Ukelele Snobbery

Hey you guys, Marty here.  I just read an article on the ‘net today about top UK ukelele banjo player Steven Sproat.  Mister Sproat, who’s been playing the UB since age 10 apparently, believes we’re suffering from ukelele overload.

His comments that there are ‘too many ukelele players around’ has me baffled. The world according to Sproat, is suffering from the current ubiquitous malady that is ‘ukelele bloat.’  He bemoans and rails at the fact that what first attracted him to the uke was that it was percieved as a ‘novelty’ and thus not many folk played it and yet nowadays he thinks the uke is out for world domination, with so many people taking it up, forming various clubs and such and for him, this is anathema.

As a long time musician who plays piano, keyboards, synth, drums percussion, acoustic guitar, sings and composes and now plays the humble but mighty soprano uke, I find Sproat’s attitude leaves alot to be desired and verges, may I say, on the snobby side.

Why should music be limited to so called ‘afficionados’ or experts and why should any musical instrument be limited to the elite few? It is this, to my mind, wholly unacceptable ‘exclusive’ attitude that would have music and instruments only in the hands of the allegedly capable.  

We know there are virtuosos and prodigies, let’s name a few: Mozart, Rich, Fitzgerald, Peterson et al, we could go on, but what Sproat fails to remember, is that music is meant to be enjoyed and shared.

Music has been man’s way of inner self expression among the creative arts for years. Ever since he clacked some bones together and liked the sound as it reverberated around his primeval cave, man has sought to make music, on primitive drums, then harps, lyres, whatever he could find to make a joyful noise with! 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more intimate than lying down in the dark, listening via your headphones to a favourite piece of music, but what can beat the shared experience of adrenalin filled excitement and atmosphere of a live gig or concert?

But let’s get back to Sproat. I believe everyone from small children to oldsters has the inalienable right to play the ukelele, at whatever level they may be, whether three chord wonder to advanced player.

The sheer abundance of uke clubs that have sprung up like weeds in the UK alone is testament to the tiny uke’s growing popularity. Not so long ago, I watched and indeed recorded onto CD, a documentary programme called ‘The Mighty Uke.

It was fascinating, because it charted the history and origins of this small but powerfully popular instrument and contrary to popular belief…no, the uke didn’t originate in Hawaii, but in nearby Portugal! 

It was through a happy quirk of fate and circumstance that the islanders of Madeira experiencing hardship, were invited by nonetheless an important personage than the king, to come to Hawaii and stay.

Thus through this happenstance, the ukelele (meaning ‘jumping flea,’ no doubt because of its size) rapidly caught on and became a favourite of the Hawaiians, who took it to their heart and built their own versions of the original, calling it the ‘ukelele’  pronounced ook-oo-lel-e.

What warmed my heart about the programme was the migration of the instrument in recent times and how there is a fever pitch about all things ukelele. Yes, the jumping flea is enjoying a resurgence worldwide.

Everybody, the world over is discovering the joy in playing such a lowly instrument and perhaps that’s why I myself love it so much, because it is the ‘underdog’ of the musical instrument world.

What was once seen as pure novelty, is now in the capable hands of younger players like the very talented Jake Shimabukuro who plays everything from Hawaiian ballads to classical, to jazz to rock…the latter of  his repertoire including…would you believe it?…Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen!!!  

Even new ‘young’ muso bands like Mumford and Sons or Noah and the Whale include the uke in their instrument line up, so for the moment and I feel, for a long time to come, the uke will continue to endear more people to its veritable charms and people like master Sproat and co will have to just grin and bear it while crying into their coffee.

My own little giant, is a jet black soprano, which I’ve named ELSIE after my deceased mother (bless her). It’s a little ‘cheapie’ job made by Mahalo, a Chinsese firm who licensed the territorial rights to sell it worldwide from the original Japanese manufacturers.

It keeps good tuning, has a nice sonorous tone and is lightweight to carry and store and came with a little carry bag.  Okay, it’s not the most expensive uke in the world, but everyday I learn more about it, I caress it, coax it, cajole it and strum the hell out of it and get rewarded by making beautiful, simple music with it!

I can’t see myself ever being a Jake Shimabukuro, but actually, I don’t want to be. I simply want to be a competent player with his own style and that suits me just fine.

So why don’t you go out to your nearest music store and get yourself a uke. You won’t regret it, I promise.  

Advertisements

About martyjava

Blogger, reviewer for all of JC Gallacher's collected works, ebooks, music, songs, plays and musicals.

8 comments

  1. Hi – couldn’t agree more! I started teaching myself the uke at home almost two years ago, then went along to my local club & have wound up becoming their webmaster.

    I couldn’t agree more. I started teaching myself at home almost two years ago, joined the local free club & have ended up running their website!

