Sunday, 14 July 2013

Ukulele Passion

 One of the things I love to do when I can, is get on over to Milford Haven Port. A young woman called Niki has set up a business there with her own music shop.
                              Indigo Music

I first saw her shop on facebook and went on over to have a gander.


Niki is much more than a shop keeper. She almost immediately became a friend. I like her. She has a lovely way about her and I think that's why her shop is doing so well, because everyone will like her. Some people just exude likeability and Niki is one of those people.

I also totally admire her. She had been a peripatetic music teacher in schools for 9 nine years and was made redundant. With her redundancy, she risked it all to follow her dream. And her dream is Indigo Music.

Not only has she set up and is running a successful business; she is a mother to her 5 small children, one still being a baby.
But that said, even though Niki is a lovely person and I admire her as a business woman and mother, my draw to her shop is that it is GORGEOUS!!
She has put so much of herself into it and you can feel the love in that shop! It actually feels more like a gallery than a shop to me. You know when you walk into a gallery and stare in wonder at the beautiful things hanging on the wall? That's what it's like at Indigo. There are no instruments crammed into lines of commercialism, Nikki's instruments are given space to smile and shine.
On my first visit, winking at me from the glass cabinet, sat a beautifully carved little minx made by Luna. My first ukulele sat on a velvet cushion like an offering to a fairytale princess. We fell in love instantly, that L'il Ol' Ukulele and me. She came home with me and has been integral to my life ever since.



I have been playing guitar since I was a child, but soon my ukulele became my only addiction. My guitar didn't worry at first. She thought it would be a passing phase & that once the novelty wore off, I'd be back, but she was to be disappointed because what started as a wild fling, became my reason to smile.
I decided I wanted to share the love and when I was approached by Community Music Wales to put on courses for unemployed people in West Wales, getting them through an OCN, I decided that this would be a great chance to breed ukulele fever!

Trouble was, I didn't have any ukuleles! And neither did Community Music Wales. So, I made a contract with them for 2 courses. The first, I would essentially get paid in ukuleles, which I would buy up front and the second course I would get paid in something that the bank manager would find a bit more acceptable than quirky l'il strummers!


Bless Niki, she got me a great price with Luna, because I wanted unemployed people to have access to fabulous instruments. I wanted them to feel like I felt when I picked up mine.
My friend Jeff Beer is a Guitar Builder. He sets up instruments like you would not believe! They become easier to play just because of his set up. Although it was an on cost I could ill afford, I commissioned him to set up my new gang of 15 ukes!
Now to find an absolutely gorgeous place for me and the unemployed people to have the course. Somewhere dream like, calm, stress free ...
I have a great relationship with The National Botanic Garden of Wales and they very kindly gave us the education rooms in The Great Glasshouse.
The whole course was funded via Wales Council for Voluntary Action to engage unemployed people. They kindly agreed to pay for travel expenses so that people could afford to come.
I had the funding, as long as 15 people per course successfully completed an OCN.
I had an amazing venue, I had funding for travel costs and I had the most beautiful crew of ukuleles you ever did see. I advertised the course on facebook and was inundated with requests.

The courses were a resounding success and I now had ukuleles all over my house smiling at me: by my bed so I could play before sleeping and as soon as I woke up. One in the bathroom, so I could play on the loo. One in the lounge, so I could play in-between TV programmes, in the adverts. One for the road, so I could play if I had a gap between jobs. I have even been known to whip out my ukulele in traffic jams!

I started including ukulele in all my courses and workshops with young mums groups, with people who need support with their mental health ... everyone loves ukulele.

And then one day when I was up at my Writer’s Retreat (which is a posh way of saying 'caravan at the seaside')  I decided I wanted to write a story on my ukulele and as the music came, so it told me the story; and as I started to speak the story, so a new idea for the composition would come to my head. Story & composition working together.

The music became the characters, the story line sang out from my L'il Ol' Gal.
Just as I was finishing it, I decided that it would be a bit of a giggle to call it A Ukulele Overture for the Light Hearted ...
An overture is the  term originally applied to the instrumental introduction to an opera ... during the early romantic era, composers such as Beethoven used the term to refer to independent, self-existing instrumental, programmatic works.

Franz Liszt
Then I happened to find this on Wikipedia:
A symphonic poem ... is a piece of  music in a single continuous section in which the content of a poem or a story, a novel, a painting or a landscape,  or another (non-musical) source is illustrated or evoked. The term was first applied by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt .
... they are unlike traditional classical symphonic movements, in that their music is intended to inspire listeners to imagine or consider scenes, images, specific ideas or moods, and not to focus on following traditional patterns of musical form.

Well, you could have knocked me over sideways. That's exactly what I wanted to do with my Ukulele Overture! And with that, the title of my new piece was born:
The Tethered Fairy Ring
A Symphonic Poem & Ukulele Overture
For the Light Hearted
I'm using both terms because I think most people will have heard of an Overture, but not so many a Symphonic Poem, and yet the term Symphonic Poem conjures up the romantic imagery that I want the audience to feel. I want them to imagine the characters, so that  my story and my ukulele composition are interpreted differently in the mind of every person that listens . That a piece of them becomes a piece of the story they take away with them. Such is the true nature of story, passed from person to person, from age to age, until it sits with its own shape on the lips of tellers.
I also like the idea of using a term usually associated with 'high-end culture' into the consciousness of the everyday, into the world of the 'we' that did not have access to orchestra and opera, those who grew up thinking such things were for the posh people, and not the likes of us!

Why shouldn't ordinary bods like me compose Symphonic Poems on quirky little instruments!
And ... I love the history of the ukulele. Everyone asks me to sing 'When I'm cleaning windows' but the ukulele has a much longer and rather regal ancestry.
Originating in Hawaii, according to Queen Lili 'uokalani, the last Hawaiian monarch, the name means the gift that came here from the Hawaiian words uku (gift or reward) and lele (to come).

I like that ... mine certainly is 'the gift that came here.'
One of the most important factors in establishing the ukulele in Hawaiian music and culture was the ardent support and promotion of the instrument by King  Kalauau. A patron of the arts, he incorporated it into performances at royal gatherings.

And with that beautifully romantic history, steeped in culture, and with the thanks and gratitude I give to my ukulele for bringing such joy into my world, I want to give her the respect she so rightly deserves.
Can you feel the love in this room!

I am so emotional about my ukulele right now after writing about her, that I have to go  and slink off to the bedroom with her, so that we can play together! We may be some time!

References: All the grown up facts listed here are from Wikipedia so they must be true!

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