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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


So, I did it. I wrote one song for FAWM. I had high hopes that I would come up with fourteen songs, but like so many things, life got in the way. The best part is that life is good, and I really wouldn't want to change a thing. And this diversion of blogging about the coolest little instrument - one that brings happiness to anyone  - is helping me keep track of some of the nicest people...

Liner Notes to StarGirl:

I am running out of time and I feel it…
I tried to write some lyrics a couple weeks back thinking I was smart to get the poetic lines down first. But little did I know, I don't make songs that way. All the other songs I have written were created simultaneously with the chords that gave rise to the words. Nothing seemed to mesh.

So, I wrote "StarGirl" in a big rush this afternoon because I was getting frantic about seeing February slip by with nothing to show for it.
  • At about 2:10 today I thought to myself – I have to get one song together.
  • I stopped and talked with some other teachers, nervously waiting until the end of the school day at 3:00.
Then... the start:

  • 3:00 - I sit at my desk and make sure my uke is tuned - I start strumming some chords and realize I have to wait.
  • At 3:15 every day the blowers on the heater in my classroom turn off automatically, so I know I the recording will be really bad if I don't wait.
  • So, at this point I know I want to write a song about my wife, and I know it's going to be called "StarGirl" – that's all I got.
  • The blowers shut down and the quiet sounds strange: I record a couple takes with Audacity and my Samson mic and feel a sinking feeling as nothing worthwhile is being created – sadness.
  • It's now 3:30 and I know I have to pick up my son at the sitter by 4:00.
  • A fellow teacher stops in and talks to me for ten minutes.
Now it is 3:40.
  • Frantic, I try and remember the song I was working on before the interruption.
  • 3:50 - something seems to be working, probably hoping more than believing – I try again.
  • 3:55 - I have a song that I might want my wife to hear.
  • 4:00 - convert to mp3 and upload to box.net and run for the door.
I'm 15 minutes late to the sitter, but have one song.

Monday, February 22, 2010


It is very hard to not collect ukuleles; I have only three - one was a
gift from a student, the other I traded for a dinghy, and another was
a gift from my wonderful wife. But, I guess in furthering my
collection it might come down to disposable income; something I never
had the pleasure to worry about. And then looking at the line-up of
ukuleles in the picture above it just makes me want to take them all
home, but then... I don't get to practice that much. so for now I'll dream of
conspicuous consumption and more hours in a day.

Photo by Elisabethp Flickr

Saturday, February 20, 2010

L.M.'s Koa

My sister-in-law is having a replica of the Martin 3K made for her by a
friend who builds guitars - for the most part. This is a picture of
the uke in the process of having the finish applied. I'll have more
pictures soon, I hope.
I started this ukulele blog as a way of watching my children play
while I type out uke stuff on my iPhone. I'm replacing my ukulele
playing with just writing about the ukulele. Maybe people out there
can kind-of understand how hard it is to play the ukulele when your
kids don't really want to hear it. They're too young to have any
interest in it yet. So, in these in-between-days I'll just surf around
and live vicariously through other people's ukulele exploits. The live-
feed of ukulele blogs on the left side of this blog is a testiment, I
think, to the growth of the uke; I'll just keep adding my "two cents"
because it is a wonderful diversion - a way to practice writing and
stay in touch.
I wish all the best to anyone who takes an interest in the ukulele
because, really it just adds joy to the world.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Vote

Every time I visit Jim's web page I can't seem to get over the
fantastic banner art. This really sets the tone for the page - just a
timeless classic image for the ukulele instructor of today. And, all
the best to Jim while in Australia.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In Art

Shelley Rickey chose one of the most famous ships in the history of music to adorn this Bruko Archback Ukulele No.4 made in Germany. She, along with artist Quin de Vrede, Marc Kolle, Rene Verberne, Guido de Groot, Johan Xtra, Daniel van Nes, have created a new on-line shop The Jumping Flea Market to bring their unique brand of "outsider art" to the public.

Shelley comments on her art:

Artist?...I don't know. People that call themselves an 'Artist' usually give me the creeps. But, I am a graphic designer & I create stuff, all kinds of stuff. I'm crazy about taking something 'worthless' and turning it into something 'priceless'. I'm also crazy about the Ukulele and try to introduce as many people as possible to this wonderful instrument. Turn off your TV and play Ukulele!

Shelley's response to how she started playing ukulele:

My mom played. Still does, once in a Blue Moon. She was a singer in Biloxi, Mississippi during the 60's. "Miss Tonda Kae". It was during the folk revival, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez....
She played a Favilla Baritone (still has two of them) and there were always a couple of Harmony ukes at home.
I'm guessing mom was teaching me chords as soon as i could hold it. But growing up i was mostly interested in using it to accompanying my singing. Didn't give the uke much thought in particular. 
I continued with music in school, sang in a choir with 72 voices, madrigal group with 16, and a girls barbershop quartet (bass!) Also played the flute for 7 years. Had many musical adventures in between - and then about 6 years ago...i picked the uke back up.

