Friday, December 6, 2013

AirBnB brings savings, surprises, community and ukulele teachers

If you are open to them, surprises and serendipity can take you on journeys that are truly lovely. (I guess they can be truly ugly too, but I ain't talkin' bout that right now, or probly eva; why waste my life's breath?).

So with the following testimonial, I doth tangentially protest the current New York furore about giant hotel chains having their profits stolen by little old ladies and their youthful counterparts.

Community linking

Many years ago I was involved in a trading scheme called LETS in which I traded veges and other things. Mostly, though, it helped me make new friends, and catalysed the formation of a band for a dozen years. LETS was an invaluable community connection for me offering numerous surprises and opportunities for serendipity. This was the mid 90s and whilst it helped me make local connections, I was also part of a global research and activist community, courtesy of a new thing called the internet. Remember, it wasn't the www then, just the internet. 

The ukulele is doing exactly the same thing for me now, not only locally, but globally.  

The www is sooooo developed, it shapes our lives, and shapes our exposure to surprises, serendipity and organised chaos. The peer reviewed social networks are especially niche life changers, whilst the main webbie bits are transforming corporate America (and hence the globe). For capitalism, think Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, iTunes, and on and on.

For peer networking think Facebook (!), Freecycle, Car Share schemes, ukulele music networks ...

... and AirBnB.

You gotta spare room? Rent it out to international passers-by – but only if you want, and when it is convenient. You'll meet nice people; or get reviews about people who may not be your type (and hence you can say no). The peer-review mechanism allows you to get a fairly good idea of what sort of people you are getting yourself into.

For instance, in relation to Seattle, our host said …

Wow....I loved these guys....Mark, his wife and a friend stayed for 1 night and they were lovely. Respectful, quiet, clean and best of all great people....thanks you three

And our brief review said… Utterly delightful host and place. relation to a defacto suburban, probably illegal sorta hostel thingie in Vancouver, we mechanically said … Good clean central secure place.

They responded in slightly more effusive kind (entirely unwarranted – we really didn't have a 'host', just a poorly paid (probably exploited) 'manager' – we barely met her) … Mark and Jane were delightful, polite and lovely guests. They left our room tidy.

(oh that I'd be tidy at home!)

It is a shame that NYC and other places have banned it.

Whitianga, New Zealand, has not …

I like to write my blogs almost immediately, but I didn't get the chance after this choice experience. We stayed in this rather functional tourist town on the Coromandel Peninsula just because we wanted to. It was pure speculation. Google Maps suggested it was a hilly location. Nope.  Dead flat with obligatory tsunami evacuation route warning signs here and there. We found the cheap accomm – Sarah and Mike's – a rather functional inelegant house with a hallway that would be great for children's winter cricket. Despite initial Jane-like comments (you only take me to the best places darling) we stumbled well.

Sarah (non…non…Saha…possibly a francais pronunciation, possibly unique), our French host, was in the garden. We said hello, midst the strawberry picking frenzy we immediately embarked upon. Moustachioed Mike (for Movember) was suitably hirsute and a bit formidably Maori looking. Both of them the most delightful people ...

... we said ...

Staying with Sarah and Mike was the quintessential Air BnB experience. Absolutely lovely. We connected really well socially with them and they are both impeccable hosts making us so welcome in their humble house. We would have loved to have stayed longer but had to keep moving.

... they said …  

It was great to have Mark and Jane staying at our place. We learnt a lot about ukulele, and loved their workshop at our school!

And so, conversations turned, ukes mutually presented, vocations swapped. Mike is the school Maori teacher, 1st year graduate, brimming with 1st year passion and idealism, work a mere leap over the back fence.

Mark: Do they have uke at your school? I wonder if they would be interested in us doing an impromptu workshop?

Mike: Wow! I'll check it out first thing tomorrow, I reckon they would like that!

So it happened, and what a delight.

Into the arms of a loving school

We leapt the back fence into their charming kiwi school, armed with ukes and music, across the field, quizzical eyes on us and them.

What we loved most at first sight was the barefootedness. Kids everywhere with no shoes, running, playing, rejoicing in their childhood. Of course some were shod too. In Australia they would be shot by the principal, and immediately told to be shod.

We were (metaphorically) embraced by the music teacher who herded 25 or so kids ranging from 8 to 15 years old into the music room. Ukes were pulled out of the immense classroom set (Makalas) and after 25 minutes of teaching we had four uke parts, one amazing lead singer and a complete version of Royals by Lorde. Jane and I teach well as a team.We do have some video evidence, but are awaiting school permission.

Mission successful, we head back across the field, only to be waylaid by an enthusiastic prep-teacher who herded 3 classes into her one room to hear the visitors play some songs. (WTF do we play???!!!! We've never done a kids' concert before!). We managed to pull out of our proverbials a terribly played one-chord version of Kookaburra sits (electric wire etc), Hey Soul Sister (I can't believe little kids in late 2013 are aware of this 2010 pop song. I mean, they were three or something! But they sang with gusto), and Pokarekare Ana.
Note the kid on left pulling a face. Not the one in yellow.
That last song was good as we felt that any Maori kids would probably feel affirmed that some white fellas from Orstralia thought their song good enough to sing properly! In turn the kids sang us a song (along with that infernal pre-recorded music that invariably accompanies children in place of the now rare musically literate primary school teacher who can actually wield a piano, guitar or ukulele). 

The teacher so loved us that she shared with us the following song advice – Wonky Donkey – a kiwi classic.  

After extricating ourselves from endless children's questions we left Whitianga, drove for 40 minutes to reach a place 2 km away and gave a workshop to a grand total of 3 adults – not the greatest highlight of our trip (though our host was, as ever, delightful). It was rather eclipsed by our uplifting AirBnB and school adventure.

Back home ...

A week later, back home in Oz, I did a bit of internet surfing which went something like this. iPad in hand, otherwise occupied, wikipedia Whitianga, ooohhh, a link to the school, click on link ... I wonder if we get a mention in their newsletter? Et voila!
Ukulele workshop and MBAS music opportunities
We had a wonderful opportunity drop into our lap this Wednesday with the impromptu visit of Jane and Mark from NSW. They are in New Zealand to attend the ukulele festival and asked their host Mike Bennett if there was a ukulele group at our school that they could offer a short workshop to. What they didn’t know is that we have 200 students in Y3-6 alone, all of whom are learning the ukulele, and many more in Y7 and above who also have the ukulele as part of their learning programmes. With a bit of quick thinking we were able to find 25 children from Y4-8 to join them for what was an amazing half hour where Jane and Mark taught us to play Lorde’s song “Royals” in three parts. The fact that our students were so quickly able to pull this together with the help of Jane and Mark is testament to the “give it a go” attitude of our students and the excellent foundational music skills we have been able to help them develop.
The music education on offer at our school is extraordinary. There are very few other public schools that offer the same depth and breadth for students that we do from such an early age. I am in the process of collating our itinerant music requests for 2014, and once again we already … etc … 
à bientôt et kia ora! Whitianga.
We'll be back.
Et merci AirBnB.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Hubris and contrition

Hubris. Contrition. Neither word really grabs me. The first reeks, not only of its meaning, but of John Howard. It seemed to be his favourite word. That and the inappropriately used 'fulsomeness'.

