? You might end up having too much fun to say ‘I can’t’.  It isn’t easy at first… but it’s a happy change of direction, so why not.  Lao Tzu said a long time ago, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are going.”

Need some inspiration? Google for it….then find a group to play with.

  • Jake Peters is one of our big inspirations….a luthier living in Didsbury, Alberta, building ukuleles for Hawaiian musicians, designing guitars and sharing his love of music and people at music camps and concerts. A great musician, a genius builder…an all around good human being. He plays a house music concert that touches some secret longing in each of our friends attending.
  • James Hill is another, who started ukulele in grade 4 in Langley BC.  Now, even the ‘cool’ people come to his concerts with ukuleles in hand. One part of the concert might be ‘Feelin’ Groovy’, so everyone can play along.   He is featured in a new documentary, made with super-uke-genius Jake Shimabukuro, the word on happy music according to ‘The Mighty Uke’. His old Langley school has such a remarkable ukulele program, they send a student cohort to Hawaii every year to delight and teach the tourists how to play. They learn traditional Hawaiian songs, and make you wish you’d kept that grade 4 uke.
  • Izzy of course, his golden voice combining two of the best songs in modern history, Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World.  And you find you can play along, be cause there are only 4 main chords….including C major, the easiest one finger chord. Just start with that, every time it comes around.
  • Virtuoso players like Jake Shimabukuro and Daniel Ho fill concert stages the world over and also generously populate you tube with (relatively) playable melodies.
  • Ukelele Mike, Kimo Hussey, Guido Heistek….all the wonderful you tube teachers.

Look em all up…and be dazzled by the best. Play along with the beginner lessons, doing the zen chord when your fingers hurt.  Don’t worry…they can’t hear you.

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…that was summer…

IMG_0779

stonefly husk

Sat in the river today, near this stonefly…took our camp chairs, a beer each, a few snacks and just sat in the middle of the river, feet cooling the brain… dog scouting out sticks along the banks, no mosquitos, no agenda, no car noises, no noise except the noises that belong to summer, the smell of clover and green, a tendril of sweat drying tight on warm skin, cooled by a small breeze…that was summer.

It’s a benign little creek… a fly fisherman showed me how to find caddis worm cases on rocks in the gently rippling water.  A new and unexpected world under each rock. A small 4-sided pyramid, delicate stripes reflecting the construction material, sand, stones … and silk … according to google.  Of course fisherman make equally marvellous flies, resembling these lovely pyramids.. transformations!

I asked a few friends about memorable summers…

Lying in a meadow, a field of violets with the hot sky pressing down around, the faint hum of a million insects, the smell of the earth… no job, no responsibility, freedom.  That was summer.

that was summer

A ‘Let’s go’ feeling with buddies, hiking and sleeping overnight with a can of beans and wieners, no gear, no bear spray, just kids hiking up the mountain in Waterton, where black bears were common… no fear, no one waiting, freedom.  That was summer.

A horse day, bareback, heading for the river, gang of friends, racing from one clump of aspen to another, they were forts actually, and we were being chased by the mounties…no…we were the mounties. Falling off frequently, bouncing back from risk.  Then tying the horses to trees and jumping in the river… no helmets, no one telling us to be careful, freedom.  That was summer.

Smashing rocks, watching smooth river stones crack open on a speckled vein of unexpected colour… no picture, no design, no customer….just the colour, freedom.  That was summer.

Caddisfly pyramids all the colours of stone. That’s summer.

 

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unexpected beauty

smudge

My current favourite photo (and moment of unexpected beauty) is of Smudge, beyond old, for a horse. Smudge got through yet another hard winter thanks to his best buddy, my husband Dave, who’s best moments are with the horses. His mission with Smudge is to make a day as ‘expected’, as ‘anxiety-free’ as possible. He approaches Smudge with a bucket, so Smudge doesn’t have to waste time being suspicious that someone might be bring him work.  With the bucket, Smudge knows that food is coming… steaming, warm, soft-soaked beet pulp…twice a day, with an extra feed on the really cold days. Life is beautiful, when you know for sure someone is looking after you.  Smudge is unexpectedly old, perhaps because of many ‘expected’ moments of being well cared for, from a human no less. Unexpected moments of beauty are everywhere…my job in this blog is to stop long enough to notice them.

first crocus

Flowers are always beautiful…but a little crocus, alone on a hill normally covered with crocus, one crocus, several weeks early, sheltering behind a small log, is unexpected. Maybe it’s the log, the sheltered place, that is the unexpected bit of beauty.

wall

 A rough exterior wall of a building, patched with a piece of plywood covered with wavering lines of beige epoxy, all of it sheltered by a blue metal roof…all of it plain in an industrial way, and….unexpectedly beautiful.

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