FOUR STRINGS IN MY FUTURE?

Two days ago on Maui, we wandered into a second-hand store in Wailuku and I saw a beautiful ukulele hanging on the wall.  In the grip of musical hubris and hopefulness, I asked to see it and improvised a simple Thirties single-note riff, impressing the Beloved, who said, “I didn’t know you could play!”  “I didn’t either,” I replied.

mele-curly-kpa-tenor-2-holeSince I was quite young, I have made half-hearted attempts at learning a number of musical instruments.  Some of those nstruments ornament my apartment, although I am cautious lest it turn into a one-bedroom version of a music store / pawnshop. 

The ukulele has appealed to me for a long time, because I had the notion that it might be fairly simple to play — four strings rather than some more intimidating number, and not a great deal of aesthetic ambition attached to it (unlike, say, the violin).  It also has a Jazz Age history — on all the Twenties and Thirties sheet music I collect, the line above the treble clef has chord diagrams for imagined ukulele players to read off the page — and the diagrams are just my speed, a diagram of the four strings with a dot on each string to show where the novice should place his or her fingers. 

I haven’t bought the ukulele yet, although we visited the Mele store, where Peter (the resident self-taught virtuouso) tried to teach me to play YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE, with middling results. (I am a recalcitrant, stubborn pupil.)   The second-hand store was closed today, and I refuse to pay full price unless I am compelled to by circumstances.  I also don’t plan to turn into Arthur Godfrey, Don Ho, or Tiny Tim, never fear.  My aesthetic model is Cliff Edwards. I don’t aspire to starring in Technicolor, being the voice of a Disney character, or dying penniless, but his swinging insouciance is immensely appealing.

There are many wonderful Ukulele Ike clips on YouTube — too many to up or download, so you might want to investigate them on your own.  I’ll report back about the results of my four-string quest.

(On YouTube, you can also see a brief clip of Buster Keaton at home in 1965, happily croaking his way through “June Night,” accompanying himself on a tenor guitar with a fair deal of skill.  Who knew?)

4 responses to “FOUR STRINGS IN MY FUTURE?

  1. Ukelele Ike’s recording of “That’s My Weakness Now” is an all-time fave.

    To encourage you in your instrumental aspirations, I quote the immortal words of Frank Loesser:

    You’re from Dubuque,
    You play the uke,
    I go for that!

  2. Don’t be a fool-buy that sucker and open yourself up to a world of delight-you’ll get the playing down readily-it’s easier than you think.
    Better still, check out the Kamaka brand of ukes while you are out there-spend a little dough and get yourself an HEIRLOOM that sounds beautiful. I did and my twenty month old LOVES to listen and dance to its sound. She’ll own it and play it one day

  3. Do not miss the Ukulele Orchestra of GB on you tube who play a wonderful selection of tunes and give one of the best evenings entertainment you could hope for.

  4. I just thought I’d add some background to that Buster Keaton clip. He’s actually playing a baritone ukulele. The footage was shot in a caboose that they had fixed up for Buster to stay in, during the production of the Canadian National Film Board short film “The Railrodder”.

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