So guess what? I got a ukulele for Christmas. I try to play a little bit every day after which I examine the tips of my fingers, anxiously searching for any sign of hard won calluses. I’ve never played a musical instrument, can’t read music, the whole musically-impaired nine yards but I’ll tell ya — the uke is not that hard to pick up (light as a feather actually, ba-DUMP-bah!). Did you ever wonder what ukulele meant? It translates as “jumping flea”. (The way I play at the moment is more like “spastic gnat.”)
Most of us probably think of Hawaii when we think of ukuleles (ah, Hawaii…. see? I’m thinking about it right now), but they originally came to the flower fragrant island by way of Portuguese sugarcane workers in 1879. The Hawaiians, who took to it right quick, called it the taro-patch fiddle, then pila li’ili’i (“Little Fiddle”), and finally ukulele.
In 1915 about 17 million people checked out the Panama-Pacific Intl. Exhibition in San Francisco and got to watch the Royal Hawaiian Quartet. It was one of the most popular exhibits and lit the tiki torch of enthusiasm for Hawaiian music that burned bright right through WWII into the 1950s.
In 1916, Hawaiian records outsold all other music on the mainland but the birth of rock ‘n’ roll was kind of the death knell for the ukulele — it became a joke instrument (admit it, when you think of ukuleles you also think of Tiny Tim).
Seth, otherwise known at Myron, otherwise known as the guy who hand-cut the incredible wooden puzzles for the Monster Ballad show, plays a mean uke and loaned me a heap of CDs including “My Favorite Letter is U” by Uni and her Ukulele. Pretty great, can’t stop spinning it, gonna hafta go buy myself one.
That’s Uni’s picture, btw, not mine. I have red hair. But I can totally do that too, in fact that’s how I’m blogging right now except without the knee cymbals. (I prefer to hold tiny maracas with my toes and show off my pedicure.) Seth says he picked up the ukulele because, among other reasons, you could play kinda half-assed and it still sounded okay and it’s true — it’s a very forgiving instrument. At least that’s what I tell myself as a plunk and cringe along.
And only slightly tangentially — one of my first crushes as a wee girl was on Hayata from Ultraman (a mid-60’s Japanese TV show with big rubber monsters). So imagine my glee when I found this.