Friday, July 5, 2019

Not utterly undone by the ukulele? Try strumming a few chords

Hotel with music lessons: Christene Meyers, aka Cookie, and Bruce Keller, known by his surname, signed up for ukulele lessons at Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki Beach.  The pair are partners in life and theater, travel, adventure, and now music study.  Cookie plays many instruments but for Keller it was a new experience. A good time was had by all and new friends were made.

STRUM THE ANCIENT, TUNEFUL INSTRUMENT WITH THE ONE YOU LOVE -- the ukulele is not just a cheap plastic toy played under a palm tree!

"It's not the islands fair that are calling to me. 
It's not the balmy air nor the tropical sea. 
It's a little brown gal in a little grass skirt.
In a little grass shack in Hawaii..."
--from "My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii"
a famous ukulele-accompanied tune


Our hotel ukuleles were adequate but not expensive, about $59 each. There are fancy
ukuleles to be had for much more, ranging in the hundreds to $12k for a Martin.
ALTHOUGH I PLAY  more complicated musical instruments, the ukulele called to me.
I knew it was more than a cheap plastic toy played under a palm tree.  But the ukulele sounds so lovely and looks so simple, surely it could not be that easy, I reasoned.
So when I saw ukulele lessons on the activities sheet at the Hilton Hawaiian Village I talked Keller into coming along, not just as a photographer but as a participant.
An hour-long lesson at the lovely property on the beach attracted 15 of us ukulele aficionados from all over the world, including Australia and Japan.  With the help of two amiable coaches, we actually played a recognizable song by lesson's end.
IT'S NICE TO have a pretty, calming view when learning anything new.
Tiny Tim made the ukulele famous again,
with his warbling "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."
So we relaxed our wrists and placed our hands on the instrument while our two cheery Hawaiian  kaikamahines  passed out our tune. Quickly, they had us strumming this captivating instrument, using our first finger to strum gently down and up. I thought of Robert Preston in "The Music Man," coaxing the youngsters to play. (We sounded something like that. It wasn't exactly harmonious.)
THE UKULELE is a member of the guitar family. It usually has four nylon or gut strings, as ours did at the resort lesson. More sophisticated playing involves pairing the strings in courses to give the instrument a total of six or eight strings. That's for another lesson. Our coaches promised the ukulele would be an easy instrument to learn.  While we were far from wizards, we did master a few simple chords and basic strumming patterns.  We tuned our instruments to G, C, E and A, and worked on a song -- "You Are My Sunshine."
Spanish guitar master spotlighted
Ukulele masters through the years range from British comic George Formby back in the 1930s and 1940s to Tiny Tim and his mournful "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" on a 1968 Johnny Carson Show to young "America's Got Talent" whiz kids and perhaps the world's most famous virtuoso player Jake Shimabukuro.  He is the instrument's equivalent of
Proper ukulele technique begins with holding the
instrument correctly.  A Hawaiian born teacher assists.
Pablo Casals on the cello or violinist Jascha Heifetz.
THE HAWAIIAN-born ukulele master grew up playing traditional Hawaiian music with his mother but quickly segued into more complicated repertoire. He strums and plucks a variety of sounds and styles from the tiny instrument, from "Ave Maria" to jazz and show tunes and George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
Shimabukuro grew up playing traditional Hawaiian music on the ukulele, and has stuck with the instrument for 25 of his 29 years.

Jake Shimabukuro is considered the modern day
master of the ukulele.  He is a true virtuoso.
"I feel people get bored of playing the ukulele because they hear other things and they want to be able to play other things," he says. "But... I've always felt there was so much more to explore, and I really love it."
So might you, if you brave a lesson.
The Hawaiian word means, literally, "jumping flea."  You might be jumping for joy if you make the ukulele leap.

If you open your heart to adventure, and meeting new
people. you'll soon be sailing with friends around the world/

UP NEXT: Travel enhances our lives more than any other aspect. It encompasses so many wonders -- nature, theater, dining -- and makes the world more accessible. Come with us to discover how relationships develop at sea, on airplanes, on a ship's tour, a boat excursion or a restaurant table. With a curiosity to learn about other cultures, strangers become friends. Up your international contact list and enrich your life, remembering to explore, learn and live. Catch us Fridays for a novel take on travel, the arts, family and nature at


  1. You two never cease to amaze.��

  2. Exciting to share your take on the world. I'm an opera buff and never thought I'd be interested in the ukulele but you make me want to try!

  3. Charlottesville CruisersJuly 6, 2019 at 8:08 AM

    Lots of fun to try something new. Keep it up.

  4. New Haven HoneymoonersJuly 6, 2019 at 12:24 PM

    Have followed your engaging blog for years. May you continue in health, happiness and adventure.

  5. Dutch friends of ours follow your wide-ranging columns, and told us of whereiscookie. Funny because we are from Wyoming and heard about you while touring the Netherlands and Russia. Small world.

  6. Love this instrument....played it years ago and found it so happy and relaxing.

  7. Ukulele EnthusiastsJuly 9, 2019 at 10:27 AM

    Love the hotel, and have reservations at Lagoon Tower. Will look for these delightful lessons.

  8. Oregon String PlayersJuly 10, 2019 at 6:02 AM

    We heard Jake in concert last year and it was mesmerizing. Don't have your bravery for learning the instrument ourselves but hope to hear more about your progress!

  9. New Hampshire NewcomerJuly 12, 2019 at 7:50 AM

    Is there anything you cannot do? Jealous.��