Welcome to Ukulelear

Back in 2005 I brought a Roy Smeck ukulele to school. Kids were intrigued and wanted to try to play it themselves. The sound was pretty cool with just a few simple chords. Within a few weeks kids had bought their own Mahalo ukes and started to really enjoy playing.

Since that first ukulele group the Cal-Mum Uke club has had about forty students join-up every year. It has been a joy to teach in a school that is filled with the plinkety-plunk of the uke music.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

8 oz.

Back in the early 70's my grandfather had a Buick dealership. Out
where the guys worked on the cars was a Coke machine with a long door
on the left that had about six bottles lined up. You had to read the
cap to see what was in the bottle. I remember 7UP and Orange Crush,
but all I ever wanted was a Coke.
They were small bottles back then, 8 oz., but the taste on a hot day
was incredible. They made that stuff with real cane sugar - I can
remember the taste, you can tell it was cane sugar when your teeth rub
together, a unique texture.
Today I stop and get a Coke, it's not the same as it once was; plastic
bottle, 20 oz. - more than twice what I had as a kid - more than twice
I need. There is always some left in the bottle; we've become a nation
of not finishing our drinks.
So, after finding the ukulele about five years ago I find that my
electric guitar is the Big Gulp I don't seem to need anymore. It
sits and gathers dust as I happily play my little soprano - the 8 oz.
ice-cold Coke-in-a-glass-bottle I ever really wanted.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Joy in Mudville

Okay, where did this guy come from?
Luckily for me I was checking out the blog Ukulele & Languages and an interview with Casey Chandler was featured. He sounded like an interesting guy, and as I played his music I knew that this was the uke gold I'm always looking for. I contacted him and found out he is a very interesting guy and this is what he had to say:

My parents bought me a Schmidt Washburn concert uke for my last birthday probably because I kept talking about this great band I saw when I visited Texas called Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele - it's funny but the song that inspired me to want to get a uke was this song I'm An Alcoholic by them. I remember singing that song the whole rest of the trip and I still play it at every bar show since. They are by far my favorite ukulele band. My parents know me very well, so I'm sure they knew I was gonna end up using it for good. I actually didn't even take it out of the box until a month after I got it. I just kept it in the packaging for a whole month just sitting there collecting dust. Maybe I was just secretly afraid that we were soon gonna be bff's after we were introduced to each other.

I have to say the "wow" moment that I had with my ukulele was definitely over the summer when I went to North Carolina for a week for vacation with my family and my girlfriend. It was about 3 months after I had gotten the ukulele,and I brought it on the trip with me because I told myself I was gonna teach myself it in a week. It's only 4 strings, so how hard could it be to learn? My girlfriend asked me to serenade her to sleep every day when she took a nap and that was pretty much how I taught myself. It was one of those afternoons that I randomly started playing the progression that became Goodnight Moon. I didn't think anything of it until my girlfriend said "wow. I really like that a lot, you NEED to write a song with that." It was at that moment that I realized that the ukulele rules. (Listen)

Yeah, Goodnight Moon is inspired by the children's story, but it's actually a song that I wrote to myself as a kid. Its just about how fast I'm growing up and how complicated life is getting, yet I'm still trying to keep that little kid Casey alive in me. I'm just slowly forgetting who that person is and this was just my outlet for remembering. Lost Generation is the first really serious song I wrote on ukulele. As you can guess it's all about me being angry at how the system has really screwed over my whole graduating class and yet we're the ones who are expected to just take it and change everything.

Virginia is the only song on the EP that was not recorded in my bedroom here in Queens. It was actually written in the summer of 2008 and recorded in December of 2008. The song is actually about my dear friend that I lived with for a little while that died in a terribly tragic fire along with her entire family in the summer of 2008. Sorry for anyone out there that thought it was just a simple love song.

The song Smile is me venting my anger - the not so secret underlying theme of the EP is about where I work and all the under appreciated employees that I work with. They say to write what you know and the whole EP is all that I know about life for recent graduates, and of course longing for love songs thrown in the mix.

I don't think I'll ever get another ukulele, unless I strike it rich with my music and can fill my whole wall with different ukes. My uke plays beautifully though and I'm sure it's a top of the line one. It's also an acoustic/eletralele, which is nice for playing shows because a ukulele is a bit hard to mic since it's so small. I do secretly want the flying V uke, though. I've been eying it on Amazon for the past month. Maybe my parents will surprise me with it for my 23rd birthday.

Our Lost Generation EP available at Amazon
Casey's songs and review on Ukulele & Languages blog
On Myspace
On Facebook

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

This Message

There are a few ukulele songs out there that I can return to time after time and "This Message" by Mike, aka Krabbers, is one of them. This is ukulele the way I love to hear it - simple and true. The words are haunting and beautiful. Mike's vocals are superb, refreshingly clean and inspiring.

