Playing with new ukulele friends on the Big Island

Playing with new ukulele friends on the Big Island

Visit Hawaii. Play ukulele with friends.

That’s my personal recipe for happiness and this week cooked up some great fun as I joined a group of Kona-area players at their weekly kanikapila here on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Ukulele players on the Big Island have lots of opportunities to play with gatherings at a variety of locations. Andy Andrews (of the Santa Cruz uke group) brought his ukulele evangelism to the Puna District on the east part of the island and that group has grown to include dozens of people at their gatherings; they even march in the local community parades. The group, Mele Ohana, ably led by Jack Knight for years, gets together weekly on Wednesday nights Kona-side. The community group I attended is coordinated by Alan Hale and meets Thursday mornings at the Kona International Marketplace.

group_menActually Alan has two groups—the first is a smaller subset of the second. At 9 am he’s been teaching some adventurous ukulele learners using James Hill’s Ukulele in the Classroom materials. I sat in as the group met for lesson number seven, the next-to-the-last one for this series. By this point they were reading standard musical notation, not only plucking the notes but understanding the time and key signatures. Wowser! Alan will continue with this group in January after a holiday hiatus.

As 10 am approached, new folks joined, filling in the slots around the tables set up under the awning at the marketplace. Yep, this group gets to play in lovely shade (especially appreciated the morning I was there as the clouds were threatening and “liquid aloha” occasionally sprinkled down).

group_threeladiesAbout 30 players attended the group that morning—Alan says they’ve had over 100 when the snowbirds flock to the warm clime in January and February—today’s lower turnout was likely due to what they called the “winter” weather (ha!). Despite the tropical setting, it was a group very similar to other ukulele groups I’ve joined in: most players in the 40s to 60s age range, most of them had tenor or concert ukes and all of them sported those uke-happy smiles.

group_iPadWhat was different, though, was that 95% of these folks didn’t haul in music notebooks or songbooks with pages and pages of uke songsheets. Instead, they set up iPad tablets in front of them and touched the screens to navigate to the next song called out.

OnSong is evolving to be my app of choice for my uke songsheets, but I also have ForScore and UnRealBook. This group has standardized with ForScore and Alan maintains a Dropbox account so members can keep up with the latest songs and revisions. Alan even provides some mesh wire stands so the iPads can be propped vertically in an easy-to-read angle.

[Time out: I just looked up from the table I’m sitting at on our lanai as I write this; two ponderous green sea turtles are munching on limu in the tidepool below me. Their back flippers wave uselessly above the incoming tide as they head-down into the lava to find the choicest sea plants. They do this munching all day long. I rather consider them the ocean’s equivalent of happy cows. Now, enough looking out to sea—back to writing…]

Members helped the less tech-savvy amongst them and the technology didn’t do a thing to take away from the morning’s fun. In fact, it made time for more fun as players didn’t have to page through three different books to find the desired song (this group plays from “He Mele Aloha” (aka “the blue book”), the Santa Cruz songbook and their own collection of songsheets).

group_slideYou might think the group would play lots of Hawaiian, but, as the “you choose the song” opportunity moved around the tables, more of the selections were “pop” tunes. We played “Wagon Wheel,” “Blue Bayou” and a passel of other tunes—some I knew and some were new to me.

But the group’s traditional “last” song was one I bet you’re familiar with; it was made famous by Mac Davis in the 70s and its name (“I Believe in Music”) and theme seems a great way to conclude a happy morning of ukulele playing.

Music is love and love is music

If you know what I mean.

And people who believe in music

Are the happiest people I’ve ever seen.