Recently one of Bayside Ukes members attended a local rock band gig where the lead guitarist said something like “ukulele players should have their fingers broken”. What! The performer may have been joking, but I have also been in music stores where sales people have made snide comments about ukulele groups. Why the hostility towards such a harmless genre of music?
Treating the little ukulele as a bit of a joke is not a recent development. In a 1939 Pathé short film about music and musical instruments, the sneering narrator, after praising the piano and various other instruments, refused to believe that the noble Greek Lyre was the father of “this instrument” as the film displayed two young women happily playing ukes. Some of the instruments mentioned in the film have for years become highly institutionalized, with structured teaching syllabuses and exams. While you can have paid lessons, the ukulele has always been an instrument of the people, where knowledge is shared between players and beginners so anyone can learn. You can also play any style of music you like from rock anthems to classical melodies. Maybe this is threatening to some elitist musicians and traditional educators who like to have control over their forms of music. Or maybe the uke is considered to be too cheeky for serious music, hence the snobby attitude towards the uke. Well that’s their problem.
We as ukulele players can be proud of our heritage that includes legends such as George Formby, Tiny Tim and George Harrison. Like other musical genres we have our virtuosos: Jake Shimabukuro; Taimane Gardner; The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, to name a few. We have our rock and pop heroes like Eddie Vedder; Vance Joy; Amanda Palmer and many more. There is a history of actors who have promoted the uke, like Marilyn Monroe and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. So there is no need to apologize for being a uker.
All ukers should be congratulated for being part of a grass roots cultural and social movement that has grown from the ordinary person’s need to make their own music and is not directed by “the powers that be.” This is one of the reasons why the ukulele has become so popular. Another reason is that members of the ukulele community enjoy giving their time and energy to entertaining others and this is very rewarding. Think of all the small communities that have benefited from the free ukulele performances in shopping centres, seniors’ facilities, local festivals etc. At a period in history when there is so much gloom and doom in the media, it is wonderful that there are so many people who want to generate some joy.
Let’s ignore the naysayers who are probably envious of the ukes success. There are countless more fans of the ukulele so the detractors have no real power. Individually we may not all be brilliant musicians, but as members of a ukulele community, we can enjoy both the benefits of making music and sharing it with others and after all, that is what playing an instrument is all about.
We can all play our ukuleles with pride. Power to the Uke!
Bayside Ukes member