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.

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.