The second reeks of insincere regret and apology. And my regrettable behaviour sometimes. And of apologetically insincere governments. And of ... “I'm sorry you feel that way about what I said”. Not a real apology at all.

But we'll look up the meanings of the words after a short word from our sponsor.

Rant of Contrition in a room full of mentors
In the fulsomeness ( – later) of time I do wonder if I will feel more contrite. I guess I could feel no worse than I regretfully did yesterday arvo, for my hubris was in full flight during our workshop. We were the support act for James Hill's teacher training session at the New Zealand Ukulele Festival. In attendance at our session was James Himself, still my favourite ukulele player in the world, still my favourite teacher. Such style, skill, grace, expertise, humility, humour, dry wit, compassion. He is the Dalai Lama of ukulele. Genuine, deep. James! I love you!

Also there was Dave Parker, from New Zealand's favourite original ukuleletrio. Everywhere we gave a uke workshop in NZ, or stuck even a small part of an ukulele above the public parapet, the phrase was "have you heard of The Nukes?", … or … “The Nukes were here this year and they had 85 people at their workshop". (Thanks for that. Thanks for reminding me that we only had 3 people at our Flaxmill Bay ukestration workshop, and that I lost it (internally) with a woman who refused to acknowledge that her fingers who doing things her brain refused to let her believe that they were doing).

But back to Dave (ever so briefly). Dave is the awkward thin edge of the wedge – how does one coin a term that no-one seems to have yet used? – ukestration – and then talk comfortably with someone who also seems to have coined the term? Tell me that Mr Trademark Lawyer! (probably rightfully so, we were told by the powers that be that we could not use the word 'ukestra' to describe what we do, at least not in any exclusive way. Oh the hubris).

And then there were other god/mentors. Age (yes – his name), and Steve (that too). Both from the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra. Oh my. They were the first ukulele band to inspire our ukestra – probably moreso than the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. They were at OUR workshop! Wow. What a privilege, that people of their stature and history in our own nascent development were coming along (albeit scheduled as an afterthought to the James Hill workshop) to see what we do!

Well you blew that, didn't you Mark Jackson? Possibly for the millionth time in your own professional history.

The Act of Hubris
So this is what happened.

In introducing ourselves, and our workshop, I had to contextualise. (and so I continue to tangentialise in order to further contextualise. Go on – look up you unrepresentative swill – and while you're at it – look up some other Paul Keating classics).

You see. We are getting lots of affirmations that we are really quite good (I wanted to say REALLY good, but I didn't want to display too much hubris). In 2011 the Ukastle Ukestra were awarded the Melbourne Ukulele Festival's 'Golden Ukulele'. It was our first big ukulele festival debut. Whoa. And yes. I get all the wry humour around a cheap plastic ukulele being spray painted gold, and having scrawled on it in texta “Golden Ukulele”.
But peer acknowledgement is peer acknowledgement. Man that was an ego expander. Thank-you, thank-you very much. “I'd like to thank God, my family, and my Attorney”, (as Bob Slacks once so famously said). And if I needed any further ego embellishment, I only had to stumble across this video (starts at the relevant bit).

And then the ukulele teaching business in Newcastle just keeps growing and growing, until there are two of us making a reasonable living out of it. Not heaps, mind you, just reasonable.

And then we are able to go overseas a bit. And someone holds the ukulele pa back home. (look it up. It's a maori word – it means 'fort').

And then we have groups in other nations say to us – “What you do is really different. It's really good!”

And then two Vietnamese television stations vie over rights to interview us, once again proving that Mark has far more hubris than dear Jane (not to mention a subtle condescending racist undertone in his interview technique with Vietnamese audiences).

And back home people come up to us heaps and tell us how the ukulele has changed their lives and thank-you so much for introducing it to me and my husband etc. etc.

And then our own press releases start to tell us how good we are.

And then, and then. And then we are supporting our own mentor – James Hill – in New Zealand.

And then – back to the WIUO, and the presence of Age and Steve.

So back in 2011, back at the Melbourne Ukulele Festival, after our debut performance, a highly esteemed elder of the Australian Ukulele Community (I can't help myself – it was Rose), came up to us and said “you guys are fabulous, I reckon you are better than the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra”.

Jaw Drop. Get out! Wow. Oh my. Oh my hat. Wow. Thank you Rose. I'll keep that under my hat. And then Rose said “I don't care, put it in your blurbs”. We never did. Until now. And what a way to release it.

So. At our workshop here – with James, Age, Steve, Dave (and 50 other people) – all present in the room, checking us out. I choose now to release that little snippet. Great. I reserve the word 'dickhead' to apply to myself at times like these. ... dickhead dickhead dickhead …conceited, boastful dickhead...

The only way to assuage my sins, to work it out, or perhaps to make things worse, is to write it in a blog.

I'm sorry. I am such a conceited idiot.

And I bet Age and Steve came away from the workshop going – “well, there goes a dickhead. We won't talk to him again”.

...but ... but ... but ... I love you guys! You have inspired so much!


excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.

  1. sincere penitence or remorse.
  2. Theology . sorrow for and detestation of sin with a true purpose of amendment, arising from a love of God for His own perfections (perfect contrition) or from some inferior motive, as fear of divine punishment (imperfect contrition)

I am certain my contrition is the latter (2b).

And for good measure

1. offensive to good taste, especially as being excessive; overdone or gross: fulsome praise that embarrassed her deeply; fulsome décor.
2. disgusting; sickening; repulsive: a table heaped with fulsome mounds of greasy foods.
3. excessively or insincerely lavish: fulsome admiration.
4. encompassing all aspects; comprehensive: a fulsome survey of the political situation in Central America.
5. abundant or copious.

And so endeth the fulsome rant (meaning 1 or 2) and the tossed and turned sleeplessness. Back to bed. We have a rather large day ahead of us with 3000 children, 8 of ours, and burgeoning egos.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Don't dare ask - because it Matamata(s)

Dannie is a ten year old ukulele player, swiftly growing in confidence and skill in singing and uke.  And in perspicacity. We both teach her in different classes. She's disconcertingly observant about how Jane and I differ in our approaches to the world.
We are probably an interesting couple to observe. For me this becomes evident when preparing for travel - she stressie and packie before we leave - intejecting with occasional "can't we just stay home?!?!"  Me - relaxed, last minute. Have a casual chat to a distant friend on Skype. Get roused on to pack and leave.

