Ukulele Obsessions

Ah yes, Asperger’s obsessions.

 Some Aspies have a life-long special interest, such as the Titanic, baseball scores or Winnie-the-Pooh. Trains and astronomy are biggies. I’m one of those who tend to bounce from one special interest to the next. When I was a kid, it was astronomy, magic and Tchaikovsky. Later on it was marine biology, horticulture and bonsai. As an adult, it has been movies from the silent era, electronic music and John Cage. From my earliest memories to now, music has been a constant thread.

One thing I’ve been enjoying about discovering the ukulele is how easy it has been to learn, especially after spending so much time playing classical bass professionally for over 25 years.

The ukulele has seen a renaissance over the past few years, but it has continually held an important place in popular music. The ease of playing and its portability have had as much to do with its staying power as the warm, gentle tone. In fact, the ukulele got its start as Hawaiian versions of small Portuguese guitars. The legend is that native Hawaiians gravitated to the instrument because it could be easily carried into the fields and played on breaks. It was given its Hawaiian name “ukulele” by the field workers.

The ukulele made an off-island sensation debuting at the Hawaiian Pavilion at 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Tin Pan Alley composers cashed in on the whole Hawaiian craze that swept the nation by penning exotic island-sounding tunes. The uke caught on, becoming the go-to instrument throughout the first half of the 20th Century until it was knocked off its perch by the guitar in the late 50s. My primary interest is in songs of the 20s and 30s.

I’ve been playing the ukulele now for about 3 months and I love it. Frustration has been kept (so far) to a minimum, and I’m really happy with the results. I still have a lot to learn, but it’s been great fun discovering well-known and less-known Tin Pan Alley and Hawaiian gems. My tenor ukulele is in the shop, but when I get it back I’ll post a video of me playing.

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