Good God–I’m an Amateur!

What I’m playing on the ukulele right now:

Looking at the World Through Rose Colored Glasses by Tommie Malie and Jimmy Steiger

You have to understand something: for the past 25 years—nearly half my life—I’ve been a professional musician. I have a degree in music from one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the world. I have studied with the best teachers and have shared the stage with Mstislav Rostropovich, Yo Yo Ma, James Galway and many, many others. I have performed as a classical double bassist in concert halls all over the world. I’ve spent periods of my life practicing 6+ hours per day. I’m used to a certain level of polished perfection.

Last week, all of that changed.

I videotaped myself playing and singing the 1920’s song Looking at the World Through Rose Colored Glasses the other day. Those of you who know the movie Thoroughly Modern Millie, it’s the song that opens the movie as the first girl is kidnapped. Despite that, it’s a lovely song and it’s really fun to sing and play.

The sheet music I have is from the 20s and has the ukulele tuned in D (ADF#B), so I used my old soprano uke for it. It’s a great instrument to get that Roaring 20’s sound. I couldn’t wait to hear the results of my video.

It was terrible.

Well, not really terrible, but certainly not up to the level of my other musical activities. I tried version after version with zero improvement. I even have a spectacular example of Aspie guttural noise as I RRRRRRRRR! through a particularly difficult (for me) chord change. It was pretty depressing.

Still, what did I expect—virtuosity after 4 months? The ukulele is considered one of the easiest instruments to play, but I have to remember that I’m still taking baby steps. Four months of uke-ing simply can’t stack up to 40 years of bass playing. It sounded amateurish.

In professional circles, “amateur” is an epithet. As in, [spoken in the worst possible classical music snob voice] “I heard the Philharmonic attempt to play Brahms’ 3rd Symphony and it was just dreadful! They sounded like AMATEURS!” Honestly, it’s one of the worst things you can say to a musician.

So let’s look at the word Amateur. It is French, comprised of 2 parts: ama and teur. Teur is a person, a being, a one; ama is to love. So amateur means “one who loves,” or put another way, “one who does what he or she does for love.”

So for as much fun as I’m having with the ukulele, I absolutely love it.

I guess that makes me an amateur.