Thursday, September 14, 2017

Whitsunday Ukulele Blues

The view from Whitsunday Peak.
2am musings. Let’s see what comes out. We are at anchor in Butterfly Bay, Hook Island, the Whitsundays, Queensland.

Yeah yeah, I hear you say, what a life. Damn rich musicians, bludgers. Maybe you don’t say it; maybe it is just my internal demons talking, for we do work really hard, just not in the way people normally conceive of hard work. Nor are we rich, at least not in the financial scheme of things. Our wealth is mostly in our life at home, teaching and leading a community of ukulele players.

I went to sleep at 9pm, exhausted on this beautiful catamaran owned by our lovely hosts, Ray and Chris. (Therein lies the significant point of ‘rich’ difference. We are rich in friendship, safe within the bosom of our musical community). Ray is a member of my Monday morning group, the Tomaree Ukestra.

Ray, viewing at Whitsunday Peak.
He’s one of those retired old bastards who flits off for the winter from the paradise of Port Stephens, to melt into the 20-25 degree winter of the Australian tropics.  That’s minimum AND maximum. His mobile home floats north in the winter, south in the summer. They call them snowbirds in North America. Here they are ‘grey nomads’.

We are so thankful and privileged for Ray and Chris' hospitality.

We’ve taken 6 days off our daily workload - ukestras and choirs nearly every day. Nearly every day. How hard we work can perhaps be measured by our tasks at the gorgeous festival we attended. (Go on, zoom the Google Map and drink in the satellite beauty). On Sunday, in our bucolic central Queensland valley that is Wintermoon, we ran a Ukestration Workshop, performed as Jack n Jel, got a bunch of novice uke players up on stage to perform their workshop songs, and walked into the audience and got about 35 people corralled into an instant choir – our One Song Sing. AND we jammed on stage with other musicians in the closing concert.

The rustic Chai House
We were buggered, exhausted. Particularly after the One Song Sing, floppy in our mouldy outdoor lounge chair, midst the white anted Chai House, blissed to be at one of our favourite most-musician-hospitality-laden festivals. But make no mistake, performance and helping people to make music is an exhausting activity. We then stuffed our gear into fiddle player Andy’s Hiace van, 3 slid across the front seat, and schlepped up to Airlie Beach for our rendezvous with a catamaran.

So the 9pm snoring sleep meant an 11:37pm wakeful period, talking with Jane about performance insecurities, a witching hour conversation about how we measure up at festivals:

  • How does our humour-laced, intimate and delicate condenser mic performance follow the heaving night-before crowd, revved up by the bass driven reggae doof of Floating Bridges?
  • About how touch n go it was to see if we could get an audience of self-confessed ‘non-singers’ to join us for a singalong (it worked! It was brilliant!)
  • Could we fill an hour with the results of an ukestration workshop (we needn’t have worried, the One Song Sing idea really stepped up to the mark)
  • Does the sensitive and shy ukulele have a festival home midst the cranked valve electrics of amplifiers?

“It’s ok”, we reassured each other. We put to bed our witching-hour demons, our at-anchor-lurchings. We have something unique, delicate, humorous, and participatory that really contributes to a music festival in ways that many acts cannot. Performance and teaching do not often go hand-in-hand, but our combo is a fruitful one, as many festivals who continue to engage us year after year attest. That is reassuring, and we are thankful.

We are wealthy beyond measure. We can count the dollars, albeit meagre by ‘real-job’ standards. But we cannot measure the friendships and experiences that bring us so much more.

Contemplating her musical future.