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In response to last month’s invitation for members to share their ukulele journeys in our newsletter, Peter Ransom tells us about life with uke. Please email to share your ukulele journey.


My first acquisitions

On a whim I bought my first ukuleles back around 1981. In those days I played banjo and guitar in the Caxton Street Jazz Band and I really had no idea about what to do with my purchase!  I actually bought two ukes — both 1923 Kumalae sopranos, solid koa construction with friction tuning pegs. They belonged to a chap who had, amongst other things, been a scriptwriter for The Man from UNCLE. He’d bought both instruments from the factory in Hawaii while working in a band on a cruise boat operating between the USA west coast and the Hawaiian Islands. Sadly, he’d suffered a stroke, and I became only the second owner of these little gems. I still have one, but it needs a little TLC — at 97 years, who wouldn’t?

The Moonshine Five (actually only four members), a folk/jazz/skiffle group in Melbourne , 1963. Yours truly on banjo, Bruce Woodley (Seekers) left rear on guitar. The blonde is Prue Acton.

Ukuleles shelved

This acquisition didn’t lead to any great passion for the instrument. Every two or three years I would play one or the other for a few minutes and then put it away. There was a missed opportunity, though. In 1997 I transferred to Hong Kong and a uke would’ve been ideal to play in my tiny apartment, but they’d been rushed into storage. After 18 hectic months in HK, and a stint in Japan, returning to Brisbane was good for me in many ways. I met and later married Jennie, and restored some lovely vintage cars.

Beginning at BUMS

Eventually, in 2011, I went along to BUMS at Coorparoo with one of my little Kumalae ukes. Not exactly a light bulb moment, but something connected! But I realized that here was an opportunity to play and sing with like-minded people.  After the rather restrictive traditional jazz genre I could get into virtually anything I fancied, be it rock, Latin, swing, or C&W.  I prefer the great melodies of the 30s and 40s.

For folk who’ve recently taken up the ukulele, it’s an entrée to an unpretentious world of musical pleasure and fun, with as much challenge as you care to take on. I’m like some others who have come from a longer-term musical background. I started at 14 on guitar, soon took up banjo and eventually made the ukulele transition, which fits nicely with my time of life. Music was never my day job, and I’ve always been happy with where it’s taken me.

I’ve settled on the concert uke as my preferred instrument and had a gorgeous custom instrument built by Allen McFarlen (Barron River Guitars & Ukuleles in Cairns).  An indulgence? Yes, but a great investment!

Performing

Presenting the occasional set at our jams is something I really enjoy, along with doing open mic spots. Appearing at uke festivals as GIRT BY C is an opportunity to present material that’s typically a bit different, very old and requires a lot of work to get it right. In 2015, I took my ukulele on Channel 9’s ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’. I was told that to get through the selection process you need to stand out. Talking about my uke certainly played a part in it. Check out my performance.

Working on my own is my preference. That’s largely because I can’t reasonably expect anyone else to be sufficiently interested in the genres I tap into. Going solo also eliminates any conflict on issues like repertoire, arrangements, presentation and where and when to rehearse!

The Caxton Street Jazz Band in Brisbane c. 1979. Me again on banjo.

Having said that, I miss the true jam sessions of the jazz world. A world in which a bunch of musos agree on a tune and a key and then play — totally unrehearsed, no charts, no arrangement, anyone can join in or drop out.  The results are always interesting and sometimes breathtaking.

Latest challenges

Putting some of my songs up on BUMS’ private Facebook page has been an interesting exercise. I can get it reasonably OK from a technical perspective but playing, singing, recording and actually publishing can be confronting! While I happily perform solo in front of a big audience at festivals, playing to a camera is sterile. It requires some skills that I just don’t possess. Should I have bothered? Why can’t I smile? Does anyone like my stuff? Look at the chords I fluffed! But as the man said, the sun still comes up each morning, and since I’ve survived the challenge I’ll probably go again.

Stay tuned …

PjR

Girt by C Website: pjransom.wixsite.com/girt-by-c

Maree Reedman

The 100 Days of Ukulele Challenge is a ukulele journey with a difference.

Budding singer, songwriter and ukulele player Maree Reedman tells us how she wrestled with the challenge.

Maree shares her  journey.