    We have a few excellent expert players who help things go with a swing but get folk of all ages, backgrounds & musical knowledge (or lack thereof) join us. And they all have a great time joining in whatever their level.

    It’s so nice to see people who’ve arrived clutching a uke who cannot even play a single chord to be able to sing & play along within a few weeks. Cheap to buy (I have a £15 Mahalo & there are tons of free on-line resources – see our site for many handy links); fun to play & a great social instrument.

    Happy strumming!
    Jeanette

    • Hi Jeanette, rock on baby….UKE IS KING! I totally agree with your comments. Music is for everyone and the humble uke is an ‘inclusive’ instrument and the most fun and pleasurable to play (see my comments to Julia). I actually fancy starting a kind of small acoustic uke ensemble with maybe 3/4 ukes and 2 percussionsis/vocalists and doing little intimate gigs. 🙂 Marty.

  2. I don’t like snobby attitudes like this. If you enjoy something, why not share it with others, so they can enjoy it with you? Wanting to keep it to yourself, like Steven Sproat seems very selfish.

    Also, I love the ukulele! 🙂 I’ve been playing for 2 1/2 years now.

    • Hi Julia, thanx 4 ur comment. I’ve only begun playing a small soprano uke for maybe just under a year (maybe a bit more) but…the thing is, I’ve learned so much from it…Elsie (her name) has given me so much pleasure and I’m getting to know the instrument more intimately every day with wee things that I’m discovering. Here’s the rub. I bought myself a fairly expensive Takamine acoustic guitar, which I now find bulky and hard to see what Im playing on, whereas, my little cheap uke (A Mahalo, from DJM Music online) keeps its tuning, has a lovely tone, is lightweight, small and deffo much more easy to handle than the bulky guitar! So….I prefer my uke everyday and anyday! ps, Oh, I prefer playing ‘blues-y’ style tunes on it. I do mostly strumming, but am learning fingerpicking on it too. Rock on Julia and please feel free to keep in touch as a uke player, I’d love to hear about what you’re doing on the uke. All hte best, Marty.

  3. Hey Marty! No problem. I had the same thing happen to me. The more I fell in love with my Uke, the less I liked laying the guitar. I am not a very technical musician, mostly do strumming as well and figure out stuff as I go. My focus is more on lyrics and then finding the music that will transport and compliment them. The best way of keeping up with my music is my Facebook page, wich I notice you already liked. Can I listen to your music somewhere online?

    • Hey Julia, I think we maybe fell outta the same mould hon’ as I equate perfectly, to your commentts about playing style, and you know, this is my take in life, just be yourself, you don’t need to be like anybody. YOU ARE UNIQUE! So your playing style is YOU.

      I listened to two short excerpts of your music: 1. an ‘own composition and 2. A cover version of destiny’s child (?) anyhoo….I liked both!
      Nice voice and good uke playing.
      regards me playing. Sure, you can see and hear me play a little ditty called ‘Never Met A Gal Like Elsie’
      (played far too fast) and Java Jive.
      If uou go to you tube and type in: JC Gallachers ebooks and coffee, it sould direct you to the channel.
      Search down the Marty Java videos and select MOUTH TRAP poetry and you’ll hear me sing. Unfortunately the webcam doesn’t catch my middle, where I’m playing the uke….but I am playing!
      2. search for and select: ALL HORROR’S EVE video and you’ll see me play a little intro to Java Jive.
      i would love if you would like my videos and maybe subscribe…it would elp my buddy JC Gallacher alot.
      And…I’d love to be ur chat buddy and follow ur career, see how ur doin’.
      Personally, I hope to start a small uke ensemble with my partner Mo (Maureen) and a few other uke players and a couple of perc players and do a little tour of west Scotland’s coffee shops. What do you think?
      Anyhoo, gotta go Julia, great to connect with you. Take care and ope to speak more with you. Bye. x

  4. Thanks for your kind words. Unfortunately, I think you might not have listened to my stuff. I wrote a blog post about Julia Nunes, a ukulele singer-songwriter who’s one of my heros basically. Coincidentaly, she has the same first name as me. My stuff can be found here:
    https://julefuchs.wordpress.com/music/

    Your plans sound fantastic. I’ll go listen to your stuff now. 🙂 And yeah, let’s keep in touch. Have a great sunday!

    • Hey J, nope, wasn’t confusing you at all child. prefer your voice to the other Julia…sorry. Liked Peaches and Red Wine and foolish things. I’ll let you into a li’l secret J, I’m 58 yrs now, (still a kid inside) and been playin’ in bands a long time. I play piano, keyboards and synth, drums and perc, I’m
      aa newbie on uke and guitar and I compose music and have just finished a musical. So, don’t beat yourself up about your style or technique…as i said earlier, forget top players and heroes….BE YOU and that, my wee frau, will take you a million miles and get you noticed for wat you are. UNIQUE! x

Reply to Marty

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: