I run a Ukelele camp through my church. I have never been a big fan of the Ukelele, usually finding it too twee and trendy and thin to be an actual instrument. On Denis Leary’s Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll they referred to it as “a motherfucking Game Of Thrones midget guitar” which I actually find apt. However, our previous pastor, Rachel Manke, was a big Ukelele player and she got this camp started to reach out into the community and when she left, I took it over. I have gotten to like the instrument. I have made a couple cigar box ukes that I use. I find it a very convenient instrument to play. You can play it in an Adirondack chair because it is small and the arms don’t get in the way. So, being able to sit back with a bourbon and a cigar and noodle a bit is always a good thing. I’m even starting to use it on the Noyes and the Boyes project a little. It focuses your playing because you’ve only got an octave to work with. I’ve learned a few jazz pieces: Wave, Night in Tunisia, Epistrophy.
It is a particularly good instrument for kids, being small and all. So we started this camp for 8-11 year olds. We have it one week in the summer and then every other Wednesday throughout the year. We learn a lot of kids’ folk songs and then try to throw in a pop song or two.
Malden, being the most diverse city in Massachusetts, gives us a wide variety of countries of origin for our campers. They come from Brazil, Haiti, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Pakistan, to name a few. This wonderful quilt of culture informs what we play and how we relate to the community. We have all kinds of abilities in the group but in my mind, the most important thing is to have fun. I believe kids are too over-programmed today and I feel guilty contributing to that. I try to give them some freedom and I try to engage them in making choices about the direction of the repertoire.
We had our fall semester concert this past weekend and I thought it was a great success. Thanks to Janet Lundstrom, my fearless sidekick, we had a good turnout and sounded terrific. We started out with the Henry Triplets doing a couple of numbers and helping me out on a Christmas blues tune I wrote, Peace On Earth Blues.
I then did a solo version of my tune, My Grandfather’s Chair. Then the adult ukes came up and did a couple of Christmas carols. The adults meet after the kids and we always do a couple of numbers at the concerts. It has been fun and has gotten people into music who would not have otherwise done so.
Then the kids did their pieces, including “I Don’t Know My Name” by Grace VanderWaal. She is a 12 year old kid who did this Ukelele song on America’s Got Talent and won it. The kids nailed it. They also nailed Lime In The Coconut which for some reason they hate doing but Janet and I love. So they humor us.
We ended the night with Simple Gifts and This Land is Your Land. We have done this Woody Guthrie song since the beginning and I feel it really speaks to the melting pot that is the United States. I like to believe that thss is bigger than the hate that is so trendy now, what with the orange one coming to the White House.
The next day we played at the Festival of Carols at the Malden Baptist church. We did Joy To The World along with the adults and they l0oved us. I am so honored to be able to bring this music to everyone.
Video by Shanan Edwards