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.

1 comment:

  1. What is happening in Sisters and Bend? It is only a hop skip and a jump over Mt. Hood and if whatever it is that is happening is going on now, I'll make an effort to jump the hill and participate.

    Please either post here or email me at gmail oh... I'm etickner.

    I have practiced shimmying like my sister Kate and I see more attention already :)