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).