I do initiate, plan and communicate the majority of our sojourns. I am very organised in so many regards. But like all of us (he says hopefully), I do have the rare personal flaw. For instance, I like thinking about cooking dinner, planning, shopping, chopping, creating, doing most of it, but then finding some distraction to waylay completion. Jane will finish it.
The final ukestration workshop booking in New Zealand only fell into place on the day before we left, and much of it is rather on spec, swayed by the desires to go here or there, a familiar place, a free bed, an old acquaintance, an opportunity. It's a lot of chasing. But someone has to finish serving up the meal. Guess who that is?

And just to add to the last minute mayhem and Jane's stress levels, on the way to Sydney, we get a call. It's a festival. "We lost most of your application, but we are interested. Can you get us this, this and this and the names of 22 people who will definitely come, and get it to us in the next few hours?"

Gee. Thanks. Only have to sleep and then catch a plane.

But Miss Stressie pulls it all together, talks on the phone like the consummate professional she is, writes stuff, orders me around, calls 20 people, gets up at 2am to deal with something worrying her, and we get it all back to the festival before we leave for Sydney airport. Gotta love her. Gotta love the pace of life. You wouldn't do it otherwise would you?!

No guarantees on the festival, but damn! we hope we get in!

We also accepted an offer this week to tutor at a legendary week long folk music camp in the redwood forests of Northern California. Lark Camp still needs confirmation, and linking in with other potential opportunities. In this same week we also committed to performing at the Hawaii Ukulele Festival again (our 4th year). We have a bunch of keen talented ukers and singers indicating their commitment as well, so that'll be fun. This was after Sunday where we helped coordinate some 200 people to perform to some 400+ audience. 5 hours with one soft drink and no breaks.

And so. Do I hear you occasionally ask ... why do these people who are just helping others to play music getting paid?

See the title of this post.

What I really love about our work is that we are paid to be a focus for opportunities. Business 'men' keep their eye out for opportunities to make money. We keep our ears out for opportunities to help others make music. And the opportunities that we find (and create) only arise because we can make a living from it.
And praise be to that!!!
Written from a little standard cabin in a caravan park overlooking hot thermal mineral pools - max temp 39deg. Matamata, New Zealand. 
p.s. Miss Stressie is having a great time.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Don't write off a Root Canal in Thailand.

I'm tired. It's late. I'm sitting amongst a planeload of ozzies, heading for Phuket, Thailand from KL. Everyone Australian, broad accents blazing.

This trip is precipated by a Charlestown Endodontist telling me that I owed him $2500 if I wanted my tooth fixed. My lateral and cheapskate mind immediately crossed into holiday and Thailand. So here I am.

However I also thought ....

"if I am ever to write up some sort of manual about things ukestran, then I need to get away from the dishes, and teaching, and my favourite beach and woman I love wiling and working away the hours with".

So here I am.

The flight from Sydney to KL was a daytime one, potentially 8 hours of writing. I spent a considerable amount of time doing that, a good start.

But the whole process is a bit fraught. What am I writing? In what voice am I writing? Who is the audience? What is my goal? How much can I sell it for? Or is this something that I should share freely?

If I talk publically like this, tiredly, on a 1:25 minute flight from KL to Phuket, maybe I'll get some clarity (as long as those pissheads a few seats ahead of me keep a lid on it).

3 years and 11 months ago I started off, flying blind, teaching ukulele, no quals, no clue, just a bunch of personality, musicality and a supportive inquisitive partner. Within 6 months it seemed like I had the makings of some sort of business. 18 months later we lead a bunch of people to perform at the Hawaii Ukulele Festival. 30 months after starting, the curious love partner also became my business partner and we were developing a name for ourselves at ukulele festivals and clubs around Australia, in Canada and in the USA. Our 'approach', dubbed 'ukestation', was apparently unique and fun.


Then just the other day a peer burst our bubble - "Pardon me if this seems naive or rude, but isn't 'ukestration' just arranging for ukulele'?

Bursted.... but not ... 

Because... hang on ... aren't we making a reasonable living? Aren't we working hard? Don't people all over the globe tell us that what we are doing is unique? Don't we get people each week telling us how much joy and life affirmation they are getting from their weekly participation in Hunter Ukestras?

Yes. All that is true. But so too is Yanai's bald statement.

So here I am, needing to justify what we do, because it is about time. Perhaps it will be in some novella form, perhaps in some first person bloggy rant like this, perhaps in some nebulous 'business in a box' form. Still not sure. Won't be sure until I sit down in my writers' garret, my hideaway Manohra Cozy Village near the Kata Art Dental Clinic, and just a short open sewer walk up from the indescribable Thai beach which no doubt will not rival the beach back home.

Beware the charlatan insurance snake oil salesman crying "Franchise!"

About a year ago, we had a guy come and sit on our front verandah. We needed insurance and he was some sort of broker. But he was more than that. This guy reckoned that we were on to a good thing, and he could help us spread the business model around the world. And he'd only take 30% of all future income. Forever. Bargain. I suppose I'm not the sorta guy that jumps at those get rich quick schemes.

Pffftttt. Thanks for the loving help.

Others have said similar things, though in a less charlatan manner. On our recent 'tour' of the west coast of the USA, we talked incessantly about how we might spread the ukestration gospel.

So now it is crunch time. I have to get stuff down on paper (metaphorically) that can get the approval of the business partner, and some sort of agreement from Danielle who has put a lot of effort into developing (at our behest) a 'ukestra curriculum'.

Is it possible to get coherent writing and cogitating amidst root canal therapy (saving of $2000), appointments for new glasses (?savings of $3-400) and a haircut (saving of $20?)? Not to mention all the distractions of a supposed island paradise.

P.s. I'm here now. The garret is a shithole. Good luck with that.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Adjust your medication – you can sing ...

I love that feeling in my gut, but I have to watch myself as it is often followed by a tear or somesuch. For it happened again today at Seaview Clinic, my private mental health ward. Sadly, it doesn't happen all that often.

This is a rave about singing, about our societal delusion that we can't sing, about doing music in a mental health ward, and about Sam's singing. Click on the link to have Sam serenade you while I ramble on...

The Musical Mental Health Context
Seaview, where I have worked as a musician every Friday afternoon for the last 5-6 years, is the last vestige of my previous vocation as a mental health worker. The vibe at the weekly session really depends upon who is in, and with what illness symptoms. Suffice to say that I can tell the predominating mood or illness - even one person in a 'high' phase of bipolar disorder can shift the mood of the room, and of me. The strategy at these times is generally to try and 'keep a lid' on things, though not too much. I enjoy a bit of joyous mania as much as the next person!