On Mike's YouTube channel he tells a bit about himself:

"I love the sound of an acoustic guitar. I play guitar and ukulele (badly), love sharks, dolphins, monkeys, snakes, stars, noise, silence, laughter, accents, hammocks, beer, trees, bees, not wasps, birds, penguins, magpies cos they look like flying penguins, spiders..."

Insight into his psyche?

Link: Krabbers' Channel

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Real Music

The following post was on Ukulele Underground in response to the idea that some see the ukulele as a lesser instrument. Grammy's words below helped me to happily move on:

Don't worry that its not good enough for anyone else but you.

To play uke, or anything else for that matter, because it is cool is silly, to play because it is uncool is equally silly. to even worry about popularity or fame or your audience or what anyone thinks, or what instruments are better or worse like there is some kind of pecking order is just plain stupid. To be impressed or offended by the opinion of anyone is vanity, and vanity is for shallow people. You simply need to express yourself. Play what you want to, how you want to and from your heart everything else is just so much fluff in the belly button of life.... in the end, inside you is where art comes from, so...make art for arts sake, for the joy of your soul. Nothing, but nothing, else matters.

Ask Jake, or Julia or Brudder Iz or Eric Clapton or Jimmy Paige or Paul McCartney or anyone who really is a musical artist, they will tell you the same thing.

Posted by: Ukulele Underground member: Grammy, Budapest, Hungary

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Russell Sails

I've just started to float around on YouTube and am finding some cool sounds like this David Gray cover by russbuss415. I really like the original song by Gray, but the effortless playing and singing in this video has made me love the song all over again. Russell claims that he is "Just Makin' Some Noise!", but it is clearly more than just that.

russbuss415's Channel

Sunday, December 6, 2009


My memories are probably clouded by nostalgia, but I think the part of me that wants to write ukulele songs was nourished during the endless hours I spent riding in the back seat of my parent's Buicks; the Wildcats, Skylarks, and Electra 225s. Those countless hours were spent traveling, sitting on the backseat hump, chin on crossed arms resting along the top of the front seat. Watching the speedometer hardly ever pass much above 55 mph, my dad drove with precision. I was only nervous on those snowy nights when I couldn't see the road ahead.
I had time to think. It was an hour's drive to our lake cottage and we went often. Roads and drivers seem different back then. I don't remember too much aggression on the roads. I don't remember people passing us often, or us passing them. Just enjoying the travel and the view - much like a ukulele song.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Koa

Koa... Just the sound of the word seems to imply some magical properties. A tree from Hawaiian legends and modern over cultivation. For many, myself included, it is the holy grail of tone woods for the ukulele. A part of me though, hears the voice of the Lorax whispering in my ear that I am part of the problem. A part of me just wants to have and hold something of such signifigence as a koa uke. It would be like having a part of the island, the culture, the history, the beauty and depth of the wood is beyond compare - a talisman. For now I will wait and consider wether or not I'm worthy or foolish to want to possess koa.   

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Sitting on the beach house steps at Kure Beach, NC. In the sunshine
with soothing sounds of waves breaking on shore, I remember practicing
songs on my first ukulele. The 1950's Roy Smeck I found in my parent's
cottage closet needed the bridge glued back on and the tuning pegs
loosened up; then it needed a trip to the beach. The best place in the
whole wide world to practice.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Dusting off the chords for Mele Kalikimaka and a few other holiday
Pictured on our tree is a 1920's Supertone Ukulele made for the Sears
Roebuck Company by unknown builders - possibly in Chicago or New York
City. Someone glued the bridge on fractions of an inch from its
rightful location rendering this uke untunable for now.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Lights

On Thanks Giving:
Thank you Mom and Dad for life, and Jenny for the world. Thank you
Steve for helping me survive high school with some dignity, Bruce for
the clarity your friendship gave me during and after college, Seth for
your sandy shores of friendship I washed up on during some of the most
stressful teaching I hope I'll ever experience, and Peter for your
insight into the calm beauty and power of wind, water, and wood.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Own Thoughts

As I watch my children grow
Explore their world.
I find
They are not becoming little pieces of me.
I'm little pieces of them.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ode to Michelle

I feel I owe Michelle Kiba a big mahalo for providing me with a tremendous resource. About five years ago when I was searching, somewhat frantically on the web, for chord diagrams, I tripped across her page. I remember the surprise I had when I saw her chart available in pdf. I contacted her and was given permission to post the chart on my student's uke club page. The chart has attracted visitors from all around the globe to our little uke club page.

