Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Teaching uke and enduring travel tummies in Vietnam

Hopefully the main vestige of yesterday's travel debacles is being up at 2:37am.

I slept from about 4pm yesterday.

The Perils of Penelope (the title of a children's story from Kyrie's childhood)
Rube was first down with stomach cramps. She stayed close to bed and the facilities all day for obvious reasons. I am so relieved that this has happened for her here, in our most luxurious hotel - the Indochina Legend 2 - right near the lake in Hanoi. My understanding is that when you travel (in lots of parts of the world, but especially Asia), your tummy 'acclimatises' to the local 'flora' (shall we say). Best to wipe out a day here, where the family is around. And best not to have this when you are scheduled for a long bus trip!

2nd to go down was me. The street pineapple gave me some hot flushes, my eye ache, and then the lunch which preceded the pineapple. Maybe it was my body reacting to the idea that I had just purchased two safari suits for Do Rider performances!

Then Jane goes off by herself to get some relief from the two sickies. Comes back in 10 minutes having been hit by a motorbike. Crossing roads is quite the art in Vietnam cities. Pick your time and keep a steady pace. Traffic lights mean nothing. But this one dude was obviously an extra-maniac, weaving through traffic until he came to a halt on Jane's forearm. Jane retreated back to the hotel. We (they) watched movies for the rest of the day, and then they went off for dinner (Ruby having sufficiently recovered by now).

So! With all of that behind us now, we hopefully proceed successfully to Ha Long Bay. Two nights / three days of no internet access, limestone mountains and 300 tourist boats.

Teaching uke at the Hanoi Social Club
The most wonderful thing about teaching uke in Hanoi is being instantly plugged into a local community, both Vietnamese and expat. We had about 13-15 people come along, which was a bit disappointing (in terms of numbers). But we really were able to pool our talents and experience into teaching beginners (and near beginners) and more experienced people all at the same time. Our ukestration 'model' of teaching really assists that goal, and seemed to keep everyone happy.

We go in with some sort of lesson plan, and then in the best of flexible teaching traditions, have to ditch it. We started with going through C, Am, F, and the transitions between those chords. Getting fingers used to transitions is the main goal. The actual chord shape is secondary. It is the transitions which are important.

Within 20 minutes we were playing All I Want is You by U2. With picking, strumming and singing. Sam - an American - sang.

Second up we did Somebody that I used to Know, with Linh (one of the TV journalists who earlier had interviewed us - hopefully we'll get a link to that later) taking some lead singing. Lien was the other journo from the rival channel. They were very civilised in their rivalry.

So in two hours, with a 15 minute break, we achieved two songs. Youth really helped swift learning, but given 60% of Vietnam's population are under 30,  we couldn't expect much more than youth!

The Hanoi Social Club is this wonderful refuge in the city. The three owner type people we dealt with are all groovy Brunswick St types. Two from Melbourne, one from Cronulla. Clearly they have their finger (and market nose) on the expat market and groovy young professional Vietnamese. One of their ads in a local tourist map says "Make the beeping stop!"  How apt. And it does. And you do.

Very expensive by Vietnamese standards, but so worth it (especially for old vego me). I wanted to return yesterday, but Jane has got used to the VND30,000 meal price (about $1.20) in more regular cafes, than the expat prices (VND130,000????) you pay at the HSC.

Must mention Zippy Dee, who, in my googling, was the first result for "Hanoi, ukulele". Zippy is a drama teacher at the United Nations School. A Canadian - 27 yrs old - who, like other drama teachers we know is so full of life =, love and beans. Must be so inspiring for kids. Zippy came to the workshop but is a regular uke performer around town too. It was great to meet her.

Anyhoo. Off to Ha Long Bay for 3 days. Gees I hope there is a toilet on the bus.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ukers and the Folk Club

Many of you will have already received this through your membership. But I've posted this up here on the Blog so it is there more permanently!


From: "Carole Garland"
Date: 25 March 2013 11:56:47 AM AEDT
To: "Debbie Hamilton"


Please pass this round to all players of the ukulele, within reach of Newcastle.

There are a couple of guest artists of special interest to Ukulele players, coming to the Newcastle-HunterValley Folk Club, of which most of you are members. Club nights are first Sat. of the month at 7.30 in the Wesley Hall, 150 Beaumont St., Hamilton. You don’t need to book, as the hall is big enough.
6th April. Warren Fahey, he doesn’t play a uke, but his sidekick, Marcus, has one of every type of string thing known to man. They specialize in Australiana and the old songs.

4th May, Nick Rheinberger, plus Andrew Rankin, will have, and I quote:

“I will definitely have a uke – plus banjo uke, Bolivian charango, and Greek baglama.”
N.B. He offers to do a special workshop for the Ukers either on Sat. arvo, or Sunday morning,
As he has done at many festivals and uke clubs. He specializes in teaching a simple two chord songs in four different rhythms. The workshop idea can be followed up by contacting him on - In my view it would be well worth it as he is a graphic and vibrant communicator.


1st June. Trevor Knight is bringing a banjo-uke made for George Formby and will perform a segment on the life and songs of George. He is also bringing a custom made KOA Hawaiian tenor, to play some more modern music. Trevor Knight has been playing ukes for decades and is a huge fan of them.

SO NOW GUYS ! Do you see how you are taking over the world? Don’t let me down in the search for interesting and relevant performers. It costs little to attend, but means the world to these musicians who have dedicated their lives to entertaining, as you now do yourselves. They simply want to feel that comradeship of fellow interests – it’s that that makes it worthwhile for them.
Carole Garland, Bookings/Publicity for Newcastle –Hunter Valley Folk Club.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Vietnam, ukuleles and cows blown up for fun

Am not quite sure how you are supposed to write a blog. Do you write it 'live', online, and click send? Or do you write it elsewhere, copy and paste and do a considered post?

I'm doing the first option, at 4:30am whilst Jane and Ruby (my daughter) sleep in our small hotel room.

'Guitar Street'. Nah. Let's call it 'Ukulele Street'
We are in Ho Chi Minh City, where we have discovered 'Guitar' street, renowned throughout the world as a place where you can purchase inexpensive hand made guitars. And of course ukuleles.

Yesterday we spent a harrowing afternoon carrying around 7 million dong across / around / through  HCM City's biggest roundabout. We made it, and paid Binh said money for 1 mandolin (Mark's new toy), 1 baritone uke (for Jane, with newly installed Fishman pickup) and 1 concert ukulele (to see how they handle Australia's climate and to suss out whether we might try to import and sell a few).

International trade is a funny thing. Having such enormous wealth differences across the globe creates great opportunities for both sides of the equation. Huge profits can be made by American / Australian companies that use cheap Asian labour, whilst working for western companies can bring enormous lifestyle / standard of living changes for those Asians.

Some uke businesses in Australia purchase inexpensive ukuleles in Vietnam / China and label them as their own to resell in Australia. We are thinking of the same. But we wonder what are the ethics of this, what is a reasonable cut for us to take and how we can help the ukulele makers themselves more fairly access the more lucrative markets in the West.

Binh is a lovely man who speaks some English, and seems to make a fine instrument. Look him up at

Colonising Vietnam with the Ukulele
It seems we have stumbled across an un-ukuleled part of the globe. We have scheduled a workshop at  the Hanoi Social Club for Tuesday. There seems to be a lot of interest; even from television stations!

Hi Mark,

Really nice to hear from you :).
Actually we also hope that you guys can bring the Ukulele to the Vietnamese people this time . And I will be more than happy to meet you and that would be great if we can hold an interview with you about Ukulele, as well as the way to tell to Vietnamese audience more about this special instrument :). 
We are one of the Vietnamese Television Stations in Hanoi, which aims to feature the foreigners' activities in Vietnam, and I would love to co-operate with you in this program. So I think that we will come to Hanoi Social Club to film your meeting and teaching on Tuesday in Hanoi, and after that, we could have an interview about this.:). Let get back to me your idea about this, so that I can send you in advance the list of questions for the interview soon.:)

Looking forward to hearing from you,
Best regards, 

We'll have to see how it all goes!

Cows and other non-uke stories
There are a lot of Aussies here, including some uke and non-uke friends. We caught up yesterday with old Bendigo muso friend, a young fella by the name of Jack. He described going to the VietCong tunnels and firing an AK47 for fun. Not my cuppa tea, but his shooting buddy described how he was able to fire a bazooka in Cambodia. For fun. 'I blew up a cow'. My how different things are over here.

Travelling is great for stories, but a bit of a challenge for vegetarians (like myself) sometimes. We ate at a pho cafe on the footpath yesterday. Cost us $2.50 ish. 'Vegetarian! I know vegetarian!' says the man. Two minute noodle ok? (yes, I say reluctantly). Then Ruby sees his wife scoot 2 metres across the other side of the lane to the 'supermarket street stall', and come back with a packet of Maggi 2 minute noodles. My lunch, what joy.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

... making music part of our lives ...

  7 April 2013

This email contains important information about some upcoming changes and events for The Sum of the Parts (music).