However, if most people are in there to have their medication adjusted for depression, then my role is more one of holding a mood of quiet respect, joy, hope and optimism. It's relatively easy to do when music is your primary tool, and when one is accepting of the vagaries of mental health and has an appropriate modicum of 'there, but for the grace of God, go I'. It is a sad indictment on broader society that mental illness is still so marginalised in our communities. (So here I am, concealing identities, even that of the clinic!)

Seaview's patients are rarely 'florid', and have relatively mild symptoms. The public hospital system is universally acknowledged as being the more out there 'nuthouse'.  Here is also a place for 'drying out', and I find that the people with substance abuse issues are more natural, and even display a sort of guilty pleasure and cheekiness. It's a funny mental illness that one. The mental illness you have when you don't have a mental illness, or when you are trying to self-medicate your way out of one. I suppose I don't understand it, not being much of a drinker. But I do get the sort of intouchness that these people have with the edginess of life, and the aforesaid cheekiness.

Oh the joys and privileged safety of the privately health-insured. Coal miners who are drying out from their marijuana addiction so they can keep their 150 grand a year job; doctors who quietly reveal their vocation; school teachers who are cautious to acknowledge that they know me from another context.

And then there are the age differences. As a musician I appreciate having a diverse repertoire, part of my sanity preserver. There are the old ladies who enjoy an old Tin Pan Alley tune; the occasional school kid who likes more modern pop; my peers who revel in a fondly remembered rousing pub version of Khe Sanh (then marvel for the first time at the lyrics of a man returned from Vietnam with post-traumatic stress disorder). And then there are the young funksters who like some ACDC or 'folk metal'. (What the hell is folk metal??!!!!).

Just your average everyday girls. "There but for the ..."
So today, after a couple of months of not having any funky young women attending my one hour music session, I am deluged, with engagement. I'm sure they are on the ward frequently, but are often way too scared, cool, or unwell to come out of their musical bedroom, or reluctant to pull away from the computer screens (large and small) which provide such wonderfully isolating and individually tailored satisfaction.

Three young women impress me. The girl with the straight bob haircut who likes ACDC and aspires to playing banjo; the blue haired one who plays fiddle and likes 'folk metal'; and the gorgeous Sam who stole my heart. They all steal my heart in different ways, not least because so much potential and talent is often submerged in anguish.

All the girls are somewhere between 17 and 25 I'd reckon, but it's so hard to tell when everyone's skin is so smooth and fine, especially in contrast to mine.

When asked about whether she plays an instrument, Sam immediately volunteers that she sings. I comment how rare it is that people admit to singing, then I ramble on about how much I hate that our culture says that you have to be famous to sing, even to be allowed to sing. It is a dramatic, yet rarely acknowledged symptom of a society-wide cultural mental illness. It is a malaise that many other cultures do not suffer, a delusion they do not know.

I think we need a mental health program for us to get over our greatest delusion – that we can't sing. 

Not singing.
Ha! Tom Waits can't sing, nor Mark Knopfler, Leonard Cohen; let's not even mention Sir Bob. Shockers, the lot of them.  But they deliver. Heart and soul theft is nigh, regardless of throat nodules and other biological impediments.

Nevertheless, the attacks on our ability to sing are constant and replete.

My family says I shouldn't sing. 

                My husband says I will break mirrors. 

... and just as bad ...

Boy you can sing! You should go on The Voice!

My blah blah bullshit bullshit.


We can sing. We should sing.

But anyway, back to Sam.

I sing. At funerals.
She had sung at funerals for the family, and played flute until Year 8. But that sounded like a way to get into the school she wanted, and once the school admission was approved, music seemed to be relegated back to the cupboard.

So Sam could sing. Listen to her.

The first whispers encouraged by me.

The feeling in my gut.

Listen to her.

Can you hear the tones?

         The nuances?
                 The relatively unaffected inflections ... not yet perverted by copying too many US pop princesses?

... Listen to her ...

... don't you love it?...

... don't you love her? ...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My Ted (n Betty) talk

Ted Campbell - Ukulele Player
Six weeks ago 83 year old Ted was still playing ukulele in the LakeMacUkestra. Six months ago he was hauling my PA in for the Tuesday evening group: every week, sometimes twice a week.

Jane n I sang today at Ted's funeral, “I'll see you in my dreams”, the song Joe Brown sang at The Concert for George. A small group of ukestrans then sang and strummed his coffin and cortege away – to the tune of “Don't Sing Aloha When I Go”. Ted was an everlasting ox - until one of those diseases that are meant to get you, got him.

Three reasons make my work worthwhile - Music, Community, and It's a Living. These pillars formed the backbone of my TEDxNewy talk, back in 2010.

It is #2 which underpins this Ted talk.

Ted and Betty came along in the first few weeks of 2010, just after the ukulele group had started. Since then they have rarely missed a Tuesday night. They performed at all the local festivals; took their motor home to festivals further away, except Hawai'i - you can't take a motor home to Hawai'i. But they went anyway, performed for ten minutes in the 2011 Hawai'i Ukulele Festival with 20 or so fellow Ukestrans, then went off on a ten day cruise around the islands. How I so love these tales, tales of people in their 80s being able to tell fresh stories of their active lives. Much better than watching the telly.
Ted made our first Ukastle Ukestra sign. He made, and sold, ukulele holders that attached onto music stands. Our greatest difficulty on Tuesday nights was drink spillage. So Ted invented a drink holder. I think sales of them funded a few beers for Ted.

I only visited their house for the first time the other day. We had scheduled to visit Ted n Betty Saturday afternoon, knowing that Ted wasn't at all well. But we got a call just before we were about to visit - Ted had passed away that morning. Nevertheless, we kept to our plans as we heard Betty was there. Susie, another Ukestran, was there for much of the day as the family still had to arrive.

We banged on all the doors, but deaf-as-a-post-Betty couldn't hear inside her darkened house, hermetically sealed from the traffic noise of the main road. We could see her fussing about, through the windows. Eventually she saw us.

About four walls were dedicated to the productive and reproductive life of Betty n Ted. Beautiful photos, and portraiture shots that everyone has. Though not everyone has a wall dedicated to your 60th wedding anniversary - official Congratulations letters from Betty Windsor, Barry O'Farrell, Quentin Bryce, Julia Gillard, etc., etc. You can't really lie about your age when you have that sort of thing on your wall!

But one thing really struck me as Ted's essential legacy - the floor. The lounge room floor is a beautiful sprung wooden dance floor, because 'the dance group needed one when the hall down the road closed'. In the corner, the familiar bags, instruments and detritus of any ukulele player.

