May 2nd is National Play Your Ukelele Day!

7 years ago

I play the ukulele. It's been about five years now. The ukulele started me towards a love affair with Hawaii, found me a whole lot of excellent new friends, helped me deal with my stage fright, saved me from expat angst, and let me pretend, just for a few hours, that I was a rock star. The ukulele is freaking awesome.

I'm completely realistic about my skill. I have a decent strum, I can keep time, and when I put my mind to it, I can handle some pretty complicated chord transitions. I like to sing when I play; I'm just okay as a singer, adequate, really. I'm not getting a recording contract any time soon, but I also won't make you flee the room -- not every time, anyway. Lately, I've been playing with some actual musician types, they keep letting me show up and we have a little ukulele band. We've played a few parties, some fundraisers, bingo night at the senior center ... we're the community theater of bands, the luau themed Bar Mitzvah act that's amusing once or twice, but maybe not every night at the bar. It's insanely fun.

The ukulele is a touristy little ditty that mentions a Hawaiian fish with a very long name. The ukulele is that kid on YouTube with the itchy nose, the tiny adorable one who hammers out I'm Yours even though it's perfectly clear he doesn't know the words. It's real rock stars like Eddie Vedder and real singers like Nellie McKay and real musicians from Hawaii like Jake Shimabukuro or Taimane Gardner schooling all of us in the oh-so-critical lesson that sure, you can play Tiny Bubbles Do Ho style, or you can tear it up like Hendrix. The ukulele is the magnificent Julia Nunes or that smarty pants Sweet Afton or Kate Micucci -- you might know her as Ted's uke-playing girlfriend on Scrubs.

But better than all that, if you can imagine that there's anything better than that, the ukulele is a bunch of people sitting down to play together. Catch the movie Mighty Uke, a sweet little independent documentary that focuses on an incredible music education program out of British Columbia. Check in to the Ukulele Underground, an active online community that does Web open mic and just launched a way to take uke classes anywhere in the world. Read Ukulele Hunt, not just for the naughty name but because Woodshed posts a staggering array of videos and uke-related goodness. And Read Ukulelia, because it's the ukulele love child of Boing Boing (kind of). Better yet, find yourself some ukulele players in your neighborhood -- there's a worldwide club directory here -- and just show up.

Our club -- the Seattle Ukulele Player's Association (SUPA) -- has been around about as long as I've been playing the uke. I'm on the board now -- mostly that means I have an official excuse not to shut up about the ukulele. There are over 100 people on our mailing list. If everyone shows up to play, which does happen a few times a year, we can have 60 ukulele players in a room, all singing together. We play it all, from traditional Hawaiian music to '50s oldies to the embarrassing novelty hits of the '70s. And it is a great joyful noise, messy and imperfect, punctuated with laughter. We welcome everybody; we don't care how old you are or what kind of music you want to play or what your background is, we only care that you show up and play when you can.

May 2nd is National Play Your Ukulele Day. I have no idea what the provenance of this fake holiday is, I only know that I support it 100 percent. And now, I leave you with what may be my ukulele legacy. Two years ago, I taught this group of ukulele players a classic tune about love and loss and well ... hey, go play your ukulele!

Nerd's Eye View

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