  1. Alder Park - still going.
  2. A pause for thought about 'the business'. 
  3. A new Ukestra session (Wednesday nights - Wickham)
  4. Let's not forget the Cessnock Ukestra (Wednesdays)
  5. Ukulele Entree (starts Monday 8 April)
  6. Next Beginners (April 27).
  7. School holiday arrangements 
  8. A Uke Group for learning music theory through the James Hill 'Ukulele in the Classroom' series (expressions of interest).
  9. A Banjo Circle (expressions of interest) 
  10. Greater diligence about keeping website music up to date! 
  11. A Lucy Wise review by Deb Hamilton.

1. Alder Park - AldNewKestra still going 

Last week Jane and I asked Danielle to tell the Alder Park Ukestra that it was ceasing. We have reconsidered this decision and would like to see it keep going on Wednesday mornings at 10:30am. However there are a couple of challenges with this, and I want to just fill you in on our thinking.

2. A pause for thought about 'the business'. 

We have said many times, we feel very privileged to able to do what we do. Our livelihood is helping people to make music. It is inherently satisfying work for us, but also carries its risks.

We endeavour to provide a range of learning options for people, particularly in terms of location and time, and
obviously this involves some trial and error to find the best mix. Last year we engaged Danielle Scott to deliver a group on a Wednesday morning in Lambton at the Alder Park Bowling Club. For most of 2012 this group has been sustainable but for some reason last summer the attendance really dropped.

We wear the risk (make a loss) if the group numbers drop for an extended period of time. 

It’s really hard for our small business to wear a loss each week for this amount of time. Be aware that about 14-15 people consistently is our break-even point i.e. no profit but no loss either. That is, of course, at the current rates that we charge.

It’s not all about “profit” of course but each group relies upon there being a sufficient quantity of people to give it that vibe, a sense of community, and to provide a learning environment which we believe is, in many ways, more beneficial (and far less expensive) than individual teaching sessions.

We genuinely want to see people have a variety of options, in terms of locations, day/night, and a variety of teaching styles and opportunities to mix with people in different ways. And as you may notice, we actively foster people to come together on their own, without having to pay for that privilege. It is through initially attending our groups that people come together in Stockton, Booragul and other places without our interference. This is the diversity that we really want to see available for people playing music together, and to skill them up to contribute musically (and in terms of leadership) to our communities (just like in the Cruise Ship welcoming gigs that have been happening!).

3. A new Ukestra at Wickham
All that being said, we have a stack of new Entree graduates, who we hope will be coming along to a new Ukestra at the Wickham Croatian Sports Club on a Wednesday night from 6-8pm. These are novitiate players who are workers and need a night time ukestra. It will start on Wednesday 17 April with a slightly new approach where Danielle and Jane will take turns leading it, week and week about. If you are keen to join a ukestra that moves at an easy pace (similar to Monday nights and Tuesday daytime) then this one is for you! Maybe you have been neglecting the ukulele for months now and wish to take it up again? It will be the same cost as the other ukestras ($14 casual and $11.50 prepaid).

4. Let's not forget Cessnock, continuing through the school hols.
Since the beginning of February about 20 people have been attending 2 Ukestra sessions in Cessnock. Both are on Wednesdays, one in the afternoon, one in the evening. Leigh I'Anson, from East Maitland has been running these, and though the groups are not quite yet self-sustaining (in terms of numbers and financially), we have already brought together quite a few people to enjoy each others' company over a uke session. The regional casual rate ($15) applies up at Cessnock. 

If you feel like an evening or afternoon out (up from Newcastle), Leigh and the crew at the Cessnock Ukestra would really welcome you. Leigh lives in East Maitland, is attending the Newcastle Conservatorium, and is a highly polished and talented guitarist and singer who is quickly becoming well acquainted with the uke and gently helping coalfields people to become familiar with it too. For an additional fee (and some warning) Leigh will do a half hour beginners lesson prior to both the 2pm and 5:30pm ukestra sessions. Give us an email if you want to know more (

In order to keep going Cessnock really needs you to continue the word of mouth, and don't forget, Leigh will continue throughout the school holidays.

5. Ukulele Entree One starting 8 April
People in Newcastle will see more of Leigh as he will be taking the new 6 week Entree 1 course designed for novice ukulele players to get them up to ukestran speed (which, really, ain't too fast!).

FOR WHO: people who want to develop their ukulele skills, learn about 12-15 chords, develop different strum patterns and a bit of finger picking.
WHEN: Starting Monday 8th April
,  6.00-7.45pm on the 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th April, and the 6th and 13th May
HOW OFTEN: once a week for 6 weeks.
WHERE: Wickham Croatian Sports Club, Albert Street, Wickham
COST: The cost for this course is $99 for the six weeks. This is a prepaid price. If you pay by the class then it costs $18.50 per class.
PREREQUISITE: It would be ideal to have already attended one of our beginner classes OR you have already started playing the uke (3 chords will do) OR you have played a stringed instrument before (even if it was in your childhood).

