music returns

A few days ago, the Hermit Poet over at Edge of Humanity Magazine posted a link to Stevie Nicks’s 1981 song, “Leather and Lace.”  

I couldn’t not listen to it, right? And it’s been with me ever since.

I couldn’t get it out of my head so much that I felt compelled to learn how to play it on the ukulele. Except that there’s not much out there in terms of ukulele tabs for this song. 

Nevertheless, the song would not let me go. I ended up cobbling together my own scribbled tab. This, despite the fact that I had all but abandoned my ukulele in the last few months. Making music, for me, seemed to be yet another casualty of the pervasive upheaval of the COVID-19 era.

But the Hermit Poet’s post triggered something.

Now, not only can I play “Leather and Lace,” but I seem to be back in musical gear. So wonderful to be able to lose myself in music again. Yay!

This would not be the first time that Edge of Humanity Magazine struck some chord in me. I am always happily startled by the eclectic glimpses I find there, always making me think. I am grateful, but especially today for the gift of music coming back to me.

ukulele: fun and friends

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Little did I know on that snowy January day when I wandered into the music shop that the ukulele would come to figure significantly for me. And I am so glad it has.

I have faithfully been attending my ukulele club every week. I’ve gotten to know several wonderful people as a result, and enjoyed many awesome evenings strumming and learning together.

As the months go by, folks experience the ups and downs that life delivers. At ukulele club, we are able to share some of that and then set it all aside while we get lost in the music. We are always all smiles at the end of an evening playing together.

We have a fantastic leader and teacher who is just as excited about our progress as we are. He always brings us some challenges and theory along with some music we can jump right in with and party. I have learned immensely.

As the weeks have passed, we’ve gone everywhere from The Beatles to Phil Ochs, the Grateful Dead to the blues (ridiculously awesome!).

Last night, we played songs ranging from Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” to Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” to The Band’s “The Weight.” Our wonderful teacher also has us working on The Beach Boys’  “God Only Knows.”

The other delight from last night was a finger-picking version of Patsy Cline/Willie Nelson’s “Crazy.”  Wow, is this fun! I’m still amazed I can even read the tablature and make sense of it, much less play it. This one’s going to take some practice though.

Other perks that resulted from landing in the world of ukuleles include my first-ever attendance at a drumming circle and a dulcimer-led jam session, and multiple invitations to camps and festivals — hopefully I’ll actually attend one before the summer’s over!

I’ve been inspired by the people in my group. I love their many interests and the way they fuel themselves on music. No one can walk through the music shop on club night without testing out a new instrument. Last night, one of our club members showed up a little late because his cello lesson ran long. Several members are also very active in harmonica groups.

I admit, lately, I find myself drawn to percussion, too. We’ll see where that leads.

I am so grateful for this group and the ukulele. During a few stressful months, it remained a beacon of joy for me. Fun, learning, friends. What could be better?

ukulele update

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I am still happily wending my way down the ukulele path. I managed to graduate from my beginner group, earning a full set of ribbons, a nice whack at the gong, and – very cool – a nice strap for my ukulele.

Since then, I attended my first session of the intermediate club. This is not so much a class as a group of intermediate level folks learning some songs together.

I was very intimidated to attend. I imagined everyone else would be far, far ahead of me. As it turned out, some were, but some were also about where I am.

The first song we worked on made me wonder whether I could continue with the group. I did not know any of the chords for the song, and they weren’t especially easy chords, either. I was not the only one in that boat, though, so I just made the best of it and followed along.

Thankfully, when we moved on to the next song, I knew all the chords and had no problems at all strumming along with everyone. Even better, we practiced picking the song after we strummed it – super fun!

Finally, we worked on a third song that was relatively easy to pick up with just a few tricky spots to work on.

I could not believe it when we were done. The time had passed in a flash. I never before sat down to just play music with other folks like that – and it was a truly enjoyable experience.

I have my work cut out for me in terms of practice this week, but I am very much looking forward to my next session, strumming along with everyone else.

still strummin’

veru3_3_19The ukulele adventure continues. Thanks to faithful practice, my uke now sports a veritable rainbow of ribbons.

I have learned a lot!!

One of my friends seemed baffled that the class is taking this long. They seem to think of the ukulele as a very limited instrument which manages to eke out just a few chords using a basic strum.

Turns out, though, that there is much one can do with a ukulele. I am having fun learning new chords every week, as well as learning different strumming patterns. I also eventually want to learn to pick. A brief sojourn around the internet reveals the versatility and breadth of the instrument.

I am also learning songs. Several of the songs that I can now play, I had to look up and listen to before I could even begin to learn to play them.

I find that as the pieces get more challenging, the introvert in me (of which there is a whole lot) becomes a tad distressed about performing for the instructor in front of the rest of the class. It’s the singing, not the strumming.

I notice that the younger people in the class seem to have zero qualms about playing and singing in front of everyone else. Well, actually, now that I think about it, everyone else in the class seems that way. So, I try to be inspired by them and shed my inhibitions long enough to pass the test for which I’ve practiced so much. After all, eventually, I would like to play my ukulele with confidence in the company of others.

So, onward and upward. I am super happy I decided to venture down this path. My ukulele is my friend.

on the lookout for my inner singer

veru2_7_19I can see where this whole ukulele thing is going.

I successfully mastered “Hallelujah.” In order to earn my ribbon and all, of course, I had to perform it. I quickly discovered there is no performing the song just by sitting there and quietly strumming it. Nope, you’ve actually got to strum loud enough for other people to hear. And, the fact of the matter is that you’ve really got to sing, too.

