Learning From The Masters

Category: Ukulele
Sat, 17 Jul 2010, 16:46

The past months have been quite busy for us. Back in February, we made the decision to move from Toronto to Kingston. But it took us until May to get our house in Toronto in shape to be put on the market. The last week was a mad rush for us, cleaning every room in the house. What does this have to do with ukulele? We set the second Saturday in May as our deadline since I wanted to be in Kingston that weekend for a James Hill ukulele workshop.

With hours to spare, we had our home listed, and we were off to Kingston. We looked at a few houses, and later put in an offer on one of them. In the afternoon, though, I was in a roomful of ukulele players learning from the best ukulele player and teacher in Canada.

James Hill started the workshop with a couple of songs, and then led the class in some more songs. The lessons were geared more towards beginners, but he told the more more experienced players to pay attention to his teaching techniques. In the question and answer portion of the afternoon, someone asked for tips on playing the dreaded E chord. His advice was simple: Practice. And keep practicing. He spoke about the need for practice while he effortlessly alternated strumming first and second position E chords.

One of his pieces of wisdom I remember was this gem of advice: "An amateur musician practices a piece until he gets it right. A professional practices until he can't get it wrong."

In June, we started having some free time again, and I was able to get back to the Corktown Ukulele Jam in downtown Toronto. The June 16th jam was shaping up pretty much like any other. After the break, we had just finished a song when someone appeared at the door. Our host, David Newland, recognized him and introduced him. To say we were all in shock would be an understatement. No one expected to see Jake Shimabukuro at the jam!

Jake was invited up to the stage, and literally took over the rest of the evening, starting out with three songs. As anyone who's seen him play can attest, Jake's mastery of the instrument is incredible. If he were merely a technically great player, he would, of course, be well known in the ukulele community. But he adds such an incredible depth of emotion and feeling into the music that you can't help getting drawn into it. When I hear him play, I wonder if I should be inspired to practice more, or give up the ukulele since I know I'll never play as well as he does! (No, I'll never give up the uke. It's one thing that keeps me sane!)

He then opened the floor up to questions. He talked about his ukulele, and he talked about music. He talked about performing at the Hollywood Bowl, and meeting Queen Elizabeth. And he talked about jazz, and about the need to put everything into your performance.

All through the evening, I wondered about something. And I'm sure others wondered the same thing. Finally, someone asked: "Could you play While My Guitar Gently Weeps?" Here's a video of his answer:

Seeing two great ukulele masters within the span of six weeks was an amazing stroke of good fortune. I'll never forget seeing them both show off their abilities.


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