Performance Anxiety

Fear clamped all the way from my stomach to my throat as I waited to go on stage at the Sunshine Coast Ukulele Festival open mic. I should be alright. I’d practised the song. But it was the biggest crowd I had seen — over a hundred people. I walked up to the mic, my heart beating faster than a rock song. When I sang, it was like a strangler vine had taken over my vocal chords. I couldn’t control my voice. It was much higher than it should be. The crowd was kind and sang with me. But to this day, I remember the man who made a face and turned away.

That was a few years ago. I’m not a natural performer. I don’t thrive on people’s attention. I don’t love parties. And yet because I love playing the uke, I keep trying to find a way to become more confident on stage. I’ve improved since then, and I’ve never felt that level of fear again. I’ve done more open mics and busking, and even entered songwriting competitions where I’ve had to perform my song.

Taking on the Challenge

Day 10: Choir Girl by Cold Chisel

Then I saw this year’s 100 Days of Ukulele on Cynthia Lin’s Patreon page. She launched the challenge a few years ago, from another internet-based art idea, #THE100DAYPROJECT. Now she hosts it every year in a private Facebook group.

Ukulele musicians are invited to post a song daily. There are no rules, you can do a song whenever you want.

But I have always been fascinated by hardship and the personal growth that it yields, so I wanted to do it the traditional way: one song, every goddamn day.

 

Getting Started

And yet, should I wait until I was better? I hadn’t figured out my iRig pre-amp yet. What was I going to do about sound? A friend said, “For God’s sake, just record yourself in the bathroom.” And so I did … for my first song.

I’ve posted over seventy songs. I joined Facebook and uploaded to YouTube. In the beginning, I spent hours setting up my recording space — the best spot for the amp and the mic and the music stand and lighting (my study faces west and doesn’t get much natural light).

Day 61: Waiting For You To Come Home (Original)

I’ve had technical glitches and reno-across-the-road problems that have wrecked recordings which took so long to make, and have even driven me out of the house in search of a quiet place to perform.

Day 71: If You Could Read My Mind – Gordon Lightfoot/Johnny Cash

In the beginning, knowing I had to record, I had that familiar churning in my guts. But it’s just part of my everyday routine now. I smile at the camera. I laugh like a madwoman when I make mistakes. Sometimes I sing like I’ve always wanted. And every day, people give me positive feedback.

The Outcome

I still chafe against perfectionism. Sometimes I can’t make the song sound like I want it to. I don’t have much time to learn or rehearse or arrange. It is a wicked, fantastic behavioural experiment for my high standards that I have to post something every day no matter what.

I still get envious of the performers whom everyone loves and who are better than me. But I’ve made friends all over the world, and I remember what another participant wrote: It is beautiful where we all are at this very moment.

What is YOUR ukulele journey?

People take up playing ukulele for lots of reasons – for fun, as a challenge, to meet new people, to stimulate their brain cells, to keep up with their kids and grandchildren.  Why did you pick it up?

You might have started playing a $35 ukulele in your back bedroom, or by attending a beginners’ class somewhere.  Once you got over sore fingers, there are many different directions to take with the world’s friendliest musical instrument.  We plan to ask you — our members — to tell us about your journey and what the uke has done for you.

Steps along the way

Here are some examples on steps you might have taken or could take.

  • Attend a live BUMS jam or try a jam you haven’t been to before.
  • Attend workshops run by BUMS, at festivals or by private teachers.
  • Access YouTube videos to improve your skills – fingerpicking, strumming, playing melodies.
  • Upgrade your instrument to sound better and play more easily.
  • Play for your family.
  • Practise so you can do an open mic at a jam or on BUMS Online.
  • Join a BUMS community band for regular practice.
  • Perform in public.
  • Join in BUMS Online jams and tutorials.
  • Find a ukulele buddy or buddies to play with.
  • Take singing lessons.
  • Learn how to use internet resources create song sheets with lyrics and chords.
  • Form a band with other BUMS.
  • Learn to use a microphone.
  • Amplify your uke.
  • Record yourself and edit your videos.
  • Try a different style of ukulele – banjolele, baritone, ubass, or an eight string or a six string uke.
  • Develop on percussion skills.
  • Run workshops for other musicians.

There is a no doubt that ukulele brings people together to have fun.  Just look round at all the smiling faces at a jam (Can you remember back in February?).  There are few other musical instruments where players join in like this.

What do you get from playing?  What’s your story, and what has ukulele done for you?  Write us your story or get in touch with Peter Grace to chat about your journey.  We’d love to hear from you.