Saturday 16 February 2013

Play Your Ukulele

I wonder if 'real' orchestras feel threatened by ukulele groups. I'd be pretty miffed that ukulele orchestras were getting so much press, if I were them. Imagine if you'd trained from childhood on an expensive, complicated and archaic beast of an instrument, only to be usurped by moustachioed hipsters with brightly coloured toy ukes.

The one time I went to see the NZSO, I feel asleep. I was tired and defensive. Here was Art which I didn't understand, an entire vocabulary which was inaccessible to me. I felt like people's parents you see at galleries, glaring with arms crossed, muttering "but it doesn't mean anything, does it?" because they can't see the way to get into the work.

"Listen to the coughing," said the boy I was with, "The coughing's the best bit." It was: the wave of gentle coughs, like the scattering of heavy raindrops striking the ground before a storm. Just before intermission, some dude with a violin walked on and off stage a dozen times, expecting flowers and applause every time. I'd have preferred the coughing. Then there was a long bit with drums, and then I woke up to thunderous applause and the old man next to me saying with shining eyes, "Oh, wasn't that just wonderful?" I felt refreshed by the nap so agreed wholeheartedly.

Last night, me and Scuba Nurse went to the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra and James Hill Concert. The experience couldn't have been more different than the NZSO. I'd won tickets off Public Address, which was amazing - otherwise we wouldn't have gone - I was keen, but had no one to go with. Maybe that's dumb, not wanting to see a show by yourself, but I'm not so sure it is. So much of a show's energy and excitement comes from the sense of community in the audience: it's one way into the work. 

James Hill was amazing. I thought he was maybe a wizard: I certainly don't think he's less talented than anyone in the NZSO. The posters had said he's the best live ukulele performer in the world, which I inwardly smiled at, until he started playing. He squeezed the sound of an entire orchestra out of one little uke. It really has to be seen to be believed. 

I wondered if he was cheating, if there was a drum machine, or fifty other guys hanging out backstage - but it was just him. Amazing. Hill played with Anne Janelle, on the cello. It seemed an incongruous match, until they started playing: the instruments complemented one another perfectly. 

By intermission, I was ready to give up my uke and burn it. There wasn't any point strumming cords on my little green Uke Gingrich: if I couldn't reliably find F7, how would I ever be good enough to play to anyone who'd ever heard Hill?

After intermission, the WIUO came back on stage. They played mostly new songs (I've about memorised all their songs off their albums), and laughingly admitted they were intimidated by Hill too. I watched their fingers, trying to identify chords. I've never done that at any gig before, but it seemed a way into things, like picking out the medium in galleries - oil, C print, acrylic. We sang along, and clapped mostly in time, and there was laughter and whoops from the audience. No one coughed. 

When the show was over, we called for an encore, and were rewarded. They threw LED balloons into the audience which bounced and spun and we sang with them, call and repeat, call and repeat.

After the show, Scube was ecstatic. "You know it's going to be a good show," she said, "when they're not even halfway through the first song and I'm grinning like a loon!" 
"I'm not going to burn my ukulele after all," I said. 

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if 'real' orchestras feel threatened by ukulele groups.

    U trolling?