Ted n Betty are testament to the benefits of a life lived actively and socially, creating and participating in community wherever they go. As a couple they were inseparable, but all of us need more than just the each other of any dynamic duo. We need broader community – the richness within which we swim, the safety net when we, or our partner, falls. 'Families' and 'economies' may be the lexical currency of elections; 'community' not so much. No government creates that for us. 'We' create 'community' ourselves, through dancing, music, children, school, tree planting, drinking, sport, work - through the myriad activities we do every day, morning, evening, afternoon or weekend – usually in an unpaid capacity.

In their life Ted n Betty, like most of us, had children and school, but I'm sure it was the dancing and music that sustained them most in their latter years. For three or more decades they were the backbone of the 'Rainbow Room' – a community of people who shared a love of dancing and concerts every Saturday night. Only in the last 3-4 years had they switched their focus to the ukulele. So we were privileged to have them. The dynamic duo sang 'Boots are made for walking' on microphone, and would argue about who it was who came in at the wrong time. This little clip shows Ted's care for everyone, and for every step he took, but it also speaks volumes of the loving relationship that he and Betty have.

At the funeral his son spoke of Ted's recent love of the ukulele. Gary said that of all the stories of the Ted n Betty travels that they would tell, the trip to Hawai'i was the one Ted loved the most. This reflects what I really value about our work. That people, even in their twilight years, can create new stories to tell loved ones or to share with a drinking buddy.

Surely the richness of our lives is measured in the stories we tell, and it is up to us to enthusiastically participate in life enough that we do actively continue to create our own stories. By his own account I think that Ted, the 83 year old concrete batcher / truck driver, had a very rich life indeed.

Vale Ted Campbell
13 June 1930 - 17 August 2013

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Droning on about the ukulele

It's a fine line between offending a nation and impressing an audience with one's dubious sense of humour.

At the end of last night's workshop in Chico a woman very purposefully walked up and said "keep on doing those drone comments, people need to be reminded of that". Usually the comments are ... "keep on playing music, you bring so much joy to so many people".

But no, it was the drone quip. The teaching moment went something like this:

..."finding your position for a chord or scale up the neck is helped by sliding your finger, seeking out your target fret with the precision of an American drone" .... pause ... laughter (from some).
No drones were encountered in the writing of this blog

The politics and history of the ukulele
I do get worried in these situations, particularly given the wide variety of values that ukulele people hold, but I also cherish that diversity. We come together over the uke, devoid of politics. Unless, of course, you are Dan Scanlon, or Jake Shimabukuro, or me.

Jake says it without argument, evidence or substantiation - the ukulele can bring peace to the world. A pleasant phrase to say at an important gathering.

Me, I gave a TED talk a couple of years ago where I said the ukulele is as much about its ability to bring people together, as about its music. This is inherently political, particularly in an age where we are herded into the individualism of consumption or television or poker machines etc. Music and dance is how we celebrate, express and grieve, together, as a community. Not with the push of a button, but with all of our physical bodies. Unfortunately so many of us haoles (Hawaiian for 'white fella') have lost that ability. The uke is our easiest pathway to reintroduce music-making to our lives.

Dan Scanlon is the guy on 'The Mighty Uke' who says "There's a lot of music in the ukulele ... a lot of music". He is a wise, (wizened is not yet the right word - give him another ten years), wily, twinkling and welcoming man. Joan and he welcomed us into their house, about 11:00pm, after being lost on the back  roads of Nevada County in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Nearby city - Grass Valley - was built in a rush of gold, like Maldon or Carcoar. Substantial two storey brick buildings, narrow winding streets, button-cute.  A city which is a town by any other Australian name.

At midnight Dan gave me a live, if occasionally out-of-tune, history lesson of the uke, in his house where the walls themselves are its history. The braguinha, the rajoa, an original Manuel Nunes ukulele - an unholy Hawaiian alliance / bastardisation of the Maderian instruments. And the experiments - the tiple (10 string), the taropatch (8),  the one I don't remember. All of them there, to lift off the wall, try out and compare, right here, right now. Such an opportunity, I am privileged, if somewhat tired, but his history is definitive, and based on a wonderful collection of direct connections. You can read about it here.

Dan has similar views to me. He has been playing uke since 1961. I've been playing on the earth since 1962. He likes lyrical quips that speak to his politics - replacing 'cannonballs' with 'drones' in Bob Dylan's 'Blowing in the Wind.

Droning on about urban planning and civic pride.
The small town politics and geography of American civic life is fascinatingly different to ours in Australia. Cities with populations of 50-100,000 abound. It is almost as if there is a very neatly groomed and parochially loved Bendigo or Maitland around every highway turn. Cities that singularly pay tribute to their benevolent white founder (and maybe his wife - for the parks, or the school grounds). Cities that pack a two storey brick punch, recently sullied by non-descript shopping malls and their fossilising carparks.

Such gathered and tasteful civic pride seems rare in Australia. We cluster, proud of the fact that we live by the beach, that we own a jetski, or dirtbike. We have more embraced the latterday American penchant for conspicuous consumption, tarred to within an inch of the shopping mall's entrance. Or maintain a vigilant civic pride over dusty outback mainstreets and their important pub facades.
Civic pride - Mendocino style

In contrast, places like Chico seem to rest proudly on the laurels, oaks and elms that line the platted streets, the legacy of 1860 founders John and Annie Bidwell. The city centre is white, coffee-shop lined, idyllic. But just beyond the city limits is the most enormous monocultured Great Central Valley of California, staffed by the underpaid Mexicans labourers whose language now seems to dominate the Californian lingua-franca.

You must have a valid passport to travel
The ukulele has been my passport and lingua franca for 3 weeks, the conduit to making friends, to entering other people's lives, to understanding and enjoying the diversity of American life, politics and geography.

Dan and Joan's valley perched terrace (where their double bed is located in summer) is a fit place to muse, midst medicinal gardens, walls of ukuleles, seven county vistas and sugar feeders, from where you can swat the flitting hummingbirds like blowflies.
The local blowflies
I should reserve the word bucolic for times like these, but on this trip I have sprinkled the word far too liberally. These are my people.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Once is a mistake. Twice is a theme

Hold on to your precious moments. Last night was one of those, a perfect gig.

Inland from the Oregon coast is an arc of volcanoes, part of the Pacific Rim of Fire. We first saw The Cascades two years ago when, ignominiously, we were thrown off our flight from Vancouver to LA and forced to catch two flights hopping down the coast via Portland. On our left reared these mighty volcanoes in various stages of aliveness. Mt St Helens, Mt Adams, Mt Rainier, Mt Hood. Spectacular from an aircraft. Wouldn't it be great to visit there one day?
The end of Mt St Helen's as they knew it.