Thing is, just strumming, you could be playing anything. You’ve got to hear the melody for the strumming to make sense.

Lucky for me, my ukulele group is a supportive bunch, and no one laughed. Everyone listened intently, smiling. The instructor warmly told me what a great job I did.

So, after graduating from “Hallelujah,” I quickly mastered “All My Loving.” The main challenge here was the B flat chord. I got this piece under my belt in fairly short order.

The key was not in a comfortable range for my voice, but I struggled through the performance anyway. Again, I saw nothing but appreciation and support.

Then, I listened as an instructor played part of a piece to demonstrate to a fellow student how to strum it. She strummed loudly, with absolute authority. Her voice rang out, singing fearlessly. The music filled the room.

Okay, then.

I came home with a very challenging (for me) piece to learn. It is an arrangement which combines “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with “What a Wonderful World.” The medley was created by the late Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

The chords are not the problem. It’s the melody and the words. There’s a lot to it.

I watched the musician perform the song on YouTube, and it’s beautiful. I realized it was worth figuring out. The trick, ultimately, is going to be releasing my inner singer. First step, I suppose, is to find her.

Yeah. I’ve got my work cut out for me.

the power of positive feedback

veru1_25_19My new ukulele now sports two bright-colored ribbons. Every time I look at it, I cannot help but feel a little burst of inner smile.

Yup, I showed up for the music shop’s beginner ukulele club this week. I had no idea just how marvelous this experience would be.

There were eight of us in the group that evening. It was a mixed bunch of folks ranging from teenagers to oldsters.

I was the only new person in the group. The instructor brought over an electronic tuner and walked me through a proper tuning of my ukulele.

As everyone else in the group swiftly launched into strumming, I was handed a piece of paper with three chords shown on it, and their use in the tune, “Happy Birthday.” After some pointers on hand position, the instructor walked me through the song, and then bid me to practice it a bit. Then, he was off to listen to the other strummers.

The whole room hummed and swayed with all the strumming. No one was playing the same tune at the same time, and yet there was nothing displeasing or chaotic about it. In fact, quite the reverse.

I kept strumming away at “Happy Birthday” until the instructor eventually wandered back and asked me how I was doing. He leaned in and listened and watched closely as I gave him a run-through. Much to my amazement, he told me what a great job I did. He gestured toward two gongs, one big and one little, and invited me to choose one to strike.

What a funny moment that was. I almost declined the invitation, but, in truth, I was delighted. So, I went up to the big gong and gave it a gentle whack with the mallet. As I turned back, I found the instructor happily approaching me with a bright yellow ribbon which he tied onto the headstock of my ukulele.

I was pretty stunned that I managed to acquire a second ribbon later in the evening after successfully managing to play “Let It Be.” The instructor got me started on my third piece, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” by the end of the evening.

I floated on air as I headed homeward into the snowy dark. A little bit of encouragement goes such a long way!

It reminded me of the first time I went running on a track with a local group. I was the slowest one in the bunch, daunted and beleaguered, but, damn, if I didn’t hear a bunch of folks call out “Great job!” as I panted my way over the finish. Several reached out for a high five. I looked into a group of folks genuinely smiling at me without a hint of condescension.

That’s one of the things I really love about runners. There is always so much mutual encouragement. Even out on a trail alone, there’s nothing strange about coming along another runner you’ve never met before, and hearing “Good job!” as you pass.

The power of positive feedback – you gotta love it. Seems like the older you get, the less you hear it, and yet, the power of an encouraging word is undiminished.

Definitely feeling empowered on my ukulele path, I am happy to practice and really enjoying my “homework.” I’m also looking forward to earning some more ribbons. 🙂

peace, love, music

veru1_21_19Biting cold and snowing. You know, a typical January day in Michigan.

Of course, I was out in it. Walking seemed like a safer mode of transit than driving, anyway.

When I set out, I didn’t have a big agenda. Somehow, though, I eventually found myself standing in front of the music shop.

Although I was unaware of conscious intention, this was no accident. The music shop is not on the way to anywhere. I had never been there before.

I was cold through and through by this time, so I headed inside.

Long story short, about a half hour later, I emerged with my new ukulele carefully nestled inside its case to make the long, snowy trek home.

True, it was a purchase I’ve been thinking about for months, but why it happened just then, I have no idea.

Once I got home and brushed all the snow off the case, I got the ukulele out and started experimenting. My suspicions were well-founded – this little instrument is just plain fun. I quickly learned a few chords, experimented with strumming, and started singing.

Turns out, the singing is the hard part. I can’t remember the words to anything. But I will! Now that I have the uke, I am inspired to learn some new old tunes.

It’s portable. It’s easy to learn. It’s music. Awesome! Even better, the shop hosts weekly get-togethers with group instruction. I am totally in.

I have, of course, already tentatively mastered “Blowin’ in the Wind,” even now successfully able to recall the first verse and chorus from memory. Progress. Bob Dylan’s words startled me all over again:

“…how many times must the cannon ball fly before Before they’re forever banned?…”

My feline best friend is not as convinced as I am about the ukulele. While very much interested in inspecting it as it lay quietly on a flat surface, he was having none of it once he discovered the strings make sound!

We’ll see if he eventually gets brave enough to come out from under the bed while it is in play. On second thought, maybe it’s the singing that sends him into hiding. Something tells me, he’ll adjust.

Super excited to launch this little musical journey. I see a lot of potential for my new, portable friend.

I’m also  looking forward another little journey later on, a local peace march on this day we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his ethic of love.