I was able to use Michelle's chart to produce a Left-handed Uke Chord Chart. I have had a few left-handed players and some look so forlorn when I try to get them to play "right" that I had to restring their ukes. Lefty: http://www.box.net/shared/pgspan1w84

Michelle's web page:http://www.ukalady.com/

Michelle Kiba, the Ukulele Lady

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Simple Life

I imagine if I Google "Simple Life" I would find that there are a lot of songs by this title. Yes, but I guess that the song I wrote is so simple I couldn't really title it anything else.
This is my first attempt at a song with a video. I wrote and recorded the song in one sitting during my half-hour lunch break. I wouldn't call it polished by any stretch. But it was nice enough for me to go back and listen to, so I combined it with some surf video - not that it's a perfect match for the song, but it does share some elements.
I equate surfing to a simple enjoyment of life. I always thought, while growing up in Upstate New York, that I would be a surfer, living in some warm climate near the beach. Funny how the feeling never really goes away.
Three chords and a surfboard - Simple Life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Carol Anne McGowan

"Carol Ann's ethereal sound was particularly special; a truly beautiful vocalist.", wrote The Stephen's Green Preservation Society back in August. I have to admit that I'm a pushover for music set to old vintage film. In her song I'll Be Seeing You, her voice floats along as images of days-gone-by remind you of things... It seems a perfect mix of film, ukulele and Carol Anne's lovely voice that draw us in with feelings of longing and nostalgia.

Carol Anne noted on her MySpace page that the chords for the song are simple: G6 A9 Am7 G6. Sometimes the simpleness of music is freeing. We can overlay our own crafted inner melodies and thoughts to experience the music in a kind of multi-emotional landscape. Like her picture below, we alow ourselves to fill in the blanks and quiet places with our selves.

Her influences are:The sea, Stina Nordenstam, Nancy Sinatra, Natalie Merchant, Kate Bush

Location: Donegal, Dublin Ireland

 From: http://www.myspace.com/carolannemcgowan

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rising Stars

NYS 5th grade social studies tests ended today. One student asked if we we're going to celebrate. After sitting quietly for 90 minutes kids will tend to celebrate whether I agree to it or not. I usually join right in the festivities of "test completed". It turned into a mini-ukulele jam fest. We ended up recording a few kids playing and singing the song Be Friends.

The Star rising up the side of our school has never been caught in a photo before, and I have always just imagined it magically appearing. I was lucky to be out on the playground and witnessed the start of the holiday season.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Danielle's Bribes

If you are familiar with the artist Danielle of Danielle Ate the Sandwich YouTube fame, then you know she has a tendency to start her videos with some self deprecating humor. It seems to be an attempt by her to let her audience see the juxtaposition of two feelings; a little genuine humor and then a heart melting song. Bribes is a good example of her method. For me, I like the style - she has carved out her own niche.

She still sells her CD in a handmade felt pouch at http://danielleatethesandwich.net/page-store.html

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I keep coming back to this beautiful picture taken by Alpana Aras of her son standing by a neighbor's trailer.

The photo reads like a short story; so many elements in such narrow space. A moment in childhood. And how will the story go? As parents we know that in the blink of an eye the world changes, the shorts become too small, the ukulele is neglected, and the shiny trailer looses its emerald luster. But, in this short moment all the world seems to stop for the boy with the ukulele.

(Photo by permission: Alpana Aras, www.storyboxart.com)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Possibility's Wall

Ukes parked on the wall.
Kids keep their ukes insight as they wait for a math lesson to end. When break time comes there will be a rush for the wall to pull their uke down and start strumming - a life with music.

In the picture are a few of the twelve black Mahalo ukes donated by Geoffrey Rezek, founder the Ukulele Society of Connecticut. The ukes were donated a few years ago by Geoffrey in an effort to get ukuleles into the hands of as many kids as possible. Many students buy their own uke, but for those who can't there is always one available. Thanks Geoffrey.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Kantoi by Zee Avi

This song is a beautiful ukulele song that has gotten a lot of play. Here is a little background from her MySpace page that makes the song all that much more ethereal:

Zee Avi is from the unlikely birthplace of Borneo, an ancient island east of Malaysia which remains an untouched, natural paradise, an apt description of her songs. “I get my melodic feel from the simplicity of classic jazz, people singing what they felt with straightforward lyrics and not too many harmonies,” Zee says. “Just a lot of honesty. My stuff is pretty dark,” Zee admits. “Most of my songs are about the reality side of romance, outlets to vent my emotions.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009


And years go by while we search.
We record the moments.
We ponder.
And then...
We realize that all those moments we want to erase make us who we are.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Eleventh Hour

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest
appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." JFK
(Photo courtesy of KylePix at Photobucket.com)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Growing up is different these days. Every generation has its unique
distractions. My parents grew up in the generation that would gather
'round the piano at parties. Music of today's generation, for the most
part is something you listen to - not partake in. Something is lost when
only superstars can sing.

Monday, November 9, 2009


I sat quietly with my five year-old son and took a picture of trees I
had seen when I was his age. No sounds but the echoes of the years.

Catching on.

The enchanted wonders the ukulele holds for children is no little thing. The memories of my youth remind me that magic was everywhere. If I had been lucky enough to have had a(n) ukulele I would have thought the gods had crafted it out of some special tree just for me.
Today I know the gods at Martin made mine - just for me - eighty years
ago. Magic...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Just a Start

Just starting to put together some ideas related to ukulele and its instruction along with the lifestyle that goes with the uke. It seems to attract a complementary lifestyle, one of thoughtful reflection, the idea that as long as you strum and sing along you are happy.