I now sit at dawn behind the range, staring west at the Three Sisters, from our humble abode in the town of Sisters. Another perfect ukulele host, Peggy, has let us occupy her granny flat for our sojourn in Central Oregon.

We are on the eastern side of the range. The sunrise should be spectacular on the snow flanked peaks. This is 'high desert' in Bend and Sisters, a place which you'd think would be forsaken to the coyotes and sagebrush, but which actually has a city the size of Bendigo, populated by plain people with a mix of outdoorsie environmental types. Erratum - just slightly smaller than Bendigo - in name and in population. Bend has 80,000 people. Bendigo has 100,000 people and three more letters. It almost seems like the Ecotopia that Ernest Callenbach wrote of does exist. They have just made pot legal in Washington State.

OK. I exaggerate. But not about the pot.

Sisters is only 2,000 people, with a city planning order that deems that any new construction must look like a 'western' cowboy town. You gotta do what you gotta do when the logging industry that you once relied on just dies. They have managed the transition to eco tourism well.

The best little whorehouse in Sisters
Bronco Billy's is the town's saloon. Built in 1912, it seems like a two story rickety building (I presume the City ensures its structural integrity). Swinging doors, and a long upstairs room that feels like it was once the rooms of an old whorehouse.

We met, we performed, we separated.
The best little whorehouse in Sisters. Horny devils.
Into the long upstairs room we crammed 30-40 people, who came along to see us, a trio who had barely met each other. We rehearsed pretty much in the arvo, and expected hardly anyone at all. But it turned out to be a spectacularly successful evening. The most fundamental thing to go wrong was the weather, so we had to decamp inside. That was fortunate because we had a loaned PA system, with no microphone stand. Upstairs was so acoustically perfect, we didn't need it.

So we performed entirely acoustically (except for the bass amp). In my opinion nothing can replace an acoustic performance. It is superb as a performer, and (insert some other grandiose adjective) as an audience. The last time I remember such an acoustically wonderful space and performance was the debut of the Bendigo Folk Club in the dungeon of the Gold Mines Hotel.

We put together a set of songs that were reasonably complementary, Kevin's Texas honourings, our mellow Australian reflections. Jane's n my voices blended well, and Jane blended superbly and smoothly on Kevin's songs. I didn't offend anyone with my verbal offerings. Bonus. Who'da thought you could capture an audience with just three ukes, three voices and no PA!? We did and the audience listened and appreciated every note (or so it felt).

In our newly acquired vocations, as community musicians, performing is a financially risky luxury. Unless you are famous, or virtuosic, or you have an excellent PR team who spend lots of your unearned money, the chance of getting people along to pay is pretty spartan. We now know that people are keen to pay for tuition and active participation, but to passively sit back and listen, that is a different offering and expectation for which many are unwilling to release their grip on the TV remote.

Mr Carroll doesn't need a guitar.
Kevin Carroll is a professional listener.
Kevin. Listening. Silver Lake, Oregon.
He identifies musical spaces and occupies them with taste, slide and silence. He has the first musical skill: listening. He is engaged by, and engages the music around him and all he needs to express himself is a ukulele. He used to be a country rock guitarist but has forsaken that rather tourbus laden lifestyle for a pared back one, with a pared back instrument. The country still infuses his MyaMoe Ukulele stylings, a bottle slide here, a judicious fill or chord there. He is an utter pleasure to perform wit (sic), and the one original song of his that we played is one that stays with you in your sleep and gently wakes you in the morning, with its vaguely Lennonesque lyrics and gently hooked chorus.

Entertain and include
The evening was well rounded off by a jam with the participants from our Sisters (Tuesday) and Bend (Wednesday) workshops, performing the songs that we had learned. After everyone had left, dear Nancy from Bend insisted that we do Price Tag (we kept forgetting it - perhaps conveniently). She is a great player of uke, a nice singer and an endearingly enthusiastic participant. On Wednesday night she was the only person who indicated they she was planning on coming over to Sisters for our concert. It is fortunate that she brought others - a 30 minute drive is rather hazardous for the blind.

Performers are nothing without an audience, but an audience needs to be trained. These were a well trained and well behaved mob. Bless a good audience.

Conclusion. Or not. Mistake. Or not.
Our main problem on this trip (ostensibly our last to these parts as we are finished our obligations to the James Hill course) has been the constant offers to 'see you next year' at this or that festival / event / weekend, and the guarantees or recommendations that more people will come along. The temptations of Ottawa, Toronto, Sisters, Bellingham, are ever present. We shall see what 2014 brings.

My toes are freezing. Peggy said last night that a frost can occur here on any day of the year. As a gardener this provides a particular challenge. Today we venture further south, back into the coastal valley and to places where my toes will be warm and the smoke from the bushfire haze is thick. (I have just read that Vancouver has had its driest July ever. Forgive me father, for I have carbon-sinned). Two more ukestration workshops to go with Kevin, then 3 more without. We are busy beavers.

Kevin made a mistake last night, starting his solo early in a part of the song that wasn't for him, but he recognised the mistake after a note or two. What does one do in those musical situations?

You use it. Once is a mistake. Twice is a musical theme.

Why did we come here? Because of an email error, because people are encouraging, and because we ran into some really nice people in a pub on Vancouver Island two years ago.

Be open to happy coincidences and mistakes, in music and in life.

Monday, July 29, 2013

These are my people ...

My great friends, Chris, Steve and Aaron, are bastards. But I love(d) them. We were in a band for a dozen years, I was the sober one who drove home 200km after a gig and would be the brunt of jokes and the teasing during the post-gig Tarago incarcerations. It is my profession.
The original Tarago felons - Chris, SirDressedintheDarkaLot, Steve, Aaron - collectively - voicepopfoible

I am back again in the metaphorical Tarago but now with only two ukulele toting bandmates, one of whom is my love.  The other is a new ring-in who has spent many a year on the road, in planes and on stages playing BIG gigs as a hired guitar hand for biggish country stars.

Kevin is from "Austin. Texas" (the two words never being said separately in an introduction) and has seen the ukulele light in the last few years. There is community music gold in them thar ukulele hills and he is chasin', just like us. We three are on a mission - to spread the good word that our white bread culture can play music without the curse of virtuosity and fame. And the ukulele is the son of that God that can save us.

These are my people
The dynamics in the ukulele band van are the same as I have experienced for decades. If I get 3 or more people together in a 'band marriage', then I feel like the one who gets picked on. Justifiably. I set myself up as a professional dag and serial victim. The idiot savant who leads us to salvation or destruction. The vision is there, though sometimes blurred, but nevertheless we are following the dream down the valleys of the taco restaurants that serve the Hispanic agricultural workers who thrive even this far north in Washington state.

Kevin is funny. Dry funny. And joins Jane in the evil dyads that form within a trio. Jane/Mark vs. Kevin. Jane/Kevin vs. Mark, etc. Though I think there is some gentlemanlyness that prevents us ganging up on Jane in the teasing jibes.

Kevin (from Austin. Texas) is prone, when we express wonderment at the diversity of life in the USA, to saying 'these are my people' as if he is their benevolent Moses-like leader. Only once, in a hipster part of Seattle, did he say these are not my people. Agreed.

Maybe he is their benevolent leader - of his ukulele people in the US of A.  Few seem to know about our vision, but many are interested. But not in Seattle.

Workshop 3 - Seattle - 1 booking - 1 'auditor' - 2 staff = no income and the 3 of us
Note to self - if you want to get into a workshop for free, you just have to inquire as to whether you can 'audit'. This is a new term to me. A cheaper price or no price for something that is otherwise inordinately expensive.

The Seattle music shop suggested two workshops for the Sunday we chose. We didn't count on the summer sun shining briefly and weakly in their Puget Sound-side city and people choosing not to come to a Ukestration workshop in a basement on such a rare afternoon. So we sorta cancelled, and gave the teachers (and auditor) a free 1 hour professional development lesson. We hope they liked it.  We couldn't be sure, but the lady who had already paid $60 for the two sessions (the shop takes a hefty cut) was certainly appreciative of our efforts, and (of course) not having to pay a fee. It just didn't seem right for one person to pay when another 3 were getting it for free.

Nevertheless, we worked the room well. Kevin, Jane and I are already a good team - even after only 3 workshops together -  albeit speaking with different English and Musical accents.

Vancouver - Workshop 1
For our second year, we filled the Our Town Cafe, with Peter Dunn organising stuff for us. The passion and commitment of a single person really makes a difference. 36 people again appreciated learning about 'ukestration' - a term we came up with last year. I think our friend Danielle first voiced the term. But this year we included the newly discovered 'learning songs through scales' module. It went really well, with some amazing lead singers and a good feeling at the end of it (for us and for them). We hope they use their newly acquired pentatonic knowledge for good. We walked back to our non-descript-chinese-suburban-beneath-the-flight-path-airbnb-accommodation with a spring in our step. It is so great when people 'get it'.

We have not often experienced many hum n strum groups. In our ukestras at home, with leaders, we tend not to do it this way. We feel that leadership is so valuable to provide focus and to highlight the teaching / learning opportunities that exist in so many songs. Sure, music is for relaxing, but we believe that we have a responsibility to help people build a skill repertoire that helps them advance in their music making and musical contributions to the world. Learning proper is not just for children.

'Ruby' with Mark.
A couple of days prior to the Vancouver Ukestration workshop we attended the annual "Ruby's Ukulele Picnic" at Second Beach in Stanley Park. It was delightful, with about 50 people sitting around trying to play uke together in an oversized circle that was acoustically impinged by the nearby throngs awaiting sunset for a film screening. The process of musical engagement involved yelling out a page number or song title and pulling out the relevant book to singalong to.

Bellingham - Workshop 2
A good leader is a blessing. Gail, from Bellingham is one such person. Not only a blessing for those who are being lead musically, but also for us visitors. We were privileged to be included as an integral part of the Bellingham Ukulele Group's (BUG) annual campout and what a turnout and level of skill! Well worth the 3 hour queue to drive into the United States from Canada. Gail, drove to Vancouver to pick us up, a gesture which went well beyond the realms of normal hospitality.
Kevin in foreground in the main campout food shelter.

The BUGS embraced our song contributions with gusto, learning Sunshine of Your Love (the minor pentatonic), My Girl (major pentatonic), Catch My Disease (a general ukestration) and blues jamming using various pentatonics and key changes. Kevin showed us the intricacies and inner secrets of how scales relate to different keys, something Jane and I were not aware of. I love how there is so much to learn about music, even at our age.

A revelation was BUGS' performance of 'The Middle', a song that Gail learned from us at last year's Vancouver Ukestration workshop. Chinese whispers ensured that the song (with our riffs) had become a chilled reggae ukestrated piece. How excellent and wonderful to hear!!! We were chuffed that there is progeny from our teaching.

It seemed like this was Kevin's first ever musical camping experience, and he revelled in the lunch-time conversations ruminating the benefits of different ukulele string brands.

Onward and upward (literally)
I hope to write more as we trek along for the next fortnight. It is Monday morning (the early mornings are the only times I get to write), and we now head for the high desert - Bend & Sisters. We shall see what transpires! Will it be an urban lack of interest and too many other things to do, like in Seattle, or a regional / rural delight. We shall see. Whatever, we already know we have a delightful host who has given us their holiday cottage for 3 nights in the Central Oregon Cascades (a volcanic mountain range). So privileged are we.

Friday, July 5, 2013

AJ Leonard, Goodbye Water Board, Farewell Mark & Jane, and lots more (including our wonderful video)


1. AJ Leonard this Friday 12 July
2. WestNewkestra moves to Kotara
3.  Banjo Circle on Sunday
4. UUU rehearsal on Saturday 13th
5. New Monday afternoon Ukulele Entree class
6. Beginners Workshop 20 July
7. Mark and Jane away - what is on, what is off
8. Upcoming Festivals and Performances
9. New website doing well thanks
10. Calendar (yes we have one)
11. New phone number for Jane
12. Uke group leaders wanted
13. Mark in Cessnock
14. A wonderful surprise! 

1. AJ Leonard this Friday 12 July

AJ and Jenny popped into Wednesday night last week, on their way north from Melbourne. There is a sampler on the Hippo Campers blog. A Little Hula Heaven Concert starts 7:30pm. Workshop starts 5:30. Everything is at the Gallipoli Legion Club.

AJ is Australia's top ukulele virtuoso, and his music is very accessible (easy to listen and marvel to).  Book tickets here for Friday 12th.

2. WestNewkestra moves to Kotara

The attack of the $5 schnitties won the great ukulele-schnitzel battle of June 2013. As a result the WestNewkestra has left their quirky home for the last two and a bit years and moved to

 ... The Kotara Bowling Club ... 

Go to the WestNewkestra website for more details. Now you can have your ukulele and eat it too! (We are reliably informed that the restaurant is very good, and they allow ukuleles in adjacent spaces next to the bar!).

3. Banjo Circle

Jane's next Banjo Circle is being held on Sunday 14 July at the Wickham Croatian Sports Club.

1pm for a one hour beginners session (contact Jane to book in).  Cost for that session is $22 (which includes the jam session which follows).

From 2:15 to 3:45pm Jane facilitates a jam session for only $10. Click here for more details at the website.

4. UUU

The next UUU rehearsal is on Saturday 13 July - 1:30-3:00pm.

Everyone now knows The Middle (3 chords, round and round) and Price Tag (four chords round and round) off by heart? Right???

See the UUU blog for details, music, audio and video related to the last rehearsal and future ones.

To endeavour to learn by heart

In addition to knowing The Middle and Price Tag we would like you to remember how to play the following:
  • My Island Home
  • Catch My Disease
These are all on the UUU blog as well.

We will hopefully work on these ones

And if we get time

Busy Line which has the potential for some theatrics. A few people singers in the different ukestras have adopted this as their own, so we'll have to share out the lead vocals with whoever is there on the day!

If you have not been to the UUU before, the sorta rules are here.

5. New Entree

Leigh I'Anson is taking a new Ukulele Entree class starting this Monday 8 July at the Wickham Croatian Sports Club. This one is from 3:30-5:15pm and runs for six weeks. Talk to Jane if you wish to join it. Info on Ukulele Entree classes is here. There are a few parent-child attendees participating in this one too, so perhaps you might consider other parent-child combos when referring on (not you Nora and Roly).

6. Next Beginners

Danielle is running a beginners workshop on Saturday 20 July, at Wickham. Book in with Susan.

7. Mark and Jane away - what is on, what is off.

We are travelling to Hawaii to perform at the Hawaii Ukulele Festival, then are off to Vancouver to start our 3rd year of the James Hill Ukulele Initiative (ukulele teacher training). We both passed 2nd year with flying colours, within 3 marks off each other. It is prudent not to say who got the top mark.

After Vancouver we head down the West Coast of the USA, delivering ukestration workshops. You can keep up with our adventures either on Facebook or on our Ukestration blog.

Continuing as normal

Danielle and Leigh's normal classes (Wednesday morning Kotara and Cessnock arvo and evening) continue as usual, but they are also taking many of the classes that Jane and Mark normally lead. This is a good opportunity to see how different skilled musicians lead ukestras. We are all certainly different, and each of us has our strengths (and of course weaknesses).
  • Mondays and Tuesday nights at the Wickham Croatian Sports Club - Monday Wickos and the Ukastle Ukestra - are being lead by Leigh whilst we are away.
  • Tuesday arvos (LakeMacUkestra at Teralba), Thursday nights (WestNewkestra at Kotara) and The Hippo Campers (Wednesday night at Wickham) - Danielle is taking the reins.
  • All entree courses run as usual at the Kotara Bowling Club and the Wickham Croatian Sports Club.

Not continuing whilst Mark and Jane are away

The following ukestras will not be happening during our absence - but please!!! Head along to another one!
  • The Ukestral Voices Choir is not happening on 19, 26 July and 2, 9 August. Returns on 16 August.
  • No-one will be facilitating the Tomaree Ukestra on Monday mornings. But they often show up anyhow during these sorta breaks. Ask us for a contact person if you would like to know more. So Mark won't be there 22, 29 July and 5 August. He may be a little sleepy on 12 August.
  • The Paterson Pluckestra seem to gather at the pub on Monday evenings no matter what. But no-one will be there to organise or teach things except their own damn selves. There'll probably be abominations like banjo and blues introduced whilst Mark is away. Expect unexpected revelry and Bealified bastardisations. Or nothing. Maybe no-one will go. But that is unlikely. Mark won't be there Monday 22, 29 July or 5 August. He will return for his usual black death (coke and a middy of black) on the 12th.

8. Upcoming Festivals and Performances

Festivals are what the UUU is all about.  If you don't UUU, but would like to perform, you have to learn the songs, and take an appropriate position in the backline. However there is nothing quite like the joy of rehearsing with the UUU!

August 24-25 - Central Coast Ukulele Festival at The Entrance

The Ukastle Ukestra performs at The Entrance at 2:30-2:55 on Sunday 25 August. We'll be followed by the Central Coast Ukulele Club, which is followed by a 'super-jam'. For more info click here.

20-22 September - Brisbane Ukulele Festival

We are performing in Brisbane, but don't know times yet. Spruke is its name. We really want to know YOUR names if you are coming as we need to start organising for this. Currently we have Gail, Martin, Dorothy, Judy, Penny, Susan and Dave listed as going (with Mark and Jane too). More would be great. Jump into an advanced Spring in Brisbane!

11-13 October - Dungog - we got in!

Yep. The UUU and other associated entities (including The Do Riders) have got into Planet Dungog. We haven't got formal arrangements yet in regards to the Ukestras, but we'll let you know as soon as we do.

8-10 November - Ukulele Jamboree near Dungog 

The Blue Mountains folk have organised a camping uke gathering at Riverwood Downs near Dungog. More info here --> Ukulele Jamboree. Should be a rather big one and a lot of (free) uke fun.

30 November - New Zealand Ukulele Festival

Jane and Mark are taking a bunch of kids to perform at the New Zealand Ukulele Festival in late November. We'll meet up with 2-3,000 other children in a stadium in Auckland. OMG. What have we done!?

9. New website doing well thanks

We are still focussing on making the website more engaging and informative. New blogs now exist for each ukestra - new pages too.  If you fancy yourself as a writer (or even just a documenter!), then please stick your hand up to report back to everyone about what has happened at your ukestra this week.

10. Calendar

If we are thinking about something, often we'll put the date in the calendar before we announce it formally. Do keep an eye on The Sum of the Parts (music) calendar. It's on the website.

11. Jane's New Phone

If you have Jane's number in your phone, then it might be best to change it. She is finally ditching her old work phone. New number is 0478 624 883. Of course you can ring her old phone if you still want Umwelt to do some environmental consulting for you.

12. Uke group leaders wanted

Our local communities are constantly asking for performances by ukulele groups. Small local fetes, nursing homes, the variety of performance venues is endless. Marg & Neil Weaver and Elizabeth Glazebrook, amongst others, have taken it upon themselves to provide a community service of music, organising people to perform in the community. Often in nursing homes where the appreciation levels are high.

Our local ukulele community needs more leaders to meet this demand. It is a really great next step for your contribution to the community through your musical skills (or just willingness to get up there and be public!).

The Sum of the Parts (music) gets very frequent requests, most of which we pass on to existing community music leaders in our networks.  Are you one? 

13. Mark in Cessnock

Leigh is taking a small break this week, so Mark is taking up his duties in Cessnock, both afternoon and evening! He is looking forward to meeting some of the newer, and older people (who started with the beginners class in February).  He hopes he can measure up to the high standard that Leigh has no doubt already set!

14. Ukastle Ukestra Price Tag Video

And finally, if you don't know why you are here, it is because of the joy and experiences that the uke brings to our lives. As we've been writing this blog we've had our latest video delivered. A total delight. Watch and enjoy. Thanks to everyone who made it happen (including the Thursday night audio participants).