It has brought so much joy to my life.
Through the uke i've met so many incredible people, traveled to amazing places... It's been incredibly inspiring.

Shelley's always captivating ukulele blog: Selley Rickey 

Shelley and her team of artist reside in Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Monday, February 15, 2010

No Coincidence

So, I've gone through most of my life being mildly interested, amused,
and sometimes astonished by things that seem coincidental. Although,
lately I have been entertaining the thought that nothing is
coincidence. To me, this is starting to seem like a much more
interesting way to look at life - a lens that makes everything seem
meaningful and special. I've always listened to people who say that
everything happens for a reason, and in the past I've smiled and
quietly dismissed this saying as being just words to help get us
through one moment and on to the next. Now I'm thinking everything,
every-single-thing has a purposeful meaning; every word, every breath,
every thought. While trying to conceive of how this might all work I
also must take into consideration that not everyone has an equal lot
in life - for me a truly confounding part of the equation.
(Photo: Art Deco Lamp w/ Ukulele)

Friday, February 12, 2010


For me the beauty of the ukulele is not completely held in its
liltings, but part of the allure comes from the perfection of its
design. I find myself starring at the lines of my ukulele like I do
with those of a six-meter sailboat; an example of the height of beauty
in the sailboat world. There is something inexplicable about the
aethetics of perfection. With so many contemporary designs around us
that seem to find use in the awkward trapazoid, I believe it is the
beauty born of the French curve that we truly desire.
(Photo by Morburg Flickr)

Thursday, February 11, 2010


We had a lot of fun in fifth grade today - I have Skype unblocked on my
classroom computer so I can videoconference with one of my students
who is out of school for a long-term medical reasons. She watches the
math lessons from her bed at home (not quite as bad as it might
sound). We can all see her and talk, ask questions and make her feel
like she is part of the classroom again.

I had a teacher gift card I won from Walmart so I ordered a HP webcam
a couple of weeks ago, and now we are connected to the world.
We went ahead and Skyped a school down in Alabama who wanted to
partner read a book. We found out that kids in New York are just like
kids in Alabama. They have a unicycle club and we have a ukulele club,
so one of my uke kids went home and got a unicycle on eBay. School is
cool again.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Songwriter: a lyricist and composer, and then possibly a musician and singer all rolled up in one. I understand why the great ones only come along once in a while. This takes a lot of processing power. Then, of course, there is the life experiences that drive the direction of the song and music - and the style. Fourteen songs in twenty-eight days is feeling a bit illusive. 
I have to admit that this challenge has been tremendously fun already. I fill all the empty moments with thoughts of shadowy memories that could be worked into some lyrics and then possibly a song. And, while the ukulele has a bright sound for the most part, it can be played as a back drop to some sad lyrics, but I'm not sure I want to go in that direction. 

And what rhymes with shadow?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Just Because

And even if everyone in the world is better at it than you.
Make your mark.
Just because.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Inspiration Club

So, February is going by fast as I try and write some lyrics to fourteen song. This really makes February much more exciting up here in the cold North. Maybe like this pictured uke I should have my T.V. Pal with me while relaxing with my daughter watching Dora the Explorer.
The first uke song I listened to was a wonderful song entitled Emotions of the Snow by artist Whispered Candles. She was kind enough to give us all a glimpse into her late-night song writing process:

Liner Notes:12:05 AM, February 1st:
Whispered Candles picks up her ukulele and decides to write a song that mentions the cold weather. She begins to strum around with some different chords and makes up some lyrics to go along with it.

12:30 AM, February 1st:
She picks up a piece of paper, and begins to write down the lyrics she has been singing with her new chords and rhythm in mind. Then she practices the song a couple more times, becoming familiar with her newly written down lyrics.

Shortly before 1 AM, February 1st:
She opens garageband, and tests levels of the computer mic and their ability to pick up the ukulele.

Around 1 AM, February 1st:
She begins recording, scrutinizing, nervously messing up, re-recording, etc.

Shortly before 1:30 AM:
She has a complete demo recorded.
Then she decides to see if she can record a second vocal track in one take so the lyrics are more easily understood.

1:30 AM:
Vocal take was successful, and she watches with pleasure as it converts her first demo of FAWM 2010 convert to an mp3 format.

2:00 AM:
Whispered Candles had fallen asleep by this point, and likely dreamed of all the other songs she has yet to write for FAWM 2010.


I looked outside and saw the cloud
I hoped it'd be warm enough to rain
But then I called you on the phone
And you assured me that it would snow

It is so cold today
And I can't tell if it's the weather or your mood
But the chill in here is almost unbearable

We sit by the fire sipping hot chocolates and teas
I beg you not to leave
But you tell me you have work
Even though the offices are closed

It has gotten so cold here
And by now I'm sure I'm more affected by that you don't care
Well maybe I'll just disappear I can become one with the snow

A month's gone by and you are knocking at my door
But I've moved on and I don't need you anymore
You ask if you can step inside
Warm your fingers by the fire
Before you go home

Oh, and now you are so cold
But I'm happy and warm and I'll have you know
You missed your chance it's time to go I'm going outside to enjoy the snow