The ukulele’s inexplicable ability to spread joy is certainly nothing new. The ukulele has over a hundred years history enjoyed varying levels of popularity. Yet in many ways it feels like the joy of ukulele has been kept a secret. During this recent ukulele revival there are ever increasing numbers of people who are discovering this joy and regard it as a revelation.
This was precisely how I experienced my own ukulele discovery six years ago. Music had always been a prominent factor in my life. I had played in bands and created solo projects with the guitar during my teens and early adulthood. Artistic expression has always been a cathartic way to overcome my social awkwardness and to gain self-esteem. During my mid-twenties I traveled with my guitar and played on streets and boulevards across Europe. It was during this period of travel that I met my wife and the ukulele came to us as a wedding gift. When I started playing the ukulele it was like falling in love all over again.
At first, he ukulele just sat there gathering dust. When I eventually picked it up and started to strum I was first taken by its sweet sound. Before long I was searching the internet for chords and tabs to a wide variety of songs. The first thing I wanted to learn was the theme music for The Super Mario Bros.
Just like being in love I soon found that I could not think about anything else. I discovered two incredible things. First was that there are a lot of ukulele players out there. Thanks to the internet I learnt how to play many songs and techniques. I also found out that are many groups of uke players using social media to share ideas, videos and discussions. When I first saw Jake Shimabukuro’s video “While my guitar gently weeps” and James Hill’s “Billie Jean” I realized that there is more to this instrument first meets the eye. This further fuelled my curiosity; I had to find out more.
Thanks to Al Wood’s site Ukulele hunt, I found out about ukulele festivals. I have always enjoyed a good music festival but nothing could have prepared me for the ukulele one. Not only was the musical quality of the main acts just superb, the chance to meet these ukulele heroes and even attend a workshop was truly an enriching experience. And addictive! I have since travelled to Finland, Czech, Sweden, Denmark and the UK to enjoy ukulele festivals and workshops. Each festival is a little different and unique in some way, but the attendees seem always to be enthused, jovial and willing to join in a strum-a-long or jam session. There is nothing better or engaging than feeling that level of enthusiasm that comes with people’s passion. The ukulele scene has risen in the last ten years from a quirky ragtag group of enthusiasts to and thriving scene that looks poised for world domination.
The second thing that I discovered is directed inward, towards myself. Since opening my mind and my heart to the ukulele I have find so many qualities about myself that I hadn’t really seen before. My musical ability has improved with practise, yet there is more. I feel that I have become more patient and tolerant with myself and others. When I play at an open-mic or jam session I find that I am willing to listen to others. Musicians are generally very helpful and supportive with each other regardless of musical ability. An open-mic or a casual jam session is an arena for learning as much as it is a place for performing. However, one must be willing to listen to benefit. In my experience ukulele people are willing to play and jam together, perhaps more so than with other instruments because the ukulele is accessible and welcoming. The ukulele levels the playing field as there seems to be little pretention regarding skill with the focus being having fun. The ukulele is first and foremost a fun and social instrument which evident in the number of ukulele clubs appearing all over the world.
Whenever I am having a stressful day I play the ukulele and it is the best remedy. There must be some science behind this but my theory is that music is a healing force. My mind is sharper, I remember things better and learn new things quicker. My self-esteem has never been higher and I believe that the ukulele has been a vehicle for this happiness.
It is now my mission to share this happiness. Today I am teaching the ukulele and playing in Oslo Ukuleleorkester as well as working on my solo ukulele projects. I continue to play on the streets and it is always fun to see and feel how passers-by responded to ukulele. When I see someone smile, sing along or even dance during these street performances I know that I have made a connection and have spread some happiness in what might otherwise be a mad world.