We can lend you a uke in the first few weeks until you find one you like. We have some good basic models for sale as well as  tuners and books. If you can only make 4-5 of the classes in this period then let us know and we can lower the price (pro-rata).

6. Beginners 
The next Beginners class will be held on 27th April and will be run by Danielle. Contact to be on the list.

7. Mark and Jane take a short holiday-ish
We are off to Vietnam and Singapore this coming weekend (13 April). We are doing Ukestration workshops in Hanoi and Singapore (we sold out two workshops at Ukulele Movement in Singapore!). 
Normal times and leaders happen this week.
But we'll be away for the whole school holidays and during that time the following groups will be continuing under the expert guidance of Danielle:
  • Monday (Wickham - 15th and 22nd)
  • Tuesday day (Teralba - 16th and 23rd)
  • Tuesday night (Wickham - 16th and 23rd)
  • Wednesday morning (Alder Park - 17th and 24th)
  • Wednesday afternoon and evening at Cessnock East Bowling Club
    (17th and 24th)
  • The new Wednesday night at Wickham (starting 17 April)
 Those taking a school holiday break will be:
  • Monday morning at the Fingal Bay Sports Club (though I expect they may organise themselves to continue whilst Mark is away)
  • Monday evening at the Paterson Tavern (they may also meet for a ciggie, beer and a little uke blues jamming, but who knows really!)
  • Thursday night at the Water Board Bowling Club
  • Jane's Ukestral Voices on Fridays.
All groups will resume their normal activities and leaders from Monday 29 April. Boy, when you write that out, its a lot!

The graphic from our Ukestration workshop in Singapore.

8. A Ukulele group for learning music theory through the 'Ukulele in the Classroom' series (expressions of interest).
Mark will be leading a new group next term dedicated to learning how to read music (and developing our technical skills) through the Ukulele in the Classroom series (by James Hill and Chalmers Doane, which you will need to purchase if you don't have one).

This will happen on a Wednesday afternoon (about 1:00pm - 2:45pm) and will be far more formal than the ukestra sessions. People will be expected to practice between the lessons which will be held in a room in the Charlestown Uniting Church Hall. It will go for a 5-8 week term initially, which will be required to be prepaid (figured out at $18 per session). The nature of the learning will require commitment from people and will be limited to 10 people max (7 people min).

You will learn the skill of reading music and how that applies to the ukulele. As a result of this your technical and musical skills will increase at a much higher rate than if you were just doing ukestra sessions. Those who attend this class will be eligible for a 50% discount on the casual rate at one normal ukestra session each week during the course. Please email to express interest.

9. Expressions of interest for Banjo Circle.
Jane will be starting an occasional banjo circle of a weekend, starting on 11 or 12 May. Please contact for more details.  This will cost $10 for about an hour and a half.

10.  Seen the new website? seems to be up an running pretty well (thanks to Peter Scott and Web Systems Management). In particular we are trying to keep on top of the new music we keep introducing (go to Play Ukulele and Ukestra Music). All we have to get back up now are the youtube examples that we used to have posted.
11. and finally (phew!) ... 
A review of Lucy Wise and strong recommendation to attend by Deb Hamilton

Hi Everyone I just wanted to let you know that Lucy Wise and the BGollies are fabulous! If you haven't caught up with them yet make the effort this time on April the 14th at the Royal Exchange in Bolton Street in town. I have left both concerts she has given up here feeling full of the love of music and glad I play the uke. I really enjoyed watching how an instrument like the uke can be used to translate into such great enjoyable music. 

Lucy is an interesting uke player who's strumming technique is well worth the watch. Her songs have the feel of modern 'indie' music and having bought her album ( accidentally) twice I have never felt I wasted my money. In fact I listen to the album frequently. Her style is beautifully melodic but interesting and catchy. I am particularly looking forward to hearing her this time with her backing band 'The B'gollies'. I have gone to the last 2 concerts she has given in Newcastle. I left both concerts knowing that I have got great value for my money. 

The concert is on again at the Royal Exchange and this is a venue that offers wonderful intimacy with the performers. If you can, make the effort as it will well be worth it. I look forward to seeing you there 

Cheers Debbie Hamilton

Thanks Deb,

See you this week and then at the end of April!

Mark and Jane

LakeMacUkestra at the